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Recording in Mexico: A Tour of the Estate

Balcony

View from our balcony

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We are living in a palace in the jungle. My stay here has largely been quiet and peaceful, with spurts of adventure and debouchery from time to time. Huge thunderstorms arrive most days, bringing a welcome respite from the heat.

Please, let me show you around.

KLEPTISH = ETHAN = KLEPTISH. This is happening.

You can like Kleptish on Facebook, and RSVP to the album release concert September 12th.

Gratitude

It’s impossible to stay in a place like this without frequent bursts of gratitude:

  • for my dear friend and bandmate Jessica Doles. She was given the opportunity to housesit this retreat house, and was gracious enough to share her little slice of paradise with us.
  • for my dear friend and creative partner Stephen Shumaker, who’s been here these past two weeks. His support and help with our various creative projects has been immeasurable.
  • for the flexibility to devote July and August to my album project.
  • for the opportunity to learn so much about recording and my creative process every day. Which brings me to:

Lessons, Challenges

I have effectively removed myself from nearly all of the distractions and commitments from back home. So the old excuse, “I can’t create, I’m too busy” no longer applies. As expected, a whole new crop of internal creative roadblocks and challenges has popped up, and I continue to struggle with them every day.

Goals vs. Play

My creative partners and I use an elaborate system of daily, weekly, and long-term goal-setting, including rewards and punishments. While it’s helpful to channel my energies towards these milestones, there have been plenty of instances in which I’ve set overly ambitious goals and then crumbled into frustration when continued labors fail to produce, say, a completed track.

One item that was missing in those situations was play, good old-fashioned jamming out on synthesizers or a guitar, without any expectations that the sounds I’m making turn into anything final. And, as it happens, good, juicy, usable bits often result from such periods of play. I continue to experiment to find a winning ratio of play to focused effort.

The Many Hats of an Electronic Musician

In this excellent lesson from DJ Vespers, he notes that, in the past, a band would select their instruments, go to the studio, where a recording engineer would record their performances. The recordings would then be passed on to a mixing engineer, and then to a mastering engineer. Electronic musicians, however, generally perform every one of these steps themselves. A key, therefore, to avoid getting stuck or losing focus, is to execute each of these steps in order, without bouncing around.

The steps are:

  • Select your palette of sounds and instruments
  • Record layers of these instruments for various sections of the song (verse, chorus, etc.)
  • Arrange these recordings. For instance, starting the song with sparse instrumentation and then adding most of the instruments for the chorus or drop
  • Mix and master the track

This was exactly the advice I needed, since I would often find myself getting bogged down in the details of mixing before the song had been recorded or arranged. I successfully used this system while converting this acoustic track
into the following electronic arrangement I used for the film score

Thanks for following along with the journey to the album! On Thursday, it’s back to the states, and more recording in Berkeley and San Francisco.

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