Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vocals - Day 1

Exhausted, but happy!

What a fantastic day! As I wrote last night, I was so nervous going into today. I woke up in good time for a long warm-up and a relaxing morning with Gerald and the puppies. I felt good, and we were on the way in time to be at the studio for noon.

Aaron has a great studio on the upper floor of his house, and that's where we're doing all the vocals. The studio area itself feels very cool and relaxed, but you also have the buzz of family life below, which is just invigorating. Nothing relaxes the voice more than laughing at a baby's smiling face.

We started with Wedding at Cana. This is the song I've been singing the longest, so I figured I'd be most comfortable with it. Aaron's goal was to get 3 great passes at each song, and then punch in any lines or phrases that needed another take. On the first try, I was okay, but a little tense. But as things went along, my confidence increased, and my creativity opened up. Aaron also told me we could come back another day and redo any lines, etc, I didn't like, so that took off the self-imposed-be-perfect pressure too. I really started to enjoy the songs, and I was dancing along as I sang. Very happy we weren't shooting video!

Aaron is cutting on Logic Pro 8 (I think I have that right?), so he could just start cutting right then and there. Within a few minutes of recording that song, we had a version of the vocal. I got so excited! It all sounded so good! I've done a lot of recording where other people were in control, and I was never happy with the way the vocals sounded. I know we can never get a true sense of the sound of our own voices, but most times in the past, when I'd hear my voice recorded, I'd think it sounded thinner, weaker, than I thought it should sound. Well, when I heard the first song yesterday, I was just so impressed. Even in that rough version, I could hear myself coming through - my personality, my emotion, my voice. It just made me feel so good about it all, and I felt very confident going into the next song.

Next, we did Abide With Me. Gerald figured this would be an easy one, but I know it would be tricky. It's a deceptively difficult sing. Long phrases. Finicky, century-old lyric. This one actually took some work. We did some rephrasing, which was admittedly difficult for me at first. After all, I've been singing the song for almost a year. My muscles know when to breathe and when to switch notes. To change all that on the fly was challenging, to say the least. Some verses we actually took line by line. But in the end, it just sounded so beautiful. Very happy with it!

This brought us to the 3 hour mark, which was pretty good timing. Gerald and I took a little break to grab a bite and clear our minds. Gerald was on call the whole day as my objective ears and personal director. He and Aaron actually made a good team in bringing me to the best places musically and emotionally.

The first song after the break was Shepherd of the Hills, a new song by Joel Lindsey and (blanking on the co-writer's name right now). This was the easiest song of the day. Three takes and done. As I was listening to Aaron put together the track, I thought, "This is a song that I would have sung any time.". For those who've known me a long time, you'll understand it when you hear it. I would have chosen this song when I was 16 or 25 or 30-whatever. It's so lyrical and poetic, and I can't wait to hear Monika's harmonies on it.

Things were going so well that we decided to try a 4th song - At The Cross. Although this is in lots of hymnals, it's still a very new song for me. Gerald describes the arrangement as 'folk-jazz', and I'd been practicing it with a smooth, Eva Cassidy-type feel. But as I sang it, Aaron and Gerald both encouraged me to take a stronger, more soulful approach to it. (Ironically, a different Eva Cassidy feel!) This is the only song were weren't able to hear back right away, but I think it's going to sound great.

All in all, what a fantastic day! The more we work on this music, on these songs, the more confident and excited I feel about the whole project.

I'm quite vocally tired tonight. I didn't push it, but since I was so sick a few weeks ago, I just don't have my full endurance yet. We've decided to postpone our second vocal day til next week. That will be cool though. Now that I know how we're approaching things, this just gives me more time to work on the texts and experiment with different sounds.

Oh, and we're going to do something cool with the background vocals. Monika is coming Wednesday for a week, and she's going to do some of the songs. But then, we're going to have all male BGVs on one song, and alto-tenor-bass on another, and girl trio on another, and so on. This mix will give each song a unique feel, and it actually reminds me how Gordon Mote did his last album. (Don't Let Me Miss the Glory - fantastic!). It's the kind of thing that musical people will get, and non-musical people might not catch, but they'll feel the effects.

