A few weeks ago, our pal Rodney emailed me and asked me to put some vocals down on a new song of theirs called “Prisoner’s Cinema.” He said that The Dead Milkmen were going to be recording this song as a part of Weathervane Music’s Shaking Through documentary series. These “Shaking Through” documentaries are really fascinating to watch, because you see amazingly talented musicians, engineers and producers working together to record a song at Weathervane’s gorgeous Miner Street Recording Studios. The whole thing just unfolds in front of you, and it’s just inspiring to see how other people work.
Rodney sent me a ruff of the track and told me where my vocals should go, but he didn’t write out any actual parts for me. I asked him if he had something specific in mind for me to sing or did he want me to come up with something, so he said (I paraphrase), “Make it yours! Have fun with it! We want this section to be something totally different than the rest of the song, hence female vocals. It’s kinda Irish-y in feel. Go for it!”
So I wrote this chorus-breakdown thing (using his lyrics and their chord changes) with a sorta Irish-sounding melody, and then arranged some lush double-tracked block harmonies, which pretty much nails the whole “something totally different than the rest of the song” requirement. (I love writing and recording layers of harmonies more than you could possibly know, so it was fun. Choir geek and all.)
I sent them a proof-of-concept quick-and-dirty thing just to make sure I was headed in the right direction and Rodney dug it. I recorded another cleaned-up version and all four guys unanimously loved it, so, woot!
I honestly thought that was the end of it. Like, I initially assumed that I was going to make studio-quality .wavs here at Knappshack Studios and email them to the guys to have them plunk into their ProTools session at Weathervane… I just naturally assumed I wouldn’t be part of the video, because nobody’s interested in me particularly… they want The Milkmen, and that’s totally reasonable. But Rodney assured me that they wanted me along for the videoshoot and to record it live, so YAY!
In the beginning, there wasn’t really anything for Matt to do, but once the guys rehearsed the song more, they agreed it made sense to have an acoustic guitar filling things out a bit… so yay, the gang’s all here!
So… we’re headed into the studio with The Dead Milkmen this weekend. I’m really, really excited! The Dead Milkmen are musical heroes of mine, and it’s crazy to think that almost 30 years after I first listened to their music I’m going to be collaborating with them in one of the best studios in Philadelphia as part of a documentary series about musical creativity and collaboration. PINCH ME!
I’m not going to explain the whole Weathervane and Shaking Through ethos here… you can visit their websites and get the story yourselves. (And if you’re looking for a wonderful charity to support, Weathervane is VERY worthy of your dollars.) But in a nutshell, “Shaking Through is a non-profit, community-produced documentary series about the vision and process of recording music.” (That’s a quote from the Shaking Through website.) So at the end of this weekend, we’ll have a new song recorded and mixed, and the whole process will be captured on video as well. There will also be enough footage collected so the Shaking Through people can put together a lush documentary about how the song was recorded. There’ll be interviews, chats with band members, footage of everyone actually playing and cutting tracks, and thoughts from the engineers, producers, and executive producers, too. But what’s EVEN COOLER is that while the cameras are rolling this weekend, you can actually watch the live stream! So anytime this weekend you can click a link and peek in and see how we’re doing in the studio. It’s not a performance– we’ll be working– but you’ll get to be a fly on the wall.
There will also be a chat window, so if you want to say hello, if you have questions for anyone in the studio (band members, engineers, producers, pizza guy, etc.) just type your question in! You can also chat with other people watching, too. It’s a very interactive, collaborative experience. You are absolutely encouraged to interact via the chat window while you’re watching, so please do!
For the musicians in the audience, a still-even-cooler-cooler-cooler byproduct of this Shaking Through session (in addition to the documentary and the finished song) will be the individual tracks of the songs for you to grab! So if anyone is interested in remixing or rearranging the song, they can take the parts we recorded, dump them into your favorite audio-manipulation-tool, and make a new song out of our ingredients. The Shaking Through website has a place for you to upload your new mixes so we can all hear them and collaborate further. It’s such an exciting time to be a musician.
Bottom line: Weathervane is remarkable, and Shaking Through is really something special. Weathervane’s people are thought leaders in the music industry, and we are absolutely honored that we get to be in a room with these folks and learn from them. We’re so grateful to The Dead Milkmen for their generosity in letting us be a part of this recording and experience. We can learn from this. “We can make famous friends, or we can make our friends famous.”
Musicians, there are so many opportunities for growth, sharing, and interacting out there, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Music isn’t a competition. It’s a connection. Let’s do this.
Ji11 & the Suburban Legend
(aka Jill & Matt)
WHO: The Dead Milkmen, with Hot Breakfast! tagging along and helping a bit
WHAT: Recording a new Milkmen song, “Prisoner’s Cinema,” as part of Weathervane Music Collective’s Shaking Through documentary series. You’ll get to watch the recording and mixing live, and also interact with everyone via the chat window once you fire up YouTube
WHERE: We’ll be in Philly. You’ll be watching it streaming live via YouTube via these links: Saturday’s Link. Sunday’s Link.
