Mid-Life Only Comes Around Once. Don't Waste It.
This is our diary. Read all about what started the adventure here.
November 2007 Tim started a blog to announce his intentions to the world. Sporadically, over the next year, both Tim and Bob contributed to the blog, sharing their intentions as well as their pathos.
December 2008 Two friends (Tim Schwieger, Bob Martin) embarked on a pilgrimage to London's famous Abbey Road Studios and spent a day recording two original songs.
The blog culminates with Bob's December 8th Studio diary - a minute by minute account of the recording process inside Abbey Road. Written right after being in the studio, it captures the excitement and the mechanics of recording in Studio Two.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2007
So it begins with a simple reminder that pops up on my computer monitor. “45 Days to your Mid-Life Crisis”. Sudden realization that that the reality of the looming “50” can’t be stopped.
The deadline fast approaches. Actually, I've been looking forward to a mid-life crisis and using it as a bona-fide excuse to do something completely off the Richter scale.
I have been blessed with wonderful women in my life, so a trumped up girl-friend is just a waste of my time and resources. The REAL reason is that my wife of 30 years would kill me. I'm guessing she is partial to using poison or a dull knife. "Justified Homicide" the Tacoma News Tribune headline would say. "He was such a jerk"...shouted the jury before declaring "you are free to go and spend ALL the insurance money!!!" So, I quickly quashed the girlfriend thing. Next idea, the standard issue red sports car. Nah..too ordinary. I then seriously considered a complete body, brain makeover, deploying a team of expensive specialists which included a spiritual guru, physical trainer, dietician, Plastic Surgeon, a Psychologist, a golf coach and...that was just the beginning. Once I saw what my ala cart "mid-life refresher" would cost...I decided to just have a cup of strong coffee instead. I then scaled back and considered a very simple “Mancation” with my guy-friends, whereby, we would stand around, smoke, drink, burn furniture, complain about everything, scratching, belching…but I can do that most any weekend...so I determined that was not special enough. I was close to making a final decision that involved going to a deserted island and speaking only to a soccer ball named “Wilson” for two months. This was about the best I could come up with...until one day...
THE IDEA hit me hard like a freight train. “Record an Original Song at Abbey Road Studios in London”.
Could a worn-out, old drummer and wannabe bass player, actually book studio time and record at Abbey Road? I have an American Express Card and I'm not afraid to use it. Yes...this audacious plan could possibly happen IF I had the right person to help me pull it off and make sure I would not chicken-out. Also, I'm not too good in the music skills department so this someone would also need to make me sound good. (no small feat) Only one person could carry this heavy burden and is just crazy enough to go along with the wackiness. Accordingly, my close friend, mentor, and brilliant musician…Bob Martin was called into action. I shouted out my idea in one long yelling tirade over the Apple I-Chat camera. I paused 3 seconds for his answer.
“Yes...we could do this” he blurted. (He was up for it). (Cool).
So we began immediately formulating THE plan. Which is this. We EACH will write a song, We will practice and rehearse for months to desired perfection. We then will travel to Abbey Road and record, mix, and master both songs in a single day. All instruments and vocals will be performed by just the two of us. A videographer will be hired to document the entire experience. YES...We WILL RECORD AT ABBEY ROAD. This was more than an idea...this was now a PILGRIMAGE of BIBLICAL proportions. (well to us at least.)
Next, we thought it was best to notify Abbey Road we were coming. So, I sent an e-mail to Abbey Road, inquiring about rates and services…was this wacky idea even possible? Apparently it wasn’t. My e-mail request was never returned. (Of course, I’m often invisible…but that’s another story). Not to be denied, I groveled to Bob asking HIM to see what he could do. He called them (on the phone) and spoke with Colette who is the studio manager at Abbey Road. They arranged for Studio#2 to be occupied by Tim and Bob for a future date in August 2008. (While we will not be able to get an actual confirmed date until 3 weeks prior, she was very positive and delighted to give us the opportunity to record at Abbey Road). Money works mysterious ways. Yes it do. Hopefully the likes of McCartney or Clapton won't be occupying OUR studio when we arrive. It would be a shame to kick them out just to make room for us.
“We can do this” Bob reiterated again (this time with verve).
