Tuesday, September 29, 2009


oy vey.

i approach my pseudo-recording-studio-work-station with dread for the first time in the project. And i resist, the urge to just move onto another song and leave this one unfinished for later. But i know it will just gnaw at me until it's done so....unto the breech, as Billy says.

as per my previous "Monument Song" post...
I am on the prowl for something musically that can fulfill the 'wail' like quality of a pedal steel guitar.

I've exhausted all my garage band and yamaha keyboard patches--
and by exhausted, I mean excema-sausted.
and I am not optimistic at my prospects.

I believe so much in the beautiful rain-on-a-foggy-day like flavor of this song that the pedal steel guitar brings, that i am tempted to scrap the entire song if i can't do the original arrangement justice.

I look at the clock.
Prime acoustic instrument recording time.
Well, that's a plus at least.

I put my flute together....
i play some of the pedal steel guitar lines.
I try to use the rolling in and out of the emboucher (mouth piece) to get that sort of falling in and off of the note sound. 


I try to finess the ever living shit out of it on garage band.

double meh.

I try to make it sound 'electric', by putting it through all sorts of 'amp' patches.

double dog meh.

i try even 'distortion' patches...
oh good Christ, it sounds like the Daleks from Dr Who.

meh to the power of balls.

the flute option is out.


I'm really hesitant to use the accordion because i've already used the accordion on the friggin accordion track. And I was so pleased to even HAVE a chart that was originally intended for an accordion that i don't want to...ya know make it jealous. Like siblings when it's only one kid's birthday. It's tough on the other kid, ya know? I like to keep my instruments happy.

Screw it.
What other options do i have?
There is absolutely no one i know who plays the goddamn pedal steel guitar, and even if i do, i certainly don't know them well enough to ask them to play it for free.

I strap on the beast.

I play a few lines of the pedal steel guitar track.
it kinda sounds like ass.

it's too, 'full'.
it's too......low.

wwaaaaaiiitttttt a minute....
i click the reeds out and up into the clarinet region*.

*for those of you unfamiliar with the accordion, it's a reed instrument. Inside the piano keys and the buttons are a bunch of reeds similar to clarinets, oboes, bassoons, etc. So it's pretty much like a mobile reed section- which is why it was so integral to our production of SWEENEY TODD.

ooooohhhhhhh, yes.
much more plaintive sounding.
if i manage the bellows...i can get a very very slight falling off of the tone.
I can definitely get the swell.

oh...do i dare get my hopes up?
After everything...
will it really be this simple of a solution?

I go back and start futzing with the mix.
I add a whole bunch of stuff to it- amps, wahs, reductions...
hmmmmmm, there's something....
not quite right.

it's clashing by actually melting with what i've already recorded as the accordion line.
They're bleeding together, and not in a good way.
Not that anything involving bleeding is ever really good, i'm guessing.

wait wait wait.....

i take mostly all the effects off the pedal steel guitar line....
and put them instead ONTO the other accordion line.

oh my god.
that's it!

that's IT!

in a weird way...the effects make the accordion line sound more like an accordion?
whereas, leaving the accordion rather plain in effect...makes it sound less like an accordion and just more like, something else?

does it sound like a pedal steel guitar?
oh hells no.
BUT it does add the wailing, keening flavor that the pedal steel guitar was designed to do.

By jove...
I think I've got it!
Holy cheese balls!

I record the rest of the pedal steel guitar line.
I go back and listen to it from top to bottom.

Good Christ, Watson.
it works.

I can't believe it-


One interesting observation-
since I banished the metronome from the track after realizing that it made me play the piano like an Aryan Youth band member-
I notice that, some of my instrumental lines don't exactly match up.

A very small number of down beat notes in all the different instruments don't land exactly together. I momentarily consider editing them all to land perfectly. But, then...I reconsider. 

Unlike the MUSIC BOX SONG where things obviously needed to line up perfectly as a music box would...this song has an organic flow to it. And in a way, the slight imperfections make it sound more...wistful? In a way, when it doesn't line up exactly- it's more believable that actually this was recorded by four separate people all sitting in a room. Because, it's...kind of perfectly imperfect.

