Making the music

This is the Sound of Adamsdown was made on a shoestring and no professional recording studio was involved. The drum tracks were made on Logic computer software and transferred to a (now antiquated!) Fostex MR-8 portastudio onto which all other tracks were recorded, before being transferred back onto computer for very basic mastering on Wavepad.

Electric guitars used were a Fender Telecaster and (before some unknown child managed to snap it!) a Tanglewood Pioneer – musos may like to check the latter out, a fabulous guitar not easy to come by these days. These were put through a Behringer V-amp, which can imitate various guitar sounds (eg Bryan Adams’ Run To You, which of course we would not have dreamed of using!)

Acoustic guitars used were a Tanglewood Earth 200 6-string and a Tanglewood TW15 12-string. Both are electro-acoustics but were recorded via a Shure Beta 58A mic.

Keyboards were a Novation K-station synth and a Yamaha PSR 140.

The bass used was a Peavey International purchased from Cardiff Guitars specifically for the project (budget £150) and played through a Behringer V-tone bass amp modeler.

Apart from the acoustic guitar, then, everything could be recorded direct into the portastudio, without the neighbours hearing a thing – not that that mattered when the neighbours were also working on the project!

The process was the same for every song: I would produce a rough demo, then when this had been okayed by the singer, Mark would work on the drum track. Once he’d got a first version, I’d sing the song over it and we’d sort out problems, add in this and that, till we were both happy with it. This could be quite an exhaustive business.

The drum track was then loaded onto the portastudio.

Next it was back next door to what could laughably be called my studio (also my office and unofficially Jordi and Zazie’s playroom), where I would put down a rhythm guitar track and work on a bassline. Mark would then come round and listen to this, then pick up the bass and say “What about this?”. I would then surreptitiously press the record button and generally we’d have a much better bassline within a few minutes.

There was no rule about how we’d divvy up the parts for the rest of the song. I would generally put most of it down, though some of the rhythm guitar tracks were Mark’s, who would also overlay some of those little killer riffs that appear here and there, often near the end of a song. I am a fan of bringing in something new near endings and leaving the listener wanting more rather than being flogged to death a la Richard Ashcroft.

Apart from Adamsdown Song, which was recorded at the Adamsdown Community Project, the vocals were also recorded at my house, in a customised kitchen-diner, and no post-production techniques were used to ensure everything was perfectly in tune. Partly because we didn’t have the technology, but also because we did not want to smooth over every minor imperfection. We wanted the CD to sound good, but still like a recording made by real people.

Finally I’d work on a mix, and once Mark and I were both happy with this, I’d take this off the portastudio onto my PC to set the volume level, eliminate hiss etc, and create the final WAV file which was to be uploaded to online stores via Reverbnation and sent to Nimbus in Monmouth for CD manufacture.

No part of making This is the Sound of Adamsdown has been less than a pleasure. Understandably most of the vocalists arrived for their recording sessions feeling anxious, but everyone left happy and the process was rewarding and empowering all round. That for me is what community arts is about.

Jon Blake


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