So, begins our journey. This blog will be our diary. Bob and I both will be contributing the content. We expect to document most steps of our expedition. We have much to do. August is only 9 months away. The sudden realization that we indeed “can do this” is already making me weak at the knees.
Cool. Weak at the knees is really cool.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 11:04 AM
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2007
The Stuff of Dreams - Literally
15. That's how old I was when Abbey Road, the album, was released in 1969. Of course, by then, I was already hopelessly afflicted with Beatlemania - a very real and documentable disease.
I had been a fan since before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. My sisters get credit for bringing them to my attention. I was also a very early entrepreneur. Seeing how my sisters and their friends would go ga ga over anything Beatles, I realized that if I spent 25 cents on a magazine, I could cut out the 20 or so large photos and sell them for a nickel apiece... a tidy profit! (Wish I could make that kind of return today). Finally seeing them perform on Ed Sullivan made me realize that keeping the magazines intact meant more to me than the money.
Starting with Introducing The Beatles, I was in line to get every new record the day it was released. Woolworths sold the mono albums for $3.47 and the singles for 99 cents, and was only a mile or so from my house. Stereo albums, a dollar more, were to come en masse later when I realized that I actually had a collection to maintain.
The release of the Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields single in early 1967 was a turning point for me. Those incredible new sounds were absolutely exciting. I began to follow the progress of the recording of the Sergeant Pepper album, tracking down every tidbit I could find in the media. I found and began to frequent a store called Worldwide News, which carried magazines from around the world - to point, magazines from England. Through New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Beat and Rave, as well as American books such as Teen Datebook (which published excerpts from The Beatles Monthly magazine), Teen Set and even 16 Magazine, I was able to chart almost daily progress on Sgt Pepper.
The thing that really began to pique my interest was the side story - the bits about the studio and how it worked. How 4-tracks could be stacked to combine 4 cohesive performances. How vocals could be double tracked to let two John Lennons be on the same recording! How tracks could be processed to have that phase shifted or flanged sound. Little did I realize that these guys were making all this stuff up as they went!
By the time Abbey Road, the album, came out, I pretty well knew Abbey Road, the studio, vicariously. I knew about the 8-track recorder coming in. I knew about the Beatles failed attempt to build a good studio in the Apple building (and their subsequent return to Abbey Road). I knew about George Martin and Geoff Emerick's production and engineering techniques. And I dreamt that one day I'd get to record at Abbey Road.
53. That's how old I am now. Thanks to Tim's midlife crisis, it appears that dream is becoming a reality. I can't think of a better partner in this quest. We played together for the first time this past fall, and it was as if we'd always been doing it. Just like the Beatles, we have studio time booked to record our next single. All we have to do is write it. Just like the Beatles...
We can do this...
Posted by Bob Martin at 6:02 AM
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2007
Regret Minimization FrameWork
Just heard that description from an interview with Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos. His reason for starting Amazon was to "Regret Minimization FrameWork". I thought it quickly summed up the description of what this journey to Abbey Road is for me personally. No regrets when I'm 80 (if I make it that far).
So we (Tim and Bob) plod on to our goal of recording in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. Speaking of which, a feeble attempt has been undertaken by moi to actually begin writing my "hit song". Over the last several weeks nothing even close to a "A-Side" single has flowed from my Fender Stratocaster guitar. so here is my
Mr. Obvious Realization #1... This is hard.
Go Figure. Who could have known?
I'm going to write (gasp) a Pop Song. A song like the Beatles would have recorded at Abbey Road in 1964 or whereabouts. Lyrics about girls probably. Key of G... or maybe not.
So...back to practicing and writing.
Lyrics? Chords? Talent? ...Don't fail me now...
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 3:54 PM
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2007
Love Me Do
2 Minutes, 23 Seconds.
The Beatles first "A" side record, "Love Me Do" was 2 Minutes, 23 Seconds.
So, the way I look at it, I'm just 2 Minutes, 23 Seconds short of a Hit Song.
I can come up with the 4 Chords, it's just the Lyrics and Hook Line that are graying my hair even more than it already is.
Let's really examine the first verse:
Love, Love Me Do
You Know I Love You
I'll Always Be True
So Pleeeeease......Love Me Do.
Man, those simple words launched quite a career for four lads from Liverpool.
