Eight AM Call For A 10 AM Downbeat

Based on everything I ever knew or experienced in the music business, my impression was always that it was a night time business inhabited by people who wouldn’t know 8:00 AM if it came up and slapped them in the face. This is why Nashville is so intriguing to me: It’s a mill town whose primary export is the fabric of music. It’s an around-the-clock industry for sure, but when you work recording sessions for a living and you’re moving from one studio to another, you're forced to become a morning person regardless of how late you worked last night.

Day Two of the Masters of Sound with Rainey Qualley shoot was to revolve around a recording session of three songs from Rainey’s debut EP Turn Down The Lights, and a cover of the Motown classic Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. I arrived at the studio at 8:02 figuring I’d be alone for a while, but recording engineer Jasper LeMaster and his assistant were already working. The main work straight out of the box is setting the tracks and getting the microphones set up and connected to the console, but if you want the recording you're amking to sound great, those are actually pretty complicated tasks.

This session with Rainey's band consisted of 13 tracks: two for the cajon (mid- and low-frequency), bass, two acoustic guitars, two background vocals (one also used for harmonica, Rainey's vocals, a room mic for ambiance, a click track for the drummer, a clone of the click track for audio/video synching, a channel for reverb and a channel for delay.

Rainey’s band consists of two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer. On this session the drummer was using a cajon and hand percussion and the two guitarists were also doing live background vocals (like they do for regular live performances). The band was all set up in the tracking room together in order to approximate a live performance. The only concession to technology for the musicians was the click track the drummer played to. In order to take multiple video shots and edit them together the video needs to be synched to the music and that’s done via a click track that gets recorded at the time the song is performed. Clicks are also used for performance overdubs and track compilations (comps), but Rainey’s band is tight and seasoned so after a couple of takes to warm up there was no need to rely on overdubs.

Around 10:00 AM the musicians started to filter in and the next hour or so was spent getting the mic positions and sounds right.In thirty plus years I’ve never been on a session that didn’t have some annoying technical glitch present itself at some point, and this session was no different (it’s amazing how much time you can lose to a faulty XLR connector on a microphone). The ghost of Cowboy Jack having a laugh? Possibly.

Around 11:15 we were ready to record. Rainey and the band did three takes of Me and Johnny Cash simply so the video crew could get different camera angles and shots. Me and Johnny Cash will feature prominently in the upcoming Masters of Sound video we shot this for, and apparently according to spin reports from radio stations around the country, it’ll feature prominently during your drive times in the next few months as well.

Much to the annoyance of producers and engineers everywhere, a universal truth among all musicians is that they spend their down time jamming and “noodling.” I particularly enjoyed the old-school reggae version of Me And Johnny Cash the band spontaneously broke into, but the rest of the folks in the Control Room didn't feel as irie as I did. These are the fun moments I always enjoy being able to witness firsthand.

After the session (which you’ll be able to hear when the Masters of Sound with Rainey Qualley video is released in October), Rainey and the video crew headed across town to get some B-Roll of the singer just being a bit of a normal person, while the rest of the band and the engineer split for other sessions and mundane things like haircuts and lunch.

Just another day in the office.

 Rainey Qualley and her main writing and performing partner John Ramey killing some time waiting for Tuesday's interview session to begin.

Guitarist Tyler Gordon.

 Bass player Tarka Layman and drummer Kevin McGowan.

The entire team listens to playback from the morning's session. Left to right: Producer Russ Zavitson, Cingle Records General Manager Denise Zavitson (partially hidden), Recording Engineer Jasper LeMaster, Assistant Engineer Wexler Muse, John Ramey, Rainey Qualley, Tarka Layman, Kevin McGowan and Tyler Gordon.


Next week: The Grand Ole Opry

Jack Sharkey for KEF