Over the last twelve months my experience of the recording process has changed dramatically. What was once an immediate, interactive process with all participants in the same recording studio environment at the same time was changed out of all recognition by lockdown restrictions, for me in particular.

I’d previously dabbled in “home recording” with varying amounts of success; the odd overdub (adding extra parts to an existing recording) and sketching arrangement ideas for fellow band members and other musicians. But I always thought the best and most creative way of recording music was in the studio with my fellow performers, along with a dedicated engineer/producer to handle the technicalities of recording.

The demands of the first few Drystone.co audio projects along with keeping the new line-up of Narthen (Jo Freya, Jim Causley, Fi Fraser and myself) active and visible to our potential audience have meant that my approach to recording in the traditional, studio-based way has altered dramatically. The spare bedroom has been utilised as a recording space with dedicated recording hardware (computer, monitor speakers, microphones, stands etc.) installed in a way that we can still use the room for visiting family and guests! I have also had to learn the skills of the modern-day recording engineer. Along with learning about microphones (types, positioning to get the best sound from the instrument etc.) and other studio paraphernalia, I’ve had a very steep learning curve trying to master the way I record, mix and export the music. In the trade the computer recording software is known as a digital audio workstation (DAW) and being a Mac user, I chose their own DAW Logic Pro X. I bought a tutorial book which took me through the basics along with “Logic for Dummies” and dived in. I’ve always liked learning new things and this, although sometimes very frustrating, was no exception. YouTube instruction videos were also very useful.

Due to lockdown restrictions (all Drystone.co projects were recorded observing Covid protocols) all the music was recorded individually by the musicians in their homes. A typical way of recording has been to make a basic track here (with my partner Fi) that would then be sent (via the internet) to the other Narthen members in Nottingham and Devon. They then record their parts and send them back to me to assemble, edit, mix (adjust balance, apply reverberation, position in the stereo image etc.) and export as a finished audio file to be used in the project. The main drawback with this approach is the lack of interactivity that would normally happen in a conventional studio situation; to have fellow musicians or a producer/engineer giving instant feedback on performances is invaluable in the recording process. Of course, this instant interaction is impossible by email. The whole process can also take a lot longer if the band members don’t fully understand what is wanted in the final piece (especially if the music is supporting some spoken drama). Luckily, these situations have been few and my fellow band members have been brilliant in their attitude, enthusiasm and musicality.

I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved since May 2020 in spite of the prevailing conditions. We have hit all our Drystone.co deadlines and also managed to record most of the next Narthen album without seeing each other since our last gig in March 2020. We’ve all agreed that we’re looking forward to all being in the same room, making music before too long. Having an audience will also be a bonus.

Next time I’ll tell you about the recording of an individual piece of music in more detail.