The recording of The Debt was also the recording of the video for it (the moving ‘red block’ on the computer in the background is the guitar and vocal for the final track actually being recorded). This meant I not only had to play and record the song proficiently, but I had to give a performance for the video. Normally when recording, I can just concentrate on the playing/singing and it doesn’t matter what I look like, so to speak. Recording The Debt was a bit like giving a public performance, but my guitar-playing and singing had to be as perfect as I could make them.
I set myself this challenge as the latest step in a process that began with Song to Self. That song was thrown together with a lot of loops, very little musicianship from me and very poor singing. Having not sung much in ages, I could hardly hold a note when I recorded Song to Self. My inability to sing or to be up to scratch with playing guitar continued with Loss of Memory – my shaky singing was aided by autotune to keep me in tune and I had to edit the electric guitar lead part to correct the timing of a note or two. I would claim to have improved a lot by the time I got to From Them, To Me And To You, with some guitar-playing and singing that starts to show what I can do.
For The Debt, I have tried to reach a higher level of proficiency. So I played a lot of guitar and did a lot of singing, and rehearsed the song many times, before recording it. Whilst never having claimed to be a great player or singer, with this recording I have probably got to within reach of the best I’m able to do.
Recording and production
As can be seen in the video, I used Logic Pro to record the vocal and acoustic guitar. I’m wearing my Sennheiser headphones because I’m playing along to a drum track. This wasn’t to make sure I kept to a steady tempo, but because I plan to record another version of the song – with a full arrangement – and I wanted the same acoustic guitar and vocal parts for that, and the same video footage.
I am playing my Taylor 54ce, mic’ed up to my AKG C1000S. I’m singing into my Røde NT1-A microphone. The audio interface was via my Focusrite Scarlett 2i4.
Both microphones picked up a lot of the other part, probably resulting in quite a rich overall sound. Because the Røde picked up lots of the Taylor, I couldn’t use autotune on my voice as it would have made the guitar sound very odd, therefore adding to the challenge for me to sing well.
I had originally intended to do virtually nothing to the sound at all, in the interests of a totally faithful recording, just some light compression to smooth out any unevenness. However, the untreated vocal sounded kind of lost within the acoustic guitar sound, so I ended up ‘lifting it’ in the mix with a touch of plate reverb and, having given up on the original idea of true fidelity, I did a bit of restrained eq’ing on the Taylor part – which also fed into the vocal nicely.
With the video being the recording of the song, it was pretty straightforward. I used my Panasonic video recorder and edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. I’d liked to have filmed in a more appropriate setting, such as a rehearsal room, rather than my living room (!), so the main thing I did was to use a couple of filters to create a bit more of an intimate atmosphere.