Sam Arjes The Journey of a Song “Where I Have Been” Music Production

The journey of a song is a long one. Sam Arjes began writing this years ago and released it in an early form, bare bones, with voice and acoustic guitar. As with everyone, before I begin, I go on a walk and discuss what the vision for the production or partnership is. Sam heard this being in The Beach Boys realm which I understand very well and anyone who is invested in the history of pop music should as well. There’s a vocabulary of harmony and textures that define it: a picked walking bass, layered guitars, organ, a steady drum groove on a standard drum kit, fun auxiliary percussion, and definitely well crafted vocal harmonies full of oohs and La la la’s. Beyond that, there were some structural edits to the song that I suggested to promote a sense of forward motion.

Our first session laid the basic groundwork. Based on the original, I constructed the necessary drum pattern that best encapsulates a groove. When you’re recording, groove and vibe is most important. By the time Sam had a chance to set up I was playing him my basic loops to make sure he felt right about the direction because that’s what he would be recording to. This adds so much feel to a performance. He knocked out all the guitar tracks – triplicates of the same pattern with 2 different mics to fill up the stereo field. Afterwards, I got on the bass and started to knock out those picked lines made famous by the wrecking crew’s Carol Kaye.

Before our next session I had put together some basic vocal harmony and guitar ideas that I wanted Sam to approve of before going full out. He loved them so I worked out the rest of the vocal harmonies since that was what we would be attacking. As before, he was a total pro and came in with lyrics memorized and ready to tackle all the harmonies I had laid out. In 4 hours they were all down, the form of the song had been established completely, bass tracking was finished, and all guitars and vocals were complete.

At this point in the production, it’s very important to be super careful not to overload the stacks. Adding is always fun but the focus can get lost in a hurry. Not every moment can be impactful so picking your moments and building the song is extremely important.

That being said … a key component in a lot of these Beach Boys recordings are fun auxiliary percussion which adds a lot of life and light. Claps, tambourine, shakers, vibraslap, and woodblocks were added on the last day before post production began.

In post, subtle vocal tuning using melodyne was used. This is a painstaking process that really polishes and brings clarity to multiple tracked vocals with a lot of harmony. Per phrase per part is gone over and adjusted accordingly to the singers voice. This is not the auto tune that is associated with T-Pain. When done right, you can’t tell it’s there until compared with the original track. There were slight places where Vocalign was used as well. This helps sync up the rhythms of the melody and should again be used judiciously. Too much of it makes the performance too robotic sounding, which is the exact opposite of what this song is intended to convey.

Now it’s onto mixing with Justin Mantooth at Westend Recording Studios. When going into the studio for mixing, you want to have all your editing out of the way so your engineer is not bothered with a bunch of non-mixing work that takes time and of course money. Levels should be generally where they need to live so that when your session file is opened up, the vision is clear.

Sam and his song have been an absolute joy to work with. The trust and openness we established early on is a crucial aspect of understanding and most importantly, honoring the vision. Everyone has worked with an engineer or musician whose aesthetic preferences are so narrow that it is nearly impossible to trust that they will really put their heart and mind into a project, put their ego aside, and completely focus on the vision. If you are lucky enough to find people to work with that can do this, hold onto them!

Next up for this tune is the studio session “making of” video! Stay tuned for that and more and as always, if there are any questions concerning any phase of music production and the marketing/business realm … don’t hesitate to reach out.