Talkback Blog

Love Machine: The Epic Art of the Backing Track


As resident studio staffer who has some instruments, I jumped at the task. I did time in some bands that had horn players, how hard could it be? It’s no Blink 182 let me tell you that! In the afternoon we were sent the clip of the track they needed re-created. I rushed home to my Chinatown abode, and on the way stopped at the newly opened Cafe Grumpy, my lower east side espresso haven, to mentally prepare. The track was on loop on the iPod and I was in fight mode. Lets go through it together, shall we? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajsYPTaboKQ

Now listen to that. There appears to be approximately 41 people, pretty much just groovin. The tempo shifts a bit, the vocals are amazing, the bass is jumping all over the place doing some counter melodic harmonic junction extracting expressive science™ all while the guitar is doing some jazzy chord voicing, and the horns are accenting it like it’s Spanish punctuation up in here! Just breathe for a second.....Whew! Ok we’re back!

Not that I thought it would be simple, but half of me expected to be like The Other Edge (Guitar Player in U2, not us the studio) and hack out maybe 1 note and just plug in some delay pedals to let machines do all the work! But no, we were going to get crazy here, like only a recording engineer who works frequently in voice over can do. We were going Analog, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop me.

Out of necessity, I chose a different route than usual. I attempted to use an Elektron Machinedrum, a beautiful piece of hardware, but the changes were proving too complex for its step-programming based system. So I went into Logic, one of the most illogical programs out there...and used the built in drum machine. I created about 7 patterns on some vintage style kit... because those Motown drums are Air Tight! This was not the real challenge though. The challenge was the bass!

Just listen to that bass for a second. Then think about some 70’s funk bass players. Bootsy Collins, Verdine White, yeah...just based on their looks, lets go ahead and assume that their playing is just as flamboyant. I sold my Motley Crüe style Thunderbird Bass long ago (different story!) so my option was to go with my Moog Little Phatty, another beautiful piece of
all analog synth goodness. Here’s the problem though. An analog synth may sound positively delicious, but it must be tuned. The exact temperature when the project came in was 195 degrees. (That may have been with the heat index, but I’m pretty sure it was minimum 194.) Heat affects tuning. So does turning on the air conditioning. Needless to say, there was a lot of tuning happening. That’s all before playing!

Many guitar players think bass is just the root notes. Au contraire! The bass is a complex bed of sound, grounding the other instruments and giving them fertile soil to play on. After much research, I could not find out who played bass on this track. I don’t think it was Motown legend James Jamerson, but whoever it was, was very serious about their craft. After about 2 hrs, the part was nailed down.

The guitar was slightly more straight ahead (just slightly!) but still innovative. Lots of triads, lots of major 7th chords, some modulation thrown in, and BAM! (also as Giada says) Luckily, an amp was not necessary, and I plugged my fantastically magical 1973 Telecaster direct, compressed the bejeesus out of it, and recorded into Pro Tools. Logic is great for composition
when dealing with Midi, but in the audio world, I always end up returning to the Evil Mothership that is Pro Tools.

By this time, it was very late, and I was afraid of waking my neighbors with my period-accurate dance moves while tracking these parts, so with Pro Tools’ synth plug ins, I added some strings and horns on the verse and chorus, and called it a night!

The next day back at the studio, our resident Career Building Captain, Joey, recommended a vocalist friend to record. Later in the afternoon, Marty came in like a whirlwind of vocal power, and while still wearing a bike helmet, got into the booth, probably threw out some invisible pyrotechnics and smoke bombs, and exclaimed, "LETS DO THIS!"

My job, as any engineer should know when working with good talent, was to get out of his way. "LEAD VOCAL.....A Third Up....OCTAVE! DOUBLE IT!" Annnnnnd we’re done. Amazing.

To round out the vocal, unstoppable genius chameleon of all things voicer over, Mick, was called in to record the lower vocal parts and an alternate lead. The Production Dream Team of Epic Juggernaut Proportions (Kristen, Anne, and Myself) produced the session, nearly bringing Mick to the point of spontaneous combustion, until he nailed the parts with the precision of a tiger pouncing on a helpless sea lion.

Yes, that’s exactly what it was like.

And with that, we wait to get a physical copy stuffed robot that sings love machine, so we can proudly display it as a result of a very intense few days. My point is, as Joey would say.....Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Everyone stepped a little outside their comfort zone, took on a new style in a very short deadline, and tore it to shreds. Shreds of audio awesomeness.

Informative post

I liked this post. Informative. Good blog. Keep spreading knowledge like this. Keep up the good work.

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