I really must stop over-thinking the lyrics.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 3:35 PM
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 26, 2008
Time Sure Do Pass Don't It?
Sorry for the long time no talk. So..let's update shall we?
2008 New Years Resolution found me standing in front of the world wide mirror vowing to lose some weight, get into shape...and most importantly starting voice lessons, bass lessons, and writing a hit song.
Well, Nadda. Zip. Nothing. But YES!!!! to the procrastinating!!! I SO rock at that.
With the arrival of Spring however...progress is about to be made. Not on the weight front..geez...no...but real important stuff like my song. It hath been mostly written but not yet sung. What I mean by that is I lack just a few things...like actual lyrics. Bob has been keen to use several working phrases that now are permanently etched into my feeble brain blocking me even more. Anyway, my song does have a title which is...drum roll please.."Don't Blink". The song has progressed from my working title of "Don't Stink".
"Funny, the only thing that separates Stink from Blink is a single letter" Nigel Tufnel...Spinal Tap
I have had great help and encouragement from close friends Bill Davie and Roland Burdge...both of whom are gifted musicians and even more talented friends. The song passed their smell test and I got a couple of very usable phrases.
Musically, Bob has reassured me that "Don't Blink" contains all the necessary ingredients to make a nice little diddy. Whatever that means...
Speaking of Bob. His song was written on the day he intended to write it and as expected...perfect right out of the can. Titled "It's Girls" this song has all the designated hooks one would expect from a Beatles junkie. I'll let him tell you all about it if he chooses to write a line or two on the blog. As his designated studio drummer he has instructed me to emulate not Ringo Starr but an automated drummer named "The Remulac 8000" which plays 120 beats per minute in perfect tempo. Plus I hear the Remulac doesn't drink all the beer and steal the guitar players girlfriend after the gig.
Okay gotta jog to the fridge. More later.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 9:09 PM
THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2008
Memories From Two Different Brains
OK. We have to get this out of the way first... What I said to Tim was NOT that his song, "Don't Blink" had the ingredients to make a "nice little diddy." What I said was "this song is so f#$%^ing full of hooks it's at least 3 hit songs in one!!!!"
I mean, I hate to point out what turning 50 can do to one's memory. Clearly, one of us is remembering wrongly (hint - it's him).
So, the rest of what he says is right on the money. Tim and I had an iChat rehearsal a few weeks ago, which was a blast. We kicked ideas back and forth for "Don't Blink" and came up with a good approach. A couple nights later, I put my interpretation of what we talked about down in Logic and did a quick mix. My vocals were the couple of lines that Tim mentions, repeated over and over with some sort of humming and nonsense lyrics thrown in where there are none yet. I did three tracks - lead and a set of harmony backgrounds - and I gotta say they were absolute rubbish - out of tune, out of time, out of my league. But, thanks to todays modern tools, I was able to bend the recordings into tune and cut them up to make the timing right.
I did my best Beatle backgrounds and, perhaps, one day when the Anthology of this project comes out, you'll get to hear the demos.
I gave my take to Tim, who has been adding some stupendous drum parts. And most recently, he's shown me his "Wall Of Sound" remix with huge drums and bass. It's sounding great!
My tune, as Tim notes, is called "It's Girls." And I did complete the demo in one day - New Year's Day. But in all fairness, it was a song that I'd started WAAAY back in the late 1980s to sing with my then band Personal Effects. At the time, I had a couple of verses and a couple of choruses, and the music was completely different. For this demo, I rewrote the words and came up with an entirely new melody. I had a blast doing the demo, singing at the top of my lungs, and learning how to get those wonderful Liverpool sounds out of my guitar and bass.
The demo ends up sounding like BeatlesBeachboys-amatic - as if you tossed them into a blender and got a surfing on the Thames kind of sound.
So, the next step is for Tim to get off his duff and finish up some words. I've offered to have a lyric rehearsal so he could get some feedback in real time - a real John and Paul approach. I hope he takes me up on it.
Anyway, I think it's clear that we've got two giant hits on our hands. All we have to do is get to England, record and mix them in a day, get them out into the market, get some musicians to tour with, make a trillion dollars and fend off the groupies.
I am looking forward to the England part AND the trillion dollars. I have my own groupies at home...
