Monday, July 8, 2013

NDN Soul-Funk Saga Pt. 3

This is a seemingly obvious point, but every producer who is preparing to embark on a project, needs to do a few bits of prep-work... inspiration and perspiration..   

I. Never Be Afraid to Revisit The Wheel...
My first time producing a project was in 1985, it was a demo for my first songwriting partner (R.I.P. Quinn Dickerson) as we were trying to get a record deal. At that time, the producers or all producers were Quincy Jones, Full Force and Kashif. So, I not only went about trying to listen to everything they produced, but finding every possible article and interview that they were featured in to see if they gave any tips or hints on production. I knew I was on the right track when Quincy Jones said in an interview that when he was producing an a;bum, he would listen to all of the top ten albums of that year for ideas... Full Force said that a producer needs to find their instrument sounds and be consistent... Kashif talked about song textures and grooves. While the demo didn't get us signed, it did get my foot in the door of the industry. It also became the basis for my approach to producing a project for the remainder of my career.

No matter how new, unique, experimental or innovative a recording project is, I can guarantee that you will find at least ten albums that can influence your approach to producing the album. All artists and producers like to think that they are contributing something new to the music world, and in many ways we do, but in many ways our concepts, even subconsciously are composites of our past experiences and interactions, combined with new ideas and sounds we've acquired in our minds. For example, consider Parliament Funkadelic and how way out they were, but then line them up against Sun Ra, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix and hear the influential thread.

The GROOVAOTTOS are a very organic band, with a range of influences including funk, blues, r&b, jazz, Afro-Beat, Native American drumming and songs, and the soul sounds of the 1960's and '70's; as well as 1990's hip-hop. Between us we have have over 120 years of musical experience. The music
of this band experiences mood and tempo shifts within single songs as well as a bunch of other elements that were common in older recordings but are virtually unheard of with most of the contemporary recordings. The challenge here was trying to capture some of the excitement and vibe of thew band's live show in a contained environment, like a recording studio. Here, we want it tight and solid as opposed to perfect and predictable, bust still something that can be enhanced and -to an extent- manipulated.

I found myself listening to a lot of the live, funky masters: Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic, The Meters, and Curtis Mayfield. I also listened to a lot of the late 1980's and 1990's recordings that sampled these records for production influence... Ali Shahid Muhammad, DJ Supreme, Q-tip and Paradise Gray in particular demonstrate  a hearty respect for the original recordings as samples when they produced hip-hop over the breaks. I also poured through my jazz masters... Marcus Miller's work with Miles Davis... Miles Davis' stuff from the 1970's, The Crusaders, The Yellow Jackets...

One of the big issues of the modern approach is the "producer pack" sound files used when tracking live instruments. For example, a drummer goes in and lays down a drum track, then a production intern takes the track and finds the snare sound that is the new "hit" snare sound from the producer pack and cuts it in over the snare drum from the live drum. Live drummers are very, very, very rarely used in recording sessions anymore and even if they are, the drums they played are almost never what you're going to hear on the record.

I wanted to get away from the industry mold for this album. For one thing, I love the sound of E Ray J's snares and feel they are an integral part of the band's sound. For another thing, I wanted a crisp band recording,like a great, multi-tracked jazz album... The approach I chose was to get a great band take and then address each instrument and track one-by-one to bring it to speed, they way they did it in the 1970's when the 16-track was introduced.

Okay, so we went into Ron Ormsby's and laid down a bunch of my originals in the session. Just played them through like we do in a show, except everybody get's really self-conscious in a recording session no matter how many times we've played a song. We laid down some solid grooves... some stuff we can really be proud of. Now we need to fix it and get it up to level. The most solid and consistent tracks were the keyboards (no applause necessary) and the drums. A few of the keyboard parts, I'm going to re-do so that they can fit into the songs better.What we have, is the basis of a killer album.

To be continued...

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