Recording You Are My Joy

This is Matt (Julie’s husband), and I am part of the guest blogger team for today. Together with Kevin (Julie’s producer), we hope to give you a glimpse into how we recorded the music for Julie’s new album “You Are My Joy.”

My part starts when Julie has finished an initial song idea. We have a complete studio set up in our house where we record all of the basic tracks. Usually we will start with a piano and a scratch vocal track that we use to layer on the rest of the instruments. After these initial tracks it is almost always drums that are recorded next, followed by guitar, flute, keyboards, and the various other instruments. With all of the recording, the goal is always to get a good take as soon as possible while the musician is still “fresh.” It doesn’t always happen quick, but when it does it is magic!

Matt Bernstein drum recording
Once all of the basic tracks are recorded, we move on to a final vocal. For the final vocal we usually swap out some gear and record with a higher quality mobile recording setup in one of a couple of different locations where the acoustics are fantastic.

Matt Bernstein mobile recording
In addition to working as the recording engineer, having done professional photography work before, I do all of the photos and video work for Julie. For this newest album it meant me stretching quite a bit to do a couple full length videos for the singles “Seal” and “You Are My Joy”. A bonus for me was being able to get and learn new gear (steadicams, stabilizers, etc.) to shoot with!

Matt Bernstein video editing
Back to the music part once again - once we’ve recorded everything to the point that it’s time to hand off to Kevin, we upload the files online and Kevin receives them in his Raleigh, North Carolina studio where he takes over!

… Hello! Kevin McNoldy here… I’m Julie’s music producer and sometimes co-writer. Once Matt uploads the files to me, I get them set up in my studio.

Kevin McNoldy Cphonic Studios
I then add in my parts: guitars, keyboards, bass, background vocals, and sometimes drums. As an example, for the first single “Seal,” we divided up the parts fairly evenly… Julie handled the strings that form the main chordal structure, sang the lead vocals, and the drums were performed in her studio, all recorded by Matt. In my studio in Raleigh, I then added the synthesizers, organ, atmospheric guitar, and the big “movie soundtrack” drums.

Kevin McNoldy Cphonic writing station
To get the final sound you hear on the CD, a lot of work went into the mixing of all those finished tracks. With the raw recordings from both Matt and Julie’s home studio and my own studio space, I would spend days (sometimes weeks!) on each song, building the drum sounds and layering the various arrangement pieces (bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals) to help translate the emotion of each lyric. Julie, Matt, and I would meet once a week over video chat to discuss the particulars, then my goal was always to exceed what we had talked about… a song only felt finished when Julie’s reaction would be her jaw dropping from the sound going beyond what she expected! So, if she had described wanting something to sound “big,” I would return with it sounding “super-humanly gigantic!!” A great example of this is the song “Holy Spirit Break Out,” which began as a very driving song in the basic tracks and turned into an over-the-top, all out explosion of sound by the end of the mixing process.

Julie, Matt, and I have ended up creating a way to record between our two locations that works almost like shorthand for us. Our video chats create an outline for the songs (well, to be more accurate, ten minutes of the chats are spent on the work, the rest of the time is spent cracking jokes). Then, the basic recordings take several months on both sides. And finally, there is a month or two spent mixing and mastering the final results. And finally, we celebrate when we reach the point where we collectively say, “I wouldn’t change anything in any of the songs.” Then, we’re done (usually after fixing a few more things even though we swore it was all perfect).
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