Posted by Bob Martin at 10:33 AM
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2008
Twelve Eight o Eight
Finally. After months of delay and mild procrastination I announce with jubilation, Tim and Bob have a studio recording date at Abbey Road. TaDA.... December 8th!!!!!!
Finally!!! This year has dragged on with endless bothersome things like...work...which got in the way of THE recording session that won't be denied. But no more. We go.
Yes, December 8th we show up at the front door of #3 Abbey Road with our little guitars and drumsticks in tow for a full day of recording like a Beatle.
So, be a friend would you and pass the Pepto, as Bob and I are now both officially queasy. The reality seems to be sinking in the gut region. And we thought this would be a breeze. We are not even close to being ready. But we will be. Will we ever.
Our Blog will now have frequent postings with up-to-date reality checks. Pull up a chair, as a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
On a more sombre note, as many of you know, December 8th also marks the anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard of this tragic and senseless murder...I was watching football on TV when the shocking news was announced. Click here to watch the first public announcement.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 3:05 PM
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2008
Rehearsing In Tacoma
It's seventwentyfiveam on octoberseventh. I am just waking up for the second day of rehearsals for our December 8th recording date at Abbey Road.
I flew to Tacoma after a busy few days in San Francisco attending the AES show, where I picked up a minor cold. But the excitement of these rehearsals has been keeping my cold at bay.
Yesterday, Tim and I got together at his studio and worked on vocal arrangements for his song, 'Don't Blink.' I believe we have the song in very good shape, so we put down the basics for a scratch track. This morning, we'll put down those basics for my song, 'It's Girls' and then we'll start an actual dry run of recording both songs. Since we have to record and mix both in one day at Abbey Road, this will be a good test and a challenge to stay focused on what we have to do.
Our voices are a little rough, but are better than I thought they might be. I think we've both been singing more this year than we have in the past 20 or so, so voices are getting stronger. And the songs have really come together. They are strong, and have strong arrangements.
So, now the challenge is to practice them to the point that they are second nature to allow us to not have to worry about the parts at Abbey Road, but let us just relax into playing them.
Anyway, I fly out tomorrow morning, back to Rochester until we convene in London 4 days before we are scheduled to record. Plenty of time to practice all of this.
And you know what? It'll be on us in no time at all and it's entirely possible that Tim and I will be sitting at this very table having lunch...
Posted by Bob Martin at 7:24 AM
MONDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2008
Less than 60 days before recording and I'm freaking out. And I'm freaking out over a variety of things too numerous to list here. Most are trivial. One isn't.
I can't sing. I lack "on-key" unless flat is a key. Talk about surprised. I had some vocal abilities in a previous life, where did they go? I made a comment to Bob that I used to sing in a band. Hearing this remark, my wife immediately corrected me and said "You didn't sing...you yelled". Admitting you have a yelling problem is the first step. Okay, I admit it. I was a yeller. So...I am pulling out all stops and if necessary a checkbook to have a few personal voice coaches see if I can at least get back to "yelling on key". Roland comes over tonight. He gets free pizza, beer, and nightmares for my vocal assessment and prescription.
Lyrics finished. Music finished. Final touches being worked out. Getting closer. And Getting Better All the Time.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 10:38 AM
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2008
Two weeks and Counting
We're getting down to the wire. Who'da thunk that it would almost be a year to the day that we started putting together this crazy idea. The songs we're recording, "Don't Blink" and "It's Girls" have gone back and forth between us about a hundred times. Arrangements are taking shape. Vocals are, er, um, vocals. Sorta.
So, in two weeks and three days, we are boarding airplanes in each of our home towns and heading to London. We'll meet there on Friday, Dec 5th. Then we've got two days to get acclimated and on Monday, December 8th, we're in Studio Two at Abbey Road Studios.
Starting next Monday, I will be intensely prepping for this. I need to get to the point that I know every bit inside and out. That way, when I get to the studio, I can relax with the parts rather than having to concentrate on playing them.
Guitar parts. Vocal parts. Bass parts. Thank GOD Tim is playing the drum parts. They're the parts that are going to be right.
SO, we've got 12 hours in the studio. First 2 will be setting up and finding sounds. Down to ten...
Next, putting down the guitar tracks. That should take another 2 hours or so.
