The Process


I have a lateral approach to making records that works. From contexts of continuity and productivity, coming at an album in "album-wide" swaths gives way to a more consistent, more professional sounding project. I have laid out the steps that, in a perfect world, can get a record completed on schedule, maximizing the initial budget. A little planning goes a long way, and I'm here to tell you from experience that preparation is everything to getting results you expect. To follow I have outlined the stages for completing any recording-based project. When we work together, you will see these same headings on the production checklist.

Not so bad so far, right?


For the purpose of this outline, I define writing as the process through which the following decisions are made, and represented in a DAW session file:

  1. Tempo - flat, free, moving, rubato, 3 bars of 2... Grooves can be captured from a live or scratch recording of the band.
  2. Structure - verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus...
  3. Melody - THE melody. no, "or how about if I try..."
  4. Chords - what are the changes?, very handy to have charts from the beginning
  5. Scratch Parts - usually recorded someplace on whatever instrument the song was written on. A lot of fantastic data can and should come from well-played, good-feelin', no click scratch tracks. Hey, they're just scratch tracks, we aren't going to keep them - feel free to cut loose!!


In a band? For one of the rare times in your life, let me congratulate you! Yes, being in a band has its good points too, and one of the very best ones is that your initial tracking collection will occur at speeds measured in gigabytes per day! Getting everyone in to jam along with the drummer can provide great scratch tracks for everyone else to overdub to, and get your drummer in the mood. Drums are a big responsibility, and getting them out of the way at the beginning is a superb option if you're spending a lot of time playing with a drummer. You can also bet that you'll accidentally get 99% of your bass tracks, and maybe even some guitars and keyboards... all in the first day!


Let's face it, the rules have changed. No singer on record today has to face the same stark microphone-to-wax spotlight like our ancestors used to. Our mics are better, our compression smoother, equalizers super-powered, and yes, plugins automated. Autotune, Vocalign, Pitch 'n Time, Beat Detection Engine, Overdubbing - the fact is, everyone does it, so the playing field is only leveled when we all do. It can be done tastefully, and can occasionally ressurrect an otherwise outrageously awesome performance - we can never get enough of those. Depending, this is usually more than %50 of any realistic budget.


Harmonies need to be stacked, and we only have one set of pipes, so if you're planning on performing more than once during your tune, or anyone is, they'll need to come in for overdubs. A lot of the time really cool things happen as parts start to lock in and the overdubs get really tight. This whole process is about giving a song a chance to be heard as it was intended by those who write and perform it.

This modern age gives us opportunities to collect and control performances until we're blue in the face. Isn't it great!!


Now that our inital tracking, editing and overdubbing are complete, we may wish to add a little sound design to the record. Perhaps that's your bag, or you've got a keyboardist that's a VI junkie - and it's part of your sound. Or maybe you want to work with me - I have the Native Instruments Komplete bundle, and Reason, and GigaStudio, and a heap of samples and presets that I love nothing more than rolling around in. Sometimes a little crickets at the end of a project is all anyone wants to hear. This phase can be tricky to forecast, since the sky's the limit...


"Fix it in the mix." If you've learned one thing since you've been here with us at, it's that our entire being exists against this phrase. The mix is for getting greedy with the great sounds you already know you have. A chance to get the blend to breathe and heave, and whisper, shout, break, fade, synergize. Can it be all that? It has to be, or you're not likely to love the mixes. "Making chicken salad out of chiken shit" is something I'll leave to my dad's mechanic. I've got an eight foot English-made 52 input vintage console that's made for one specific purpose - mixing. It's in the A Room - you should come down just to look at it if you don't have any other reason to witness its power !!!


I am a Mastering Engineer too. Even rough mixes deserve a tweak before they get to CD, even if it's just a one-off for reference. Since mastering is a process that only involves the final stereo mix, it's tools and functionality are available to me in conjunction with the gear I use to produce records. I openly recognize the value and importance of mastering, and confidently recommend Rainer Gembalczyk, who has mastered a number of projects for me, my clients, and my friends in the industry. He has immaculate gear, and hearing that deserves it. It's always good to get a fresh set of ears on a project, so having someone other than the mix engineer can really bring clarity, both acoustically and sensibly. That said, I will probably take a crack at the mastering so we can get some important information together for the mastering engineer, such as track order, fadeouts, etc., and we might just nail it.


Sienna Digital in Menlo Park does almost all of the duplication for my clients. Rainer and his wife Naomi Delott have been running the business for some 20 years, and their experience, passion, and price is better than any you'll find. Tell them James sent you!