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Crafting Theatre, Part 7:
Recording Backtracks

I love the recording studio.  I love creating music, and tweaking songs, and building something lasting that starts as an idea and finishes as something tangible and lasting.  In this case, though, I wasn’t recording vocals – I was taking the songs that I planned to use in my show, and creating high-quality backtracks, to make it easy to tour.


And yes, a live pianist would be nice.  But it’s also expensive, and unless the show is a clear collaboration between singer and pianist, the hired musician is guaranteed a salary and the artist is not.  And I’ve seen so many singers work incredibly hard, and all the money go to the musicians they hired.  So for a theatre festival tour, backtracks work well.  And the key to backtracks is that they need to be good enough so that the audience doesn’t notice – or doesn’t mind – that there are no live musicians present.


To that end, I had hired to very talented musician friends, pianist Bennett and bassist Jim.  We has worked together extensively before, and I was sure they would help me to create the perfect musical style for 1930-era backing tracks.


The first day in the studio was spent with Bennett, working on the songs.  We looked at the lead sheets I had created, and he corrected them with often more interesting chords than those listed in the sheet music.  We also picked keys for the songs, which is surprisingly difficult to do.  When I am in a studio setting, I tend to put songs in a lower key, but on a large stage they are more comfortable higher.  Unless, that is, they are belted.  Or torch songs sung in a microphone, which should really be lower.


So we tried out different songs in different keys, and after a day of running songs and notating music, we were ready.


The next day, Jim arrived early with his bass.  We set up, and began recording.  I had 14 songs to record, which is really ambitious for a single studio day.  But we did it!  Rehearsed each song, did a take, either did another or fixed a few notes in the first one, and then moved on.  Some of the songs had instrumental breaks where there would be talking, and some of them underscored recorded dialogue, so that had to be timed out, also.


By the end of the day, I was exhausted.  Probably we all were.  But we did it!  Hurrah!  I had a bunch of professional song instrumentals, and the music of the show was set  There was no changing songs now.  And although some of the music – like the torch song ‘Always’ – is well known, other tunes haden’t been performed for decades.  And I was so excited to bring this music back!

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