What It’s Like in a Recording Studio
Early this November, I had the privilege of participating in a recording session at Capricorn Studios in downtown Macon, GA to make “cues” for an upcoming documentary. These cues were short snippets of music, ranging from thirty seconds to a few minutes in length, that are going to be used as background music throughout this documentary film. The film is titled Triangle Park and centers around the first NFL game in history. According to their website, here is what the movie is about:
“On an unusually warm day in the fall on October 3rd, 1920, Triangle Park hosted the first-ever National Football League’s game in front of 5,000 fans. Many interesting storylines existed with prohibition starting in the spring, a booming innovative town that had just risen back from a major flood, and the first time women could vote along with the birth of the NFL. Triangle Park will take you beyond the gridiron to learn more about the times and the city.”
One of the coolest things to me about this project was who composed the music: it was Chuck Leavell. Now, that name might not be familiar to everyone reading - I didn’t know much about Chuck Leavell until about a year ago - but he was a member of the Allman Brothers back in the day, and still has an active career in music to this day. Leavell is an absolutely incredible pianist, and played the piano part in the music for the documentary. He was there the day we recorded, and shared a little bit about his inspiration for the music. It was written for just strings and piano, and he said he took inspiration from the Chariots of Fire soundtrack. He wanted to provide a soaring, melodic feeling behind the scenes of football to counter some of the intensity.
Several of my colleagues and I arrived at the recording studio on a Sunday afternoon, music well-prepared and ready to play, and found our seats in the recording room. In front of every chair was a music stand, of course, and then a black box with a bunch of knobs on it and a pair of headphones connected to it. As classical musicians, we are not too often in a scenario where we wear headphones when we play, but that day was one of those times! In a recording setting, it is very important to be able to hear exactly what you need to in order to play your best, and play at just the right time so that all the pieces and parts can come together the way the composer envisioned. For us that day, we had Mr. Leavell’s pre-recorded piano part coming through our headphones along with a “click track,” which is really just a metronome, in addition to some of the live sounds in the room. Each individual musician could adjust the volume of each component (the piano, the click, the live violins, violas, cellos, and bass) on that little black box, to tailor “the mix,” as it’s called, to our liking.
We played several takes of each of the eight cues that day. That way, the producer could take the best parts of each take and splice them together after our recording session was over. This is very common in the recording industry. We even re-recorded a few spots that were especially tricky because of changing tempos. The people in the next room over, with all the equipment, would start the track just a few seconds before where we string players were supposed to start and then we would record just that tricky section. They call this “cutting in” and it helps save time in the recording studio so that they don’t have to record the whole piece again in order to fix one or two spots that didn’t go so well the first time!
Over the years, I have done a good bit of studio work and I absolutely love it! I have had the opportunity to record sacred music as part of an orchestra, alternative pop music as part of a band, classical music as part of a quartet, and background music for a film as part of a string ensemble. It is such a fun experience to go into the studio, adjust your personal mix, and work to create something to be part of a bigger project.
Recording in a studio is very different from a normal classical music performance experience; there is no audience, you don’t have to dress up for a fancy concert, and there is less pressure because you can “cut in” and do a spot again if you mess up!
I am certainly looking forward to watching Triangle Park when it comes out in April of 2023 to see how my afternoon in a recording studio fits into the bigger picture of this project. I hope some of you will check it out as well!
Cailtyn Dillard and the StringTime Family