Yes, exhausted, but happy!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vocals tomorrow...

I've been blog-quiet lately, but I guess that's sort of reflected my real vocal life.

Recording the tracks was amazing, but the next day, I felt exhausted. I hoped I was just tired, til I woke up Friday with a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, and aches and pains. I felt terrible! And it just went on and on for days. I eventually started to feel less pain and more energy, but my throat was still pretty messed up. I started keeping quiet as much as possible,

But, of course, in the "when it rains, it pours" phase of life, the last 3 weeks have also been busy with my new job - working for Ben Speer! Don't get me wrong - I have ZERO complaints about working for Ben. It's just awesome! First off, I get to spend my days talking to people about the Stamps-Baxter school, which I love! (the "talking" part being the only drawback - hard to keep quiet while talking!). Second, I'm getting to learn a lot about how to run a ministry, from the business side. I'm also learning a lot about the history of Southern Gospel music, through the history of the Speers. And third, I get to spend time with a living legend in SG music. One day, we're out for lunch, and an Elvis song comes on. Ben leans over and says, "Brock and I sang the harmonies on this one." Yes, with Elvis! For the next 20 minutes, I get the story of how Ben, the man I'm having lunch with, got to sing with Elvis Presley. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to my new job!

But back to the voice - I just tried not to speak at all for the first week. The second week, I started doing small vocalises (vocal exercises) each day. Simple stuff, like lip trills and humming. All this time, I kept listening to the tracks. I was given rough cuts the day of recording so I could have practice tracks. Even if I couldn't sing out loud, I kept listening so I could learn the tempo and the dynamics and the nuances of each song. Actually, this is probably a good exercise for every singer. You never really hear the song when you're singing along. Just stop singing, and listen to it. The more I listened, the more I fell in love with each track. They just sound amazing!

Now, it's my turn.

Not that I haven't been involved from the beginning, but the next few sessions are my responsibility - The Vocals!

Of course, I'm nervous! Did you think I wouldn't be? I've recorded before, but as I've stated many times, this is just so far above and beyond anything I've done. So, yes, nerves are definitely present. Twice this weekend, I've gone to drive somewhere I know, like the grocery store, and gone in the totally wrong direction! Yes, a little nervous.

But I'm also very excited! All the other stuff is great, and it's wonderful to see it all come together, but this is my arena now. This is what I'm good at - singing, song interpretation, having fun in the music, being emotionally open while I'm singing, delivering a message, making these songs my own.

Am I bragging by saying this? Maybe. But I also know I need to say it out loud, because, like all artists, I also have those nasty critic voices in my head ready to tell me I'm not good enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough. You artists know what I'm talking about. You can get a standing ovation from a thousand screaming fans, and that nasty critic voice will cut through the din with a quiet, but powerful, 'You don't deserve it".

The first time I did a solo recital, I was terrified. An opera singer at my church told me, "Remember, you love to do this!".

So that's what I'm doing tonight and in my prep time tomorrow: I'm remembering I LOVE to do this, I CAN do this, and I'm GOOD at doing this!

*deep breath* I'm also praying, and focusing on God. I went to church this morning, and it's left me grounded and inspired. I've had so many people, here and home, tell me they're praying for me, and that just gives me huge amounts of strength.

I'll remember those prayers, think of that love, know that I'm talented, and recognize the Savior who's brought me here.

And tomorrow, when those nasty fears threaten to rear their ugly heads, I'll remember David, grab 5 stones, put my sights on God, and run like crazy towards that giant.

But first ... tea, and a good night's sleep!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

CD Tracking Day

I just read the comments left on yesterday's blog. Thank you so much for all your prayers. Let's just say, I think they worked!

Today was such a tremendous experience. I am completely exhausted tonight in body, soul, and voice, so please excuse me if any of my descriptions seem a little blurry!