Next up, drums. Tim will knock these out in 10 minutes.
Down to 5 hours and 50 minutes left.
Next, bass. Add another 1.5 hours (that's 1.4 for my part - Tim will get his down in 10 minutes).
Down to 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Vocals are next. Gonna need about 4 hours for these.
20 minutes left to mix. No problem, cuz we are working with a pro!
WHOA! Whatta ride.
Posted by Bob Martin at 11:31 AM
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2008
I have never climbed an actual mountain. A hill or two, yes...Everest no. So it comes at no surprise to finally "put up" or "shutup" for our climb has come. Accordingly, Bob and I are packing our tents, goggles, boots, and gloves for our assent up Everest... (Abbey Road Studios) (For those of you real Beatle nerds, you understand the Everest/Abbey Road reference. If not, you have some googling to do).
Chris Bolster has been assigned as our recording engineer in the famed Studio Two. (look him up on AbbeyRoad.com.) He has a brilliant resume, and has engineering experience on projects for McCartney, Lennon, and a few other hundred people I'm sure you've heard of. And now...Chris will get to add "Tim and Bob" to his curriculum vitae.
In our few e-mail exchanges with Chris I suspect he is as gonzo for audio gear as much as Bob and I are. Hmmm let's see here...3 guys in a famous huge recording studio with all the best new and old recording gear...why its going to be a NERDFEST!!!! Chris even eluded to recording in Mono!!!! I love this guy and I haven't even met him yet.
So for those of you still awake, we depart for England December 4th. Arrive the 5th. Pace nervously in the Abbey Road Crosswalk December 6 and 7th. Arrive at EMI, Abbey Road Studios front door at 10am December 8th and begin our 12 hour (or 720 minute or 43,200 seconds) of mountain climbing at it's best.
And savoring every second of the expedition I assure you.)
Details shared as they become available and postable.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 1:30 PM
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2008
We Have Arrived
Boy have we arrived. Wasting no time. After we checked into our hotel we high tailed it so fast to Abbey Road that we created a wind vortex that is still hovering over the entire St. Johns Wood area. Upon arriving at the crosswalk we had what has been a surreal scene, so burned into our psyche, staring right back at us in living reality. Incredible feeling of a goal accomplished. Crossing the street was another story. London drivers move fast and on the left side. Our first attempts were in the dark and without cameras.
Saturday. After a proper English breakfast consisting of No Muffins, we headed out on a day of Beatle sightseeing on our own. We started out by heading back up to the Abbey Road crosswalk. But on the way, we realized we were right near Paul McCartney's house at 7 Cavendish in St. John's Wood. So, a photo opportunity. Next, it was back to the Abbey Road crossing, this time with a camera, to get some shots of us crossing the road, which you can see over to the right.
We were still in need of Beatle fixes, so we headed to a couple of Beatles stores. A couple of T-shirts and posters later, we were hungry. On the way out of the second Beatles store, we found a postcard for Sticky Fingers Restaurant - Bill Wyman's (Rolling Stones bass player) place. Couple of burgers and we were ready to move on. Check out the shot of Tim outside Sticky Fingers.
We decided to head over to the site of the old Apple Records building at 3 Savile Row where the Beatles performed their rooftop concert (and no, we didn't get to the roof). Tim snapped a shot of me.
Then it was off to Picadilly Circus... we were surprised to find the entire area closed off for a holiday celebration. We were in the mood for some celebrating! The remaining shots are of Picadilly Circus.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2008
12 Hours and Counting
We started the day at a "Beatles Day" in London. A lovely little affair where vendors of Beatles-related ephemeralia sell stuff to collectors. Very small, but lots of nice stuff. Tim grabbed an Abbey Road case and I grabbed its matching wallet.
Then, we got back to the area near the hotel, sought out a pub, and had a late lunch with a couple of pints. Next, rehearsal for a couple of hours. It's clear we are in only a little over our heads, but I think we can pull this thing off. Particularly if Paul McCartney just happens by the studio and agrees to sing everything.
We are retiring early, and are intending to be at Abbey Road at 9:30 Monday morning (that's tomorrow as I write this). Knowing this, you can see clearly in this photo just how it is affecting our rehearsals...
More after the session!
