For Ever More [old masters]

This is the Mission cover I warned about yesterday evening. Potentially explicit for those folks offended by lyrics that mention sexual acts. It is a very slow piece and requires patience to listen to to get to the final buildup (at about 4.00 minute mark) if you hate slow songs. Auditory artifacts in song are due to poor cassette storage.

I won’t rehash the wedding this was done for in this post, refer to Bits and bobs for that. But I will foist a short story about the song on you all the same. That’s the kind of guy I am.

This recording wasn’t strictly Mike and I back in 1992. My bride (and now ex-wife) knew a guy from the old days, someone we’ll call “Axe” (“to protect the innocent”), who happened to be into music and recording engineering as well. So much so that, unless I was told a pack of lies (which is not as far-fetched now as it seemed at the time), Axe was a recording engineer for Paisley Park (Prince’s studio). Not necessarily for the man himself, but for other recording acts. As a wedding gift, he donated his talents to engineer and produce this song.

Now, before anyone gets too excited with this information — it would have cost us oodles of cash to do it at Paisley. Studio time is studio time, regardless of who is doing the work. There was no way to finagle our way into a professional studio for a whole lot of nothing, or because they liked our smiles.

Lucky for us, Axe had a home studio in the upper level of his family’s garage. I mean, it was tricked out like the real thing, with a 36-channel soundboard, tons of effects, verb-boxes, soundproofed, soundproof room with plexi to see the person inside, booms, DAT recorders (a CD-rom precursor that still used magnetic tape), multiple synths, multiple instruments that might be useful if you wanted something the band didn’t know they wanted — the whole enchilada. And he not only had a 16-track reel-to-reel, but he was obsessed with digital recording, which was a rarity back in 1992, so he was running Cakewalk DAW on an Amiga PC (Amiga’s were ahead of their time in terms of processing power and OS, and expensive as a result, eventually killing them as a home PC — I know, my father had one because he was a PC geek). To say his family was wealthy is an understatement, because much of this was bought with his “allowance”.

As proof of concept, he did the recording for this on his Cakewalk Pro Audio setup and I expect he shopped it off to his bosses to get a setup like the one he had in home in the studio proper.

I had a small role in this song, but it was an important one as far as everyone was concerned. I helped tweak the instrumentation on the synths, choose the synth voices and basically directed the production process (volume levels, effect levels, fade in/outs, adding depth of instrumentation, vocal mixing). Axe was a better musician, so he saved us all the effort by playing a large chunk of the instruments, thereby reducing the amount of his time we took up.

Mike is one of those singers who is a perfectionist. It was always a difficult thing to get him to see the emotional value in being not perfect. Axe identified that trait right away. So, while doing backup vocals, we played dirty tricks with Mike.

The first take on the primary vocal track was perfect — of course. But Axe used the software to pitch a note or two just outside the correct note and then pointed out to Mike it wasn’t a perfect take. Take two. Instead of using Take 2 for playback, he played the tweaked Take 1.

Tch. Those notes are still a little off. Mike would belt it out again. And again. And — we must have done 20 takes before we went to the backups vocals, which had Mike not only frustrated, but he was starting to get a little hoarse. About 20 takes of the backup vocals in bits and pieces, sometimes using the same trick as before, sometimes with Axe saying it wasn’t quite right and not even bothering to let Mike listen to the “bad track”. By the end, Mike was pretty wiped and not so perfect.

So Axe had him run the main vocals again (“just in case”), and what you hear is a tired man sounding a bit more emotional after singing everything for hours on end.

Then, Axe mixed in various parts of the vocals to create the chorusing effect you hear.

In my opinion, he handled Mike brilliantly. Needless to say, Mike didn’t appreciate the ruse, but he loved the outcome.


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