I remember the first time I walked into a recording studio. It was in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it was owned by Liz Berlin of Rusted Root (Their hit song was “On My Way”- go give it a listen!). I remember being silenced for a minute, taking in the arching walls decorated with sound panels, the silent instruments sitting on their stands, the mixing board lights twinkling in anticipation of something truly epic. As a young kid, it was everything I heard and dreamed about in one place. It was magic.
Blank notebooks do that to me. I have stacks of them in my closet, untouched, just white with possibility of something beautiful. The words I write could be the next novel, the next number one song, a letter to someone dear to me. The studio holds that same promise. There’s something about being in a recording studio where incredible records have been produced and artists and musicians have breathed the creative air you’re breathing now. And if you aren’t a music person, that probably sounds super creepy and weird. But if you are, you get it.
When I first came to Nashville, I got taken under the wing of a producer from Pittsburgh who was working in a studio on Music Row. It was there that I recorded my first EP “All The Good Songs” and really learned what the recording process is like and how privileged I am to be in a music town like this. We had what you call a “tracking day” where the full band lays down the main instrument parts. This includes drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and usually some utility instrument like keys, steel, dobro, mandolin, etc. Nashville session players work off of the Nashville Number System which is a way of charting songs. There’s a background of music theory involved, but it is the standard here for the way songs are recorded.
The incredible thing about the musicians here is that they need to listen to maybe a verse and chorus of a song they’ve never heard before to be able to go in and play it perfectly start to finish in around three takes. These guys are good. I’ve had the privilege of recording with players who have played for Carrie Underwood, Paramore, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, and more. And the crazy part is, they create these crazy instrumental parts while joking with each other and having a great time. They understand that the product is as much about the vibe, energy, and feel of the room as it is about the technical aspects of the song.
While tracking in a big studio with top notch session players is a great foundation for any record or song, I find that as a vocalist, my best sound comes from recording with people I’m comfortable with in a loose setting that paces based on my mood. I like to have someone I can trust behind the board, coaching me and directing my takes because they know me and the strengths and limitations of my voice. It’s when I’m relaxed that I can really get into the song and deliver my best performance.
My latest EP “Up In Lights” was recorded in home studios, working with top notch engineers and producers who I consider friends. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you record, as long as the song is a true representation of you as an artist. For me, I feel like creating in that familiar setting helped me to take my sound to the next level and experiment in a way that a timed studio rate wouldn’t have. Then again, there are always up sides to bigger studios, including not having to redo the take because a dog was barking or a train passed by. 😉
Just like the city of Nashville, recording studios have never stopped being magical to me. It’s the opportunity to make something incredible, a blank notebook, a space where your dreams are molded into something tangible and real. Of course I want to record a number one song, a platinum album, a demo that a major artist cuts. But when it truly comes down to it, I love how it makes me feel. It’s my thoughts, feelings, experimentation, and ultimately proof that I was here and made something meaningful, worthwhile, and beautiful.
I can’t wait for you guys to hear what new music I’ve been working on!