I AM A BRANCH was recorded at Taylor’s Playground Recording Studio as a part of my “Record & Release One Song Per Month In 2018” personal challenge.
I definitely did not set myself up for success with this song. I only allowed for 3 days of recording / mixing, and those days were plagued with sickness, interruptions, and life. Still, I would say the song made it to 80% and has officially been recorded & released.
About the Song
This song was actually written back in 2006! I have always wanted to record it, but have never really had a reason to. While Jodi and I were with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in 2005, we had to memorize John 15:1-11 as a part of our Discipleship Training School (DTS). I’m so glad that we did. Those verses transformed my life!
After returning home from the mission field, I went back to work for a gas pipeline construction company. There were days that I felt like I was wasting my life. I know that wasn’t true, because we were exactly where God wanted us to be… but it felt true at times. During those difficult days, I was reminded of John 15:1-11.
I wrote “I Am A Branch” during a lunch break as a simple reminder to myself. The bridge is based off of a quote that I once heard belonged to Martin Luther. Though I cannot verify it, the quote as I remember it went something like this…
Martin Luther was once asked about works-based salvation. His response was to say, “The only works I can add to my salvation is the sin which God so graciously forgives!”
I don’t know whether or not that story is true, but I like it.
About the Recording
I was originally planning to record a completely different song for the month of January. As the days passed by, I spent time mapping out the song and working through different parts of it. I never got around to actually recording it, though. Perhaps that will be a “Record & Release” song for another month.
I spent one week of in Florida, leading worship for the Sonlife D•Conference. I spent another week in Alabama playing music and preaching for a week of prison ministry. I had high hopes of working on a song while on the road, but I never actually got around to it. (It’s not like I was just sitting around, doing nothing…)
After getting home from Alabama, I realized that the end of the month was not far away, so I determined that I was going to switch songs and planned to start on this song Monday morning, January 29. That didn’t leave much time.
On Monday I laid out the basic outline of the song. I recorded scratch vocals on top of the piano part. I spent the rest of the day recording, editing, and rough mixing the drums. With the snare roll, this is probably the trickiest song that I have personally played drums on. I am very happy with how they turned out!
On Tuesday I entered into guitar land. I set up a couple of microphones (Shure SM81 & Blue Blueberry) and recorded my Martin D28 in drop D for the main acoustic guitar part. I was happy with it, and I had some good stereo spacing, but it needed something else. I ended up putting a capo on the seventh fret of my Taylor GS-mini and using it as a high strung high strum sounding guitar.
Next I recorded the bass guitar and played around with some different editing techniques (a large part of why I am doing this to begin with is so that I can experiment with some things I don’t normally do). The editing techniques all failed me, so I just re-recorded the bass guitar. It was much better the second time around.
I finished my studio time on Tuesday by recording electric guitar. I played around with a couple of different setups. I started with my Fender Telecaster going into an Orange TH30. I had my “worship team” pedal board set up and was mostly using the Keeley Compressor Plus, Wampler Paisley Drive Deluxe, and JHS Pink Panther Delay. I was using a Sennheiser e906 to mic the cabinet. The whole thing was just very uninspiring. I tried my Gibson Les Paul into the same rig, but it still felt flat. I took a long break and came back later ready to mix things up. I took away the Orange TH30 and used a Vox AC15 instead (it was extended out to an Orange 12″ cabinet). I switched out my pedal board rig for my “main” pedal board. Now I was running through the JHS Pulp ‘N Peel Compressor, Wampler Paisley Drive, JHS Panther Cub Delay, and JHS Alpine Reverb. For just a little extra in the chorus and bridge, I stacked Paul Cochrane’s Tim pedal on top of the Paisley Drive. The Gibson Les Paul was just a bit thicker than the Fender Telecaster, so that is the guitar that I ended up using. I had two parts in my mind, but I only had time to record one of the parts. I hoped to record the second part using my Taylor Solidbody Custom in the morning.
It never happened.
I spent Wednesday morning doing other things that needed to be done. I also made the mistake of allowing my studio computer to update. This is always a bad idea when you have a deadline looming.
Half a day later, the computer was ready to be used again…
I lost a lot of time. Oh well.
My current “Studio Assistant”, Zach Yoder, was in the studio today. He is still in training, so I spent a bit of time walking him through what needed to be done. He did a great job!
We did a little editing and little more rough mixing, then it was time to replace the scratch vocals with the real vocals. I set up 3 great mics to use in a shootout. The first contestant was the Neumann TLM 103 going into a Neve 511 preamp. It was nice and clear. It also had a bit of a natural “surround-sound” type of thing happening. The second pairing was an Audio Technica 4060 going into one of the channels of a Universal Audio 4-710d. It sounded good and meaty. Not quite what we were looking for. The third combination was a Blue Kiwi (in cardioid) going into the second channel of a Chandler TG-2. This combination has often been my champion!
After listening back and making a decision, we ended up using the Neumann / Neve for the beginning and ending vocals, as well as the double vocal for the chorus and bridge. The Kiwi / Chandler combo was so clear, present, and strong, that we used it for everything else (lead vocal for entire song, except for beginning and ending lines).
There were several parts of the song where the vocals actually overlapped, so it was a process to get them recorded and edited… but I think it was worth it. I am very happy with how the lead vocals turned out.
I had to quit working on the project for several hours to take care of some business and take care of our youngest daughter. She was not feeling well enough to join her siblings and mother for kids church tonight. So I stayed home with her. We actually ended up running into the Public Library to return some books… but I digress.
By the time that parental duties were over and the kids were in bed, I couldn’t record any loud instruments (like the second electric guitar part), so I just spent my remaining hours mixing the song as best as I could on limited time.
Overall, I am happy with the song. It was a step in the right direction, though I have to admit that in my mind it is really only 80% finished. I did not have time to record the second electric guitar part, harmony vocals, synth, percussion, and (possibly) banjo. I also did not spend enough time getting the mix exactly how I wanted it, but I was able to Record & Release my first song of the 2018.
So I would say it was a success.
I am really happy with how the drums turned out. I felt like I played them well and really grew in my ability to edit. I typically work with a drummer who does not need a lot of editing. I personally need a pretty fair amount…
I loved the acoustic guitar sound and I am really happy with the electric guitar part. It would have popped quite a bit more with the second part, but oh well.
I was happy with the drum effect in the intro and first half of the last chorus. I also used some fun tricks along the way to thicken the drums and make them hit a little harder. I am typically too scared to try stuff like that, because I don’t have time and the song is going on an album. This project allows for experimentation, though I need to leave more time for it.
Areas for Growth
I need to give myself more time. This project is by no means my main project, but I still need to do a better job of leaving room to experiment (and actually finish the song).
There is not a lot of breathing room in this song. I would like to get better at leaving space.
I am sad that I did not get around to recording a synth part. I really want to grow in that this year.
I am not overly happy with the vocal performance. I think the vocals sound great, and it would have been much better with some harmony vocals, but overall the lead vocal performance was not great.
What Do You Think?
I would love to hear your feedback on the R&R song for January. Feel free to comment on the good, the bad, and the ugly. You won’t hurt my feelings (you won’t puff me up too much, either).