Posted by Bob Martin at 2:02 PM
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2008
It's Gonna Take More Than A Day...
The experience of recording at Abbey Road was just incredible. Both Tim and I began to sum it all up today, recounting the events of Monday as they took place. There's a lot to tell, and it will probably not be until we return to the states that we can begin to relate it. In the meantime, here are some photos of us having at it in Studio Two, Abbey Road Studios, London, NW8....
Posted by Bob Martin at 3:03 PM
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2008
Bob's Diary from The Recording Session
See left column
MONDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2008
Back In The US..SR
Loaded with Audio Files, Video Rushes, and a pocket full of memories, Bob and I have left the building. A week ago Monday, December 8th. we recorded at Abbey Road. Still having a hard time believing we actually did it. It wasn't just a great dream was it?
We have hours of video, thousands of pictures, a huge diary of words. All will be dissected. Blog posts will be made. A DVD pressed. A booklet printed. A single release party in February or March in Tacoma. Yes, you will hear the songs. Yes, you will see what we experienced. All in good time...all in good time. These things have to be handled...delicately.
More things posting your way. Stand by.
Posted by Tim Schwieger at 3:22 PM
MONDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2008
Bob's Diary from the Studio Two Recording Session
8:30 am Tim and I meet for breakfast at the hotel. Both quite nervous, so there is not a lot of conversation. We had talked this day to death for more than a year prior. I feel the clock counting down.
9:15 am We leave the hotel for the 15/20 minute walk to Abbey Road. For Tim it takes hours. I feel as if we get there in 30 seconds
9:30 am The reception desk at Abbey Road. They summon Alice Carlisle, the video liaison, and have a person show us to Studio Two control room, where we meet Chris Bolster, our engineer and Gordon, the tape op (now Pro Tools Op) whom we will later dub Magic Gordon, for his editing prowess. Alice and Aaron, the cameraman, meet up with us and, since the drum kit we've hired has not yet been delivered, we decide to do some photos of us arriving at Abbey Road as well as crossing the famous crosswalk.
10:15 am With the video shots of our arrival out of the way, we head back to the studio and go over what our plans are with Chris and Gordon, as well Aaron. Setup commences with the drum kit assembly, mics being placed, headphones being checked. They've hired me a 1972 Vox AC30 which sounds magnificent. Off center on the Vox is a vintage Neumann U47, placed about 14" away, along with another U47 about 8 feet away from the amp, raised about 2 feet higher, putting it in the center of the room (left to right) and about 2/3 of the way back. I'd taken along my Parker Fly Standard Classic and no outboard processing. The drums are all vintage mic'd – AKG D112 on the kick, AKG for the overheads, an AKG for the snare and a Neumann U47 about 4 feet in front of the kit. While things are being set up, we tour Studio One, the orchestral studio where A Day In The Life's symphony section was recorded (which was being set up for a full symphony scoring session) as well as Studio Three, which is where Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon as well as other albums and is home to many bands. Later, we will mix in Studio Three.
11:00 am We start to work on sounds. Tim tries the kit and toys with the placement of the drums. I am getting some sounds out of my amp, choosing which pickup/volume combinations to use. The engineer is amazed by the guitar sound and comments that he's never heard the amp "like" any guitar as much as it likes my Fly Standard. Hooray, cuz I have to agree with him. Somehow, the combination creates a sound that is just perfect for what we are recording. A word about Studio Two - the sound in there is just, so, Beatley. It's the room ambience, even though it can be altered with baffles that swing in from the side, as well as setting up ad-hoc drum booth using baffles, the room still SOUNDS like the original room the Beatles recorded in! The drum mics, and later the bass and acoustic guitar, will be routed through vintage Fairchild and Altec limiters on the way into the Pro Tools environment. Tim also has authentic Abbey Road tea towels to put on the snare drum. The lore is "the older the towel, the better" and apparently this is determined not only by age, but by how much of the kitchen has been permanently absorbed by the towel...
12:00 noon We decide to do my song, The Verdict, first because it is simpler and will get us warmed up faster.Time to start tracking.Tim is up first. Prior to our trip, part of our rehearsal regimen was recording and re-recording the song ourselves, as well as practicing the parts like mad. So, to save time and to keep the feel we were after, I brought along some reference mixes that Tim could play to. So, listening to a mix of the demo without drums, Tim layed down the drum tracks.