Just to be sure, I record a really crappy vocal track for timing.
As  result, I do have moments where I'm questioning the tempo-
too fast in some places, too slow in others.
But i'll leave that to the final mix.
What with technology, these things can be adjusted successfully if they're slight. (Too much and anything acoustic with vibrato ends up sounding like it's coming down hard from an all night Rave).

But i make a note to tell Jay Atwood (my awesome mixing guy) to NOT line up the notes in the final mix. 

I remember Sondheim's advice:
Better to play with feeling, rather than perfectly.

Amen, brother.

Another arrangement down.
Two days.
Not too shabby, if i do say so myself.

Next up: THE BALM IN GILEAD song.

Til then, my lovelies...



Ok my sweet pertaters--

So i went to the bank today and tried to open a second checking account with my regular bank for this whole CD adventure (just cause I want to really keep my personal finances separate from the CD finances for clarity).  And it turns out, they don't LET you open a second checking account on an already existing account unless it's an official business account (with all offiicial numbers and tags and crap)-
or a joint account for safety purposes. 

Obviously, this prevents anyone other than you from opening another checking account without your knowledge using all your information already in the system. Makes sense, and i really do appreciate it but....a pain in the ass, nonetheless. Especially after I hobbled all the way over there on a fractured ankle for basically nuthin'.

I float the joint-account idea by Andy (the bf) and he's incredibly supportive and game...
but...i don't wanna mix his financial information all up in this shit either.

Plus, trying to get around on a fractured ankle is tough-
and cabs are not cheap so...
trekking to my bank branch again in my condition?
Not appealling, and...not really smart either.

Of course on the block where I live there's only....
oh, i don't know...
2987234i234987234 banks to choose from. 
So I eeny meeny miney moe'd it, went into one and opened up a new account.

Then I went home and signed up for a PAYPAL account (https://www.paypal.com/).
This (which I'm sure most of you know about- but for those of you like me, who didn't),
is a really nifty site that allows you to have people pay you via credit card and vice versa. It's also incredibly secure for everyone involved so...that's extremely comforting as well.

Also, as luck would have it-
my regular website (www.donnalynnechamplin.com) is actually wired for PAYPAL so...
when everything gets set up and approved and all that jazz, I will post again as to how to make donations to the ANGEL PR FUND, and eventually purchase CDs, etc if you're interested.

But yes.
What a marvelous invention.
Definitely a 'must have' for the independant CD seller.

I'm grateful to know you PAYPAL.
May we be life long friends.




This tune, which we'll call The Monument Song (by Jim Bauer) totally sucker punched me in the solar plexus when I saw/heard it (performed by the sublime Nancy Anderson) in an Off Broadway show a few seasons ago. It's such a unique piece. Especially for musical theatre. The lyrics are true poetry and incredibly poignant. 

It's also extremely simple melodically, but the orchestrations (which I've remained true to, with Mr. Bauer's permission) are in a way, subtley complex. I mean, it's not every day you hear a musical theatre orchestration for accordion and pedal steel guitar*. 

*The pedal steel guitar is very common to country tunes- it's that...sort of 'wailing sound' in pretty much every Garth Brooks song ever recorded? In country songs, your ear doesn't register it anymore because it's always there- but in a musical theatre tune? It really really comes alive because it's such an unsual sound.

For this very reason, I am loathe to admit that there is absolutely nothing I have or can do to even come close to that sound. It's kind of devastating. I have tried everything. Every patch. Finessed in every way possible. It's just not within my capability to manufacture that sound respectfully. 

I have to figure out a way around it.
If i can't replicate it properly, i will have to substitute it with something equally as 'emotional'.
Which sucks at the moment.
But I'm sure the answer will come.

In the meantime...

I'm sitting here.
I'm looking at the arrangement.
There's parts for:
piano (check)
accordion (check)
bass (check)
medal steel guitar (feck).

I figure, I'll record all the tracks I have instruments for first.

The print is small.
Even with my glasses on...the instrument lines are blurring together.
I get out the highlighter markers:
Much better.

I lay down the piano track.
I've really underestimated the difficulty of the piano chart.
It takes me quite a few passes, and a lot of patching to finally get it where i want it.

I listen back.
The garage band metronome is drilling a hole into my eustachian tubes all of a sudden.
What's happening?

wait a minute...
why is the metronome bothering me now when i'm listening to the playback...
and not when i was playing....
oooohhhhh no.

