Bloom – Ring and Oath

Imagine getting snowed in for a week. Also, imagine you are in a drafty old house built in the 1700’s. Now, finally imagine that you are there to record music with some amazing, fun loving musicians. Honestly it was a bit chilly but we made it work for us, even if there is the occasional audible sniffling mixed in to the recording. This was tracking week for Bloom’s second album, we had carved out a few days between semesters and we were hunkered down there to make something amazing. And we did!

Glendon has been a hub for the piedmont music scene for decades because of Laura Jane Vincent and her family. They have music festivals a couple of times a year and LV always reminds people that theres an open door and anyone is welcome anytime. For some people that is hyperbolic. For her, it’s an understatement.

To illustrate just how amazing of hosts Laura and her husband are, they were totally welcoming as my brother Dan showed up randomly one night with his trumpet to track parts at 2 am. He was on the holiday break moonlighting as an RV transporter on his way south for the week. He wanted to hang out so I told him I’d have a little work for him when he arrived. You can hear his trumpet parts on Love of My Life. When we had breakfast the next morning Laura Jane was just delighted with the sweet brass sounds she’d heard reverberating in the old house the night before.

In engineering, and mixing the brass, that distance and depth was exactly my objective. Dan stood at the opposite end of the house from the mic as I sat at the computer scrolling through the score, notes the size of mandarin oranges on the screen.

We decided on recording at Glendon because of the natural reverb and acoustic afforded by the tall ceilings. We also took advantage of the eclectic assortment of instruments available to expand the palate of Bloom’s instrumentation. Olivia agreed to throw down some lead parts on the hollow body electric to double the delicate subtlety of her Taylor classical nylon.

Bloom was my first band to record as a producer. I’m so proud of the mixes and the parts we were able to capture in the space at Glendon. They let me expand their sound from delicate coffee house folk to something you’d hear right along side Lera Lynn, Lake Street Dive, and the Alabama shakes. There’s a touch more soul, grit, and character on this then their first album…oh and a kitten.

Our favorite track – the title track no doubt – is Ring and Oath. We captured Julia’s Baldwin baby grand piano at her house and it was a part that is a featured touch of collaboration when Julia and I went back and forth humming ideas, scratching our way towards something that had a good swing and melodic sensibility. After our last day of tracking I asked Julia, Olivia, and Evan to say what they enjoyed most about our work together and what I could improve upon. Julia was proud of that piano work as it was an example of how I could work as a coach to bring better parts out of a musician. I couldn’t be happier with that kind of feedback. Sometimes producers get a little too in their heads (and egos) and just want to add unnecessary elements to fill in space. They helped me work against that tendency and we ended up with arrangements that are balanced, fun, and dynamic.

Bloom performed at Common Grounds on January 20 to share Ring and Oath on CD.

“Where is this coming from?”

My first task as a producer or recording engineer is related to the question “where is this coming from?” A client and I can sometimes spend hours putting together a Youtube or Spotify playlist of tracks they want to emulate or happen to enjoy. One of three things will happen after that: 1. I’ll spend hours listening to one album zeroing in on tiny aspects like stereo field or wondering what type of distortion is happening on the bass. or 2. I remember just the impression of how the song felt the first time I heard it and aim for that emotion for most of the progress of recording. 3. Always, one or two of those songs become the reference tracks during the final mix and mastering of a project to see just how close to the mark we came throughout the journey.

Most of my clients come to me with a song that consists of an idea, chords, a melody, and a riff or two. They want the production added to it that comes from isolating the instruments, recording with better equipment than an iPhone, throw in the added touch of reverb, and the excitement from more instruments. It’s been humbling that a couple of my clients have said they enjoyed my production style on Farewell Friend recordings and it is helpful that I can use that as a starting point. What’s most interesting is exploring their more fundamental influences as, to be honest, my own music is sort of a scrapbook of my learning process in recording: “can I make this sound like that brass band I heard in New Orleans?” ‘I haven’t recorded brass on anything yet…I should try writing some parts’. I ask the same questions as a producer: ‘I haven’t recorded a cello yet…does one fit here?’. Or I’ll ask “Can I get a wet/clean parallel distortion effect for this lead part? (Similar to what I could get from a Chase Bliss Brothers Gain Stage?“) These questions lead to small realizations like “If I send clean signal to one amp and vibrato to the other and pan them left and right I’ll get a very wide chorus similar to a Roland JC-120.” This process is all about squeezing recognizable, referential sounds out of the equipment I have right here in my studio when a client and I are emulating work as diverse as Tom Petty, or Coldplay, or Wilco.