Our session took place at Hilltop Studios, just north of Nashville. We arrived just before 10am for the first of our three 3 hour sessions. There was us, Aaron (producer and percussion), Steve (engineer), Doug (steel), Mark (bass), Jeremy (electric guitar), Joel (acoustic guitar), and Johnny (piano, accordion, and Aaron's dad). All the musicians have amazing resumes, and their skills and creativity were an absolute blessing. At the risk of sounding corny, it's truly an honour to have people of this caliber on the album. All the musicians were in the main part of the studio, and I was in a very tiny isolation booth down the hallway. It had a small, deep-set window in the wall, which made me feel like a museum exhibit.

Our goal was to get the instrumental tracks recorded for all 10 songs. Aaron had charts done up for each song in that infamous Nashville number system. Instead of notes and lyrics, each song now looked like a page-long math equation written in black marker. The musicians would look at the math equation and listen to our rough demos of the song. Most of the time, they wouldn't listen to the whole song, just bits and pieces of it. Then they futzed around with things for a few minutes. They'd establish the tempo and the groove. They'd make sure everyone was in agreement with the chart. They'd figure out who played what instrument in what place (some players played multiple instruments).

Then we'd just do it. We'd all go through the entire piece, and almost like magic, the whole thing would come out as one, beautiful, musical song. (I would sing along, but that was just as a guideline for the band.) Once or twice we did a second take, but for the most part, that was it. After that take, individual instrumentalists would go back in to tweek small sections. It was so fast! On one song, we did the first full run, and I realized the key was a little too high for me. So we did another take in another key, and the band didn't even need to rehearse it. We just gave a down beat and did it all over again. The skills of these players is just amazing!

And it all sounded so good too. One of the things I really want on the album is a 'signature sound". (No, not the quartet, though that could be an interesting project...) You know how when you listen to Ray Charles, he can be doing jazz or blues or country, yet it all sounds like Ray Charles? Well, I want that feel. Not specifically Ray Charles, but I want each song to sound like "Allison Lynn". It's an eclectic group of songs, so I want the whole album to have a cohesive presence when it's all finished. And I think today went a long way in establishing that sound.

So, what are some of the songs? We started with "Wedding at Cana". It sounded incredible! Aaron made a few chord changes, but I really like it all. It was amazing to hear my little song put together in this way, and it got a good response from some of the musicians, so that was uber-cool and satisfying. The other songs of mine were "Abide With Me" and "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbour in Gloryland". "Abide" has a very different feel, but I really like it. "Neighbour" was incredible, maybe my favourite song of the day. It's like Aaron was able to transcribe the band in my head onto paper.

I did Gerald's "Real Big Fan", and that was awesome. It's really different than Gerald's version. My version is very jazz, very cool. We also did a beautiful folk-jazz version of the hymn, "At the Cross".

I did 2 Lee Roy Abernathy songs, 2 Joel Lindsey songs, and one Daryl Williams song. Everything turned out so great. It's definitely Southern Gospel meets jazz, but it's got some other great sounds in there too, like swing, and music theatre, and folk, and, if I have to admit it, I guess the steel guitar puts a little country twang in there too.

At the end of the night, Steve gave me a rough cut of all the instrumental tracks. My job is now to take this disc and practice, practice, practice. Some time in the next few weeks, I'll meet up with Aaron and we'll record my vocals.

Everything went so well today, and it was great to see the players getting excited by the music too. It's amazing to see things finally coming together. I'm getting a real sense of how the whole project will sound and feel and even look. I'm more excited than ever!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The CD starts tomorrow!!!!!!!!

Okay, not quite accurate, but tomorrow is our first studio day, and I am freaking-out-excited!!!

Lots of work has lead us to this 'starting' place - choosing a producer, writing songs, finding other songs, thinking about arrangements and grooves and packaging and everything! I finalized my song choices a few weeks ago, and I'm really happy with the whole set. I think they'll be great on the CD, but they'll also pull together to make a great show too.