WHEN: Saturday, January 17, from 11am – 8pm, and more studio goodness on Sunday, January 18 from 10:30 – 6pm.
TICKETS: There are no tickets! You just fire up your browser (or your phone’s YouTube app) and watch!
FACEBOOK EVENT: Here ya go. (Note: We’re not mentioned on the Facebook invite. It’s The Dead Milkmen’s song, not ours. We are merely guests.)
We’ve been given permission to post the schedule for how the weekend is going to play out, who is recording what and when, etc.
For studio nerds: Here’s a link to the TRACK LISTING SPREADSHEET so you can see what instruments are on what tracks. Follow along at home! This will be used both days.
DAY 1: SATURDAY JANUARY 17.
YOUTUBE LINK FOR PEOPLE TO WATCH TODAY’S LIVESTREAM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQdhxhchg0c
11:00am: CREW CALL / BAND CALL
Video Crew, band members, Executive Producers, recording crew will all arrive at the studio.
11:15 – 11:45: Pre-Session Meeting
Brian, Gabe, Jason and Karen, Matt Schimelfenig will talk about the schedule for the weekend. Light Fare – bagels, coffee, juice, etc.
11:45 – 1:45: Set-up
The band will set up their instruments and Engineer Matt Schimelfenig will set up all drums, bass, scratch guitar, keyboard and scratch vocal mic’s and set levels in preparation for recording the basic track.
1:45 – 2:30: Record Basic Track
The band will record the “basic track” of the song (scratch track). At this stage we prioritize getting a solid drum and bass take of the song, although sometimes the other scratch tracks will also contain “keeper” elements, as well.
2:30 – 3:30: Record Joe’s Guitars
Set-up Joe’s guitar amps in the live room. Re-record Joe’s scratch guitar, along with any additional electric guitar tracks by Joe. (We may switch Joe and Rodney’s times.)
3:30 – 4:00: Rodney’s keys
Set-up Rodney’s keyboards in the live room. Record a “double track” of Rodney’s basic keyboard take. Depending on how well the basic is performed, this track will either replace or serve as a double of the basic keyboard. (Note: We may switch Joe and Rodney’s times.)
4:00 – 5:00: LUNCH
TBD. All crew, production staff, band and Executive Producers will break to EAT.
Sunset @ 5:02 PM
5:00 – 5:45: Record Matt’s Guitars
Set up and record Matt Casarino’s (from Hot Breakfast!) acoustic guitar onto the the final basic track.
5:45 – 6:45: Jill’s Vocals
Record Jill Knapp’s (from Hot Breakfast!) vocals, harmonies, etc.
6:45 – 7:30: Bells + any odd overdubs
Record bells, percussion, oddball samples or effects. This will complete the recording of any instrumental parts for the song.
7:30 – 8:30 Rodney’s Vocals
Record Rodney’s final vocals. We’ll replace Rodney’s scratch vocal from earlier in the day. Rodney will run through the song 3 to 5 times, from which we will compile a final vocal track. This will complete the final tracking for the recording.
8:30pm: FINISH DAY ONE.
DAY TWO: SUNDAY JANUARY 18, 2015.
YOUTUBE LINK FOR PEOPLE TO WATCH TODAY’S LIVESTREAM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvgKHFItRIs
10:00am – 2:00pm: Interview
The video crew will interview the members of the band downstairs in the “black box”. (Note: at this time of year, the Black Box room is *cold*. Dress warmly!!!) This will likely include interviews with one person at a time, though there might be some sections of the interview that will include everyone in the band. The interview supplies the story / basic dialog arc for the episode which are edited together with the footage from Day 1.
12:00am – 2:30pm: “Quiet” Mixing
Engineer Matt Schimelfenig will begin mixing the song from Day 1. Because the Black Box room is beneath the studio’s control room, the general volume for mixing earlier in the day will be on the quiet side, so as to not disturb the interview that is happening below.
2:00pm: Hot Breakfast! arrives
2:30pm – 4:30pm: “Loud” Mixing
With the interviews completed downstairs, Matt will now work with any of the louder elements of mixing, which may include “re-amping” (ie. sending recorded elements from the day before through guitar amplifiers in the live room), or simply listening to the mix at louder volumes in order to put the finishing touches on the mix for presentation at the listening party.
4:30pm – 6:00pm: Wrap Party
All artists, video crew, production crew and Executive producers are invited to hear the final recording. We’re also inviting artists, crew and donors from previous and upcoming sessions this month to meet and celebrate the completion of another Shaking Through recording.