A Song In A Day

For most young creatives making music today, options are limitless: endless tracks available in your DAW, multiple plugins at the ready, and everlasting studio time. So often, projects can end up in 100-plus tracks because, well, why not?

I was talking to an old producer mate of mine just the other day who my band used to record with. He had, and still has, a great analogue studio up in Stoke; we laughed about how we bounced, chopped, and meticulously planned out those early sessions when we were working with 16-track - but in the coolest of ways. All of the band members knew we had to deliver a take, as dropping in was quite the chore (no mouse to click, for a start, and certainly no undo button); and we had to actually learn how to record. We’d rehearse intensely before we went into the studio, and it made us better musicians.

So with more than a touch of sentimentality, we thought why not get a group of young musicians who have never had to deal with those kind of restrictions and pressures, and throw them in at the deep end? As accomplished as these chosen musicians are, they’re more used to recording their music safe in the knowledge that it’ll inevitably be syncopated, comped, edited, or chopped up to ‘make it right’.

Watch the Movie

'A Song In A Day' tells the story of three musicians working out of their comfort zone, to tight deadlines, across two studios. The challenge: to write, record, produce, and mix an entire track from scratch in just under 12 hours. But could they deliver?

Into The Pressure Cooker

What We Did & How We Did It

10am: Arrive at Numen Studios
This studio opened its doors in October 2018, and on arrival, it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into its design and layout: a nice spacious control room, well treated, good monitoring, with a great sounding Yamaha upright, and two soundproofed instrument rooms – one for drums, one for guitars. Vocalist, Jack, doesn’t have his lyrics nailed just yet, but we have a structure, and a great vocal hook, with a rough drum loop to give drummer, Trood, an idea what kind of groove it might need. A few listen throughs, and he’s in his booth raring to go. We allow just one practice run, then we’re in. As he’s laying down his track (he does it in three takes – impressive) – bassist, Andrew, has plugged into his mini Vox amp and is playing along to the rough demo through headphones.

When Trood’s happy with what he’s got, he heads into the control room to take a listen – the guys have done a cracking job on the sound of the kit, using exclusively Shure mics, and in some interesting ways. First, bass. Andrew has an instant groove going – it’s clear these guys play together regularly. There are moments though where I can see he wants to chuck his instrument across the room when he’s making the same duff note (we’ve all been there, particularly me), but after a few run throughs, he’s got his take. The guys play with such feel, it’s frightening – and what’s great about this is, they clearly care about their performance – they’re constantly asking the engineers, and Jack, if everything is getting the thumbs-up. Stressed, but dedicated!

A word from the Numen engineers on their mic placement technique before we set off:

“We were basically blown away with the Beta 181s on toms; the detail of the transient, low end, and control of bleed is amazing. I’m always fighting harsh bleed from other mics, especially the day to day standard tom microphones.

“The side address of the 181s also makes them easier to place. We also made use of the ability to switch the 181’s capsule to set up a mid/side array in the hallway to capture the ambience of the kit. Being able to change the capsules on the 181 means we have choice and flexibility when using stereo miking techniques. The different options they give you is amazing, and I can imagine they would be great on most instruments.”

4pm: Enter The HUB

En route to The HUB, Headliner’s studio, Jack is tapping lyrics into his phone as we negotiate the M25 – the song will be written from the perspective of a vampire, apparently. Of course it will. We roll into St. Albans around 4pm, behind schedule, but just in time to take delivery of two power cables for our Chandler TG2. We’re going to cut vocals using our Vanguard Audio Labs V13 tube mic, into our Cadac console, inserting the Chandler pre on the way in, then into our RME Babyface Pro.

Within two hours, Jack has nailed the whole vocal, and it’s sounding sweet; his double tracking is sublime, as ever, and the tone is crazy good. I tweak some frequencies and add FX using some of my go-to Waves and Sonnox plugins, but not too much more – there’s a deadline to meet! It’s now 8pm, we have two hours to go, so let’s get mixing. The room, since being calibrated, is such a quality sounding space – Genelec 8341s with a sub, and GIK panels throughout has eliminated all reflections, and kept it nice and true, with that all important bit of musicality. I always mix as I go, anyway, and I tend to group my vocals, guitars, and drums, applying parallel compression to each group where necessary with the Waves H-Compressor. For me, it sounds better, sits better, and makes mixing easier.

Before I allocate the last 30 minutes to tidying up the mix, I check over the guitars, keys, and strings we’ve also added (which we did in between the vocal takes). Spitfire Audio’s LCO library works a treat for creating a very real and in your face string quartet; and nice Rhodes and Hammond sounds come courtesy of Native Instruments' Kontakt Library – always a winner. We render the file with six minutes to spare, and play it back... Check out the film above and see how we got on!