NTKOG Liner Notes – from Idea to Playlist

November 21, 2019| Music

After “Not That Kind of Guy” had been written (see previous post for the rationale, writing process, etc), it was time to turn the idea into a tangible product people could listen to and share. But that process is an entirely different animal, and as you’ll learn, it took a village to execute.

This song is honest and real. To convey that message, I thought the best way to present “Not That Kind of Guy” was by making the recording as live and relatable as possible. That vision necessitated a team of talented individuals who worked seamlessly and diligently to bring the song from concept to sonic product. I couldn’t be more grateful for the help I received on this song.

If I was the architect, Mike Seay was the builder. After I wrote the arrangement, Mike was with me every step of the way in getting each part recorded to a T. We tracked the vocals, piano, guitar, and organ at WhiteWater Studios near Union Square in NYC, and he dutifully managed and implemented all the equipment to make that happen. He entertained every request I had for yet another take, and sifted through the dozens of versions of each track with me to find the best ones. He was incredibly resourceful and productive, and I can’t thank him enough for the grace and professionalism with which he handled and implemented my ideas.

One of the first pieces to be completed on this song was actually the drums. Luke O’Kelley, a session drummer based out of Athens, GA, reached out to me via Instagram and offered to track drums via his home studio on an upcoming track of my choice. Aware of the quality recording that can be done remotely nowadays, and being slightly surprised and admiring of his offer, I sent him over a super-rough version of NTKOG that featured just piano and vocals. I didn’t give him any guidance; I just told him to try this one out for size.

Literally a couple of hours later, he sent me an audio file of the same song, now with his drums layered onto them – and I instantly knew he was the real deal. His timing was impeccable and the sound quality, even from a rough mix, was superb. I then drew out a “lead sheet” for how I thought he should approach the song, with notes like “woodblock on 2 + 4” and “tom fills in the bridge,” but largely gave him free reign to approach the song how he thought would sound the best. After one more day of back and forth, I had a finished drum track for the song.

I am so glad I decided to work with Luke – having live drums on the song add an organic quality that just fits. Going into the studio already having that part done was also an enormous help in tracking the other instruments and vocals.

For the bass and guitar, I reached out to Zach Fuller, who produced the instrumental for my previous single, “Giving It Up,” as well as played bass and guitar on that track. I knew Zach had a firm grasp of my style and an approachable and willing attitude, so similar to the drums scenario, I sent him a rough cut of the piano and vocals of the song and asked him to track what he thought guitar and bass should sound like on it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

After recording the bass and rhythm guitar lines from his home studio, we met in the studio with Mike to record some riffs and runs to be used throughout the song. While Zach has a lot of experience producing hip hop music, his natural feel for the pop genre made filling out this song (and “Giving It Up”) so easy. I am so grateful to have connected with someone who clearly gets me musically and possesses such a positive and collaborative mentality.

I tracked the piano and organ myself in the studio, which was a ton of fun. The keys were freshly tuned before my session and outfitted with four microphones – playing that instrument on a song I wrote made me feel more like a legitimate, well-rounded musician than I ever have.

The slide at the beginning of the song was only attempted once, and it worked out nicely. The entire piano line is one continuous take, and going over it on the higher keys and the organ with some ad-libs to fill it out was a blast.

After all the recording was done, the least enjoyable and most time-intensive part of the process began: sifting through the huge bank of takes from each instrument (especially lead vocals and harmonies), determining the shortlist of keepers, and lining them all up. Listening to yourself sing the same line in 6 different takes of each phrase for a few hours can make you a little uneasy – especially if there is another person in the room to hear every missed note and fumble. I was utterly wowed at Mike’s precision and conscientiousness in getting through this stage swiftly and effectively.

Finally, it was time to get the song mixed. If you aren’t familiar with mixing, it can be compared to making a recipe. What we had done up to this point was figure out what ingredients we needed, acquired them, and laid the best of each of them out on the table. Now we needed to bake the cake.

Mike referred me to Danny Lapidus, who has extensive experience as a mixing and mastering engineer in the live music space. I sent Danny an embarrassingly long email with references (notes on what I wanted each part of the song and each instrument to sound like, using other popular songs as comparisons), along with specific notes on which effects could be added where.

This is the stage where all volume levels, echos, resonance, brightness, timbre, and frequency of each part of the mix were addressed. I have such a respect for people like Danny who get deep in the weeds with the inner workings of a song like that, and have the ear to distinguish tiny differences between good and best.

Danny was unbelievably diligent in attending to every nitpick suggestion I had (“can you turn down the upper harmony 5% from 0:39 to 0:41”) and had a clear innate understanding of how to place each sonic element in the right place. After a couple back and forth exchanges, in which Danny was far too gracious and tolerant with my perfectionist ways, the cake reached its final form.

Danny sent me the final track, I loved it, and I uploaded it for distribution. And “Not That Kind of Guy” as you know it was born.

As you can see, this was no small or individual effort. Next time you hear the song, I hope you think about these people and their contributions, and it gives you an appreciation for the collaborative science and craftsmanship that is music production.