I recently wandered down a rabbit hole of musical scenery that started with City and Colour and their Little Hell. When I really listen to that album I’m struck by how the album is unified sonically despite dramatically different songs. I finally took the time to read up on the production and discovered Alex Newport who has mixed, produced, engineered, and performed on probably hundreds of albums with bands I honestly have never heard but immediately love for the complexity of guitars and the stereo image and punch of the percussion. The title track of the album The Rescue by Codeseven is a great example of moments where throwing the drums even more dramatically into compression with some wild stereo treatment makes the whole track seem more seem more artistically thoughtful and aggressive…pulling a passive listener back into the song for a vastly different moment of focus on the lyrics. The next track moves your head from the inside of the kick drum where you hear the center of the syncopation of a great beat to the almost head spinning mix of the room and the tom fills while synthetic drones and guitars. 4 minutes in and the stereo echoes muttering what could be French or Italian are a bewildering reprieve before the escalating frenzy of noise that is somehow kept from becoming too harsh by…suffice it to say artistic vision and recording awesome sauce.

What are you listening to lately? Comment below and tell me how you worked to get certain sounds or mixes with what you had on hand. Especially, internet tell me if you ever got useable metal rhythm tones out of a Strat…or what is your favorite snare tone and what is the signal chain you use to accomplish that sound?

Waiting Game

First post! Hello, my name is Tom and I started a home studio a couple years ago. I’m not going to start off with all the details of how this began. I prefer to jump in the middle of the stream here and let you catch up as we go along.


Right now I’m working on several projects for clients and had a morning in the middle of arranging demos for one project and mixing another and decided I needed to work on a couple recording hacks to save time. Here’s the issue: I record a lot of ideas on guitar for different styles of music and all the sudden yesterday I felt like I really needed something that would help me quickly get ideas recorded while saving presets and patches for later if my clients wanted that exact sound again. I’d love to have the extra cash to buy a Line 6 Helix or a Kemper modeling amp so I could easily recall sounds that are custom tailored to the vision of my client’s recordings. That’s not happening anytime soon. I realized a better short term-and long term fix for that matter would be running cables and setting up stands with sturdy Shure mics to leave in place: set it and forget it! There are enough patches on my board available via the Line 6 M9 to keep up with my clients for now and I can save time by avoiding setting up mics and keep from tripping over cables by running them along the wall.

Once I’d set everything up I decided I would record a demo to see how I liked the sound and to check for any noise issues. I’ll admit I’m running mic cables parallel to my power source in some instances so I needed to see if that was an audible issue…doubtful it’s a problem here but give my demo a listen and tell me what you think! Here’s a screen shot of my processing.

I called the demo “Waiting Game” because my wife and I have been shopping for a home and she’s been a little frustrated with what we can find at our price point in the area. We’re looking for something with room set aside where we both can run our businesses. To be honest, she feels about 10 years behind schedule on buying a home, I on the other hand have always enjoyed the freedom and lack of responsibility of renting. We had a good, candid talk last night about her frustration and I get it. We’ll keep chugging along and hopefully find something that helps us both continue to the next stage of life and get out of the cycle we both feel we’ve been in for most of our twenties.

Life is good and we’re learning. I couldn’t be happier…maybe I could be but these are some nice stereo tones I got today so that’s a start. Off to the gym to listen to Multitracks for this week’s worship set, decide on parts, and listen to reference track playlists for a new client! I love my job!

Hey by the way, if you are interested in beginning a new music project, need mixing, want mastering, need live sound help, or want an arrangement visit my website!