12:30 pm Tim is up again to lay down the bass track. He nails it in just a couple of takes. Which is amazing for two reasons - he's not a bass player, primarily, and we had decided he'd play bass for this song about a week before we went.
12:45 pm Time to lay down the guitar tracks. We start with the chunking rhythm guitar. One pass to get levels, one pass to lay it down. Next is the syncopated rhythm part that plays foil to the vocals and the other rhythm guitar. One take and it's down.
1:00 pm Time for lead guitar. Chris offered up a couple of distortion boxes as I needed a bit more overdrive than I could get running the amp full bore. The first box he suggests, called a Hot Cake, would not work - we beat it, we kicked it, we offered it bribes, but it was not to be. So, a vintage Ibanez Tube Screamer came into service. I needed just a little bit more than the amp could give, so it was very lightly used. I layed down the lead and then doubled it.
1:15 pm Now it's time for me to sing... this was the part I was most nervous about, but getting behind a Neumann U47 with one of the vintage wrap-around pop-shields took away my apprehension. In the headphones, the sound was INCREDIBLE. I could not believe that this was me singing! It took two takes, but we got a usable lead vocal down.
1:30 pm Break for lunch. Off to the Abbey Road cafeteria. Yes, it's the same room that it was when the Beatles recorded there, but it's been completely redone over the years and is now a bar as well. I had some beef and rice dish that was, I am sure, delicious, but my hunger level was so low I barely ate one quarter of it.
2:15 pm Back to the studio to overdub harmony vocals for The Verdict. These take a few tries (let's face, I am not a professional singer). But down they go.
2:30 pm We review the tracks to make sure we have what we need. Thank goodness we have two takes on the lead vocals, as a bit of each is going to be needed.
3:00 pm Satisfied with the tracking on The Verdict, we start work on Don't Blink, Tim's song. Same basic method is used - Tim plays drums to the reference track we've brought.
3:30 pm Tim drops the bass in. BUT, we hit a snag. (The snag, for the technical minded of you: The C# at the 4th fret of the A string sounds terribly flat as the fifth of the landing chord in a descention from D to F#. It has worked in the hotel room with just guitar and bass. Not sure what is causing it, as the note reads fine on a chromatic tuner. No matter which tone changes we try, the aural illusion persists. So, we decide that the root of F# at the second fret of the E string must be used instead. I still have no idea what was causing this). Suffice to say it held us up for a bit as we tried to overcome it.
4:15 pm Time to add an acoustic guitar track. The studio has hired us a 1966 Gibson J160E that may be one of the best sounding and playing Gibson acoustics I've ever had the pleasure of playing. A Neumann SM2 is placed in front of it, and it gets routed through the Fairchild limiters before hitting disc. Again, the sound is just classic Beatles acoustic. Tim puts down a track, but his left hand is having a very hard time. So, I put down the track, but it's a bit sluggish to the beat, and I toss down another. Later, during the mix, simply muting this track makes the song move along a lot better. But, at this point, it was planned to be a part of the song.
5:00 pm Electric guitar time. There are three basic guitar parts this round. The basic rhythm track is a strum with some flourishes that syncopate things with the drums. The second track simply uses single strums very close to the bridge and lets the chords ring. On the demo, we used vibrato here, but the vibrato on the Vox is not right. Unlike a Fender amp, the Vox has only switches - hard or soft vibrato, or fast or less-fast vibrato. We decide to bag the vibrato here and see if we can add it later in the mix. The final basic guitar part I put down is single notes and runs that offer melodic parts to the arrangements.
5:30 pm Time to lay down the lead guitar. This went quickly as it is very short and I had it very well rehearsed. We did three takes, two of which are used as doubled parts in the final.
5:45 pm Starting to move along, I lay down a guide vocal for Tim. I do this in two takes, both of which are retained.
5:55 pm Tim comes down and sings Don't Blink. We do a number of takes as Tim plays with different ways to sing the song. He has a number of takes which can be cut together to form a good take.
6:30 pm We order dinner, which will be ready at about 7pm and I start to lay down background vocals. These are pretty complex. It takes me a good long time to get them down, but I am still not happy.
