Entitled “The Art Of The Song”, the Nashville MCTS saw Alan return to Nashville–site of the first filming sessions for the Art & Science of Sound Recording video series.
Songwriting was the focus of this two-day Level 3 workshop looking at issues ranging from composition to arrangement and performance as well as recording techniques. Famed Nashville listening room The Bluebird Café (featured in the hit TV series Nashville) conducted a month-long song search to find a new, appropriate homegrown song for the event. Alan Parsons himself selected the lucky winner at a special audition just the day before the recording.
Only it didn’t quite work out like that.
Confronted by three very individual performers on stage: Paul Sikes, a young male country-pop singer and guitarist, the brooding JP Williams, blessed with a voice as true as his true-blue country roots and who happens to be blind, and the wonderfully quirky Annie Mosher who’s intensely personal style straddles country music and modern folk.
Alan would clearly not make the best American Idol judge as he simply could not find a winner amongst these three performers, announcing to universal delight that all three would be recorded over the next two days.
This last-minute change of plans was only even theoretically feasible thanks to the quartet of seasoned Nashville session players headed up by guitarist Troy Lancaster. On drums was Nashville uber session player Shannon Forrest playing his beautiful Australian Brady kit (with - if we heard correctly - a eucalyptus finish). Artist in his own right Doug Kahan was on bass and soundmeister Charlie Judge handled keys with a Yamaha Motif flanked by a pair of trusty Roland JP808 modules plus a full compliment of soft synths lodged in his personal ProTools rig.
The first track, written and performed by Paul Sikes, had originally been an upbeat country rocker on Paul’s demo. Alan and Paul decided to give it more of an edgier / U2 feel with lots of sparse and punctuating guitar and a bubbling, arpeggiated synth motif that was SMPTE-d to the main ProTools rig in the control room.
It was fascinating for the mainly non-Nashville Attendees to see the ‘Nashville’ ‘number’ system of charting chords in action–especially in view of this guitar based track being written in Eb.
Once the main tracks were in the bag there was time for one or two key instrumental overdubs before it was straight onto song #2, JP’s beautifully observed country ballad The Dollar, recounting the influence of money for good or bad (“I take all the credit, all the blame…”), as a single greenback floats from bar to homeless person’s coffee can along the highways and back alleys of life.
Time was getting extremely tight as Annie Mosher stepped into the limelight to record her personal and precious take on society’s value of human life through the eyes of her four year old son’s reaction to the death of his goldfish. Talk about the power to move; after the first run-through never mind ‘scarcely’ a dry eye in the house…
The recording of Annie’s song demonstrated Alan’s deft touch when it comes to recording ‘just the right number’ of parts on top of a delicate and highly emotional song such as this. Too much and becomes too produced and slick; too little and why bother, just leave it as an acoustic guitar track.
The Nashville MCTS stood out as the first of these events where women attended at both Platinum and Gold levels and Annie and Alan took full advantage of this with a girls chorus culled from the ranks of the Attendees and Production Manager Abi Mae.
Attendee Gina Towell also sung harmonies on Paul Sikes’ song; her voice matching almost eerily with Paul’s. Interestingly, for Paul’s own vocal Alan put up a U47 and a Miktek C7 and actually chose the Miktek for the final mix, feeling it suited this particular vocal better.
Recording and mixing three songs in two days–never mind to an audience eager to ask questions—is a tall order but once that was accomplished to universal approval from three delighted performers, studio staff, Team ASSR, and twenty-four Attendees.