Gerald and I met with Aaron tonight to go over the arrangements for each song. He has the charts done up, and we basically decided on keys, tempo, and groove. The session players will all be great, so I want to be open to everyone else's creativity too.

I'm keeping very quiet tonight, for I know I'll be singing for hours on end tomorrow. I'll be doing what's known as a 'scratch' vocal. It's really just a guideline for the musicians, and we'll probably throw out most of what I sing. The main goal tomorrow is to get the instrumental tracks for each of the ten songs. We'll start at 10am, and do three 3-hour sessions in the studio.

I'm sure tomorrow night at this time, I'll be exhausted. I've been so nervous about the whole thing, but tonight, I'm just really excited about it all. I was afraid that maybe I wasn't ready for this, but tonight reminded me that I'm actually very prepared for everything. Gerald reminded me that this is just one in a long line of steps I've been taking, all leading to this place.

This afternoon, I found myself surprised, yet again, that I'm here in Nashville, and working with these great people, and recording this album. Gerald says these things never really surprise him, but I can't help it. When I think of where I was in my life 3, 5, or even 10 years ago, I never saw myself here in this place and doing these things. But I'm so grateful for all of it!

Must sleep so the vocal cords are happy in the morning!

By the way, I never think much about the title of this blog, but this truly is an "Adventure"!

Sunday, October 07, 2007



Tomorrow is the official holiday, but my family usually celebrates on the Sunday. This afternoon, my Mom will serve a turkey dinner for 8. Now that we're away, it's actually the smallest crowd they've hosted in years.

These are the hard moments of living here in Nashville. It's times like this that I just get homesick. I would love to be home today, but with the CD recording starting this Wednesday, plus starting 2 new part-time jobs this week, it was just too much to go home right now. It's a 12 hour drive without breaks, so popping home for the weekend is just out of the question.

*sigh* Just missing home right now, but I do want to make a list of things for which I am thankful:

- Knowing a God who always chooses love over judgement, and forgiveness over failure.
- Gerald, my partner in all things good and true.
- Mom and Dad, who continue to teach me about love, marriage, and friendship.
- My puppies, Sebastian and Dante, who bring me happiness and love.
- Monika, and a friendship not dimmed by distance.
- All those back home who believe in me and Gerald and keep us in prayer.
- All my extended family, who are awesome and loving.
- My apartment, my car, food for dinner, and all other practical blessings.
- The opportunity to live here in Nashville and follow our dreams.
- New friends that I have made in the last few months.
- 2 new part-time jobs!
- The opportunity and resources to make this CD.
- My creative talents, and the chance to use them to serve the Lord.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Paula Stefanovich at NSAI

I am loving Christian writer's night at NSAI! First off, it's just always a great place to meet people and see a familiar face. Secondly, it's always a smaller group, so you get more interactive time with the guests. But thirdly, unlike most Christian music workshops in the city, NSAI has been bringing in a bunch of Southern Gospel people, which is awesome!

Tonight's guest speaker was songwriter Paula Stefanovich, who is best known for her Hoppers' hit, "Jerusalem". I also saw Paula perform at NQC, where she brought the house down at an afternoon showcase. The guest speaker night's are arranged in an interview format, and then webcast for NSAI members.

Paula is sweet and charming, but when she talks about writing songs for the church, she is intense and passionate. She believes very strongly in writing songs that the church congregation can sing. She does write for the choir, but believes that in Heaven, we're all going to be part of the choir, so we might as well all get to sing along now.

They played some of her songs, which were all great, and then she turned to the keyboard and sang a new song called "Gospel To The World". It's an awesome lyric which talks about all the earthly things Jesus left behind - the silver to Judas, His mother to the apostles - but He also left the Gospel to the World. So good!

I left tonight so inspired! It was a small crowd, but I think everyone was moved by Paula's commitment to great songs that can really serve the church and its people. It reminded me to keep things simple, scriptural, and singable.

Once things get settled with the recording process, I'm looking forward to finding some quiet writing time again... and it's good to be craving that!