7:00 pm Dinner. We eat at the Abbey Road Cafeteria again, this time we both have Spaghetti Bolognese, which I wolf down as I am starved, in the midst of a bunch of really drunk classical musicians. Nothing, it seems, is a greater gift to the British than free drinks! After dinner, we tour the Mic Locker where we discover that as a part of their vintage mic collection, Abbey Road has 14 U47s and enough spare parts to make 14 more! They also have a huge number of M50's, M49's, TLM 170's - the list keeps going.
7:30 pm I go back down to the studio and finish my background vocals. This is easier now, as I ask to bring the volume down on the backing tracks and can sing quieter, being able to hit the pitch on ooohs and aaaahs better.
7:45 pm Back upstairs, two gentlemen pop into the control room. The tall, young fellow is greeted as Giles. I am introduced to Giles - telling him my name - and he says "great name!" I don't get why he thinks I have a great name. I am introduced to the other man as Jeff Jones- Giles says that Jeff is his boss. Tim tells me to go get the camera. I still don't get it. As soon as I leave the control room and head down the stairs, I realize that we've got Giles Martin, son of the Beatles producer George Martin, in the control room. His boss, Jeff Jones, is the CEO of Apple Records! I get back upstairs and Tim sends me down for the video camera, which I hurry to get. I get back up and capture a bit of video with Giles and Tim talking. Then we get photos of us with Giles and our recording team. Giles and Jeff leave, and we review our takes.
8:30 pm We've just completed listening to all the takes to make sure we are done tracking, which we are. Magic Gordon starts to edit the vocal tracks to get the agreed upon best of each take into a single track on Don't Blink, while Chris heads off to Studio Three to begin mixing The Verdict. We wander down to the studio and begin to break down the gear, putting the drums away in a very leisurely manner. I grab the J160E and do an impromptu rendition of Norwegian Wood as well as Strawberry Fields (Tim has told me that the Beatles were recording Strawberry Fields in that studio on December 8, 1966). Tim catches these on video. Then Tim goes over to the Steinway and noodles around on the Steinway grand that's in there. He's playing a song that McCartney wrote, but that sounds to me like the John Lennon song "Isolation". Then I sit down and play Let It Be and Imagine - and I use the term "play" loosely. Later, when we get back to the hotel, we agree that this little time alone in Studio Two was our favorite part of the day.
9:30 pm Off to Studio Three to meet Chris. He's got a good basic mix of The Verdict dialed in. I make a couple of suggestions (one to fix where I sang sharp) and that's it. The mix is done by tenish.
10:00 pm We begin mixing Don't Blink. Tim makes a number of suggestions about drum sounds, all valid and good. They've gotten incredible sounds down on disc for us. Chris works more on sounds and the song becomes a powerful mix. We try a mix with Tim singing as well as a mix with me singing the song. Tim's vocal track still needs work. From all of Tim's takes, we can put together a good vocal performance, but we are out of time to complete this. Fortunately, we have all of the session audio, ProTools control tracks, etc, so we can mess with it ourselves later.
11:00 pm Copying of the session files begins. We are exhausted and exhilarated, all at once. We pack up what we came with, heavier by the incredible experience, the ProTools tracks, and an Abbey Road Mug each (on the bottom of the mug it says "stolen from Abbey Road"). We leave Abbey Road. It's the same 20 minute walk back to the hotel, but it's pouring rain and we don't care! Well, Tim gets out his umbrella and I have a baseball hat, so it's not so bad.
Back at the hotel: We try to get the grins off our faces, but the scotch and bourbons we are drinking just help to make them wider. In between all of the stuff we did at the studio, we heard some great, great stories about people who've crossed Abbey Road's threshold. Some good, some bad. We think our sessions were light hearted, upbeat and fun, and that was confirmed several times throughout the day. So, hopefully if there's ever a story about us being told, it will be in a positive light, at least in respect to our attitudes.
Putting all of the feelings about this experience into words is just impossible. The Beatles have been engrained so deeply on both our psyches - have so formed the people we have become - that this was an almost familial union. I don't feel as if we've kissed the Blarney Stone - more like we got a chance to sit next to it and hang out. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one for which I will be forever in Tim's debt!
Posted by Bob Martin at 8:10 PM, December 9th, 2008