I listen more closely...

Ohhhh crap.
It's because I play like a complete dick cheese when it's on!
That's why it's bothering me on the playback.

The metronome ATE MY BRAIN!

No nuance.
No nothing.
Just boring, totally metered playing on my part.
I was trying so hard to get the notes right...
that it's completely devoid of feeling.

*Sondheim sidenote:
When we were rehearsing SWEENEY TODD, Sondheim came to our first runthrough (thank you very much). Obviously, we were all shitting our pants at just running it all, let alone for the master. So in an effort to be as perfect as possible, we played that gorgeous score like we had ten maypoles shoved firmly up our asses. Afterwards, Sondheim graciously said,

"You're all too respectful of my music. I would rather you play more wrong notes and play with more emotion, than play every note correctly but without the proper degree of feeling."

I believe Mr. Sondheim would not approve of my latest take. At all.

Just to appease the sadist in me...
I listen again to the piano track without the metronome on. 

Oh sweet baby Jesus in Heaven.
it's even worse.
The militance is even more pronounced.
It's like...Patton played it. Blindfolded. With his elbows.

Forget it.
not even remotely good enough.
it's 90 minutes of work gone, but fuck it.


I decide to use the metronome to get me into the piece through intro-
and then get rid of it.
Obviously, I can't be trusted with it on.

an hour later....

a few more patches...
very good.

a few more patches...
i'm very pleased indeed.


i lay down the bass.
Again, in the show it was I believe, an electric bass guitar that was used which has...
a really nice sustain to it.

But the electric guitar patch I have in garage band is really, 
well, let's say ACDC would find it "a bit too much", so-
I go for a traditional Upright Bass patch and finesse it with bass amp, auto wah, treble reduction features and a shit load of reverb. 

It's actually pretty cool sounding. 
I really like it. 


I look at the clock.

I really want to press on.
And i know if i don't i'll just lie in bed with the remaining accordion track swimming through my head anyway.

But i swore i wouldn't play any more acoustic stuff after 11pm.
it's so uncool of me neighbor wise.


it's only take me 20-30 minutes tops.
it's an easy track, this one.
plus, i can play real quietly...
it's a real quiet kinda song.

i break out the beast and strap 'er on.

An easy 20 minutes.
no surprises, just a straight shot.
aaaannnnd done.

Ok i'm putting her to bed for tonight.
tomorrow, I'll tackle the pedal steel guitar issue..
until then, my lovelies...

sleep tight.




My original plan was to arrange and lay down all the instrumental tracks this fall-
and then when i went home for Christmas, record the vocals in the acoustically perfect Hochstein Music School in my hometown of Rochester, NY.

However, since i've been on the recording fast-track --
what with my new found free time since fracturing my ankle on the job at BILLY ELLIOT-
I've been trying to find a new, quiet, 'ringy', free place where I can record vocals ASAP and hopefully get this CD out and ready to sell before the holidays.

Just yesterday i was telling Andy (the bf), 

"I just need a place after 11pm where I can do my thing and people will just leave me alone."

as luck would have it...

This afternoon I was in the office of my apartment building (Manhattan Plaza) getting a guest pass for mom and her friend when they come to visit this weekend. Or rather, when my mom and her friend come to see BILLY ELLIOT.  Saturday night. Without me in it. Because I fractured my ankle like a dumbass.

In some families- the force is strong. 
In mine? 

we'll get a good visit in.

I was in the office getting a pass for my mom when someone behind me asked for the 'rehearsal room sign up sheet'.


In the bowels of my building-

I took a gander at the schedule...
And gee.
Look what slot is open almost EVERY NIGHT...

My God.
I love my building.

Ok, sometimes i hate my building...

but today?
I absolutely LOVE my building!

THIS is one of the reasons i was on the waiting list for over ELEVEN years for this fucking place. Because...


Jesus, it's like being back in college but not having to sell your left nut for a place to rehearse other than the loading dock.
a sign up sheet.


NOW, the plan is to catch up on recording the vocals so i can start sending complete songs over the internet to the AWESOME Jay Atwood for mixing (more on him in later posts). This way, he can work on them one at a time and not get pummeled with 15 songs all at once.

I am a very very happy gal today.


did i mention the HUGE GRAND PIANO...
in the free rehearsal room?

very happy indeed.