Archive for the ‘recording’ Category

A fiddle player’s thoughts on the etiquette of dealing with session musicians……….

Let’s say you’re a self-taught songwriter –  or an indie band  – and you’ve hired a session musician to put those final magic touches to your recording. There’s just one problem….you have no idea what to say to them when they arrive in the studio. Sound familiar? As both a session musician and a songwriter I’ve been both sides of this; I’m well aware that directing session musicians can be an intimidating prospect, especially for artists with little formal training. So here’s some suggestions:

1). Have a clear idea of why you want the instrument on the track

From my own experience, artists tend not to have very developed ideas of what they’d like me to play; they simply have a vague idea that it would be nice to have some fiddle on a track. That’s fine, but if you leave it as wide open as that there’s no guarantee you’ll like what I come up with. To a large degree this is just a matter of taste, and of what you’re hearing on the song fiddle-wise, but keep in mind I don’t have access to what you’re hearing in your head! Do you want it as a texture throughout the whole song, or do you want fills, a ripping solo in the middle of the track? A good place to start is to direct me to a track that you like (by another artist)* which features fiddle. Send me some samples prior to the session, maybe give me some examples of things you definitely don’t want, and I guarantee it’ll result in a more positive experience for everyone – you, me, and your engineer. And nobody wants an unhappy engineer working on their project.

2). Anything is better than a blank page.

You should expect your session musician to do a bit of homework before they show up for a recording session, but don’t make us fumble blindly for information that you’ve got and are not sharing. Most people I’ve recorded for send me a pre-production track and nothing else. Then I spend some time working out the structure & harmonic progression of the tune and build my fiddle line from there. You could save me some time by giving me some paper. Even if you’ve no charts and no idea how to notate lines, why not send me a lyric sheet so I have a road map to work from? Don’t be afraid to state what might seem to you to be obvious – you wrote the song so to you it’s self-evident which is the verse and which one’s the chorus, for example. Well I’m hearing this song for the first time, so it might not be so obvious to me.

Good example: I recently recorded for a songwriter who had some insecurity about his lack of formal training and continuously apologised for the fact that he doesn’t read music. But he sent me a clear plan of the song structure and chords, outlined which parts of the song did and did not require fiddle, and, best of all, was able to sing me a rough outline of the fiddle line he had in mind. Perfect. That’s all I need. And you don’t need to be able to read music to do that.

3). Respect your musicians’ time. Don’t call me in for 10am if I won’t be recording until 3pm.

This is a management issue, not a musical one, but it’s important. I’m amazed how often I’m called in for the start of a recording session, only to be greeted with ‘Oh yeah, we’re just starting in on the drums and bass now, not sure when we’ll be ready for the fiddle’. Did you think about that at all before you gave me the same call time as the rhythm section?! Unless you want a seething musician on your hands, it’s worth spending a few minutes scheduling your session properly.

4). If you’re asking me to work for free, do not, under any circumstances, try to make it seem like an opportunity for me.

About 50% of the artists who book me for recording sessions will try to get me to do it for free, or at the very least look for a discount because ‘we’re on a tight budget’. This is a bit of a cheeky thing to ask of a stranger, but ok, there’s no money in original music so I’m not completely unsympathetic. However if you try to tell me it’ll be good for my career – the classic phrase is ‘it’ll be good exposure’ – you can expect me to double my fee.


Hope that’s some help. Happy recording 🙂

*It is worth noting that most people pick either Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys, or Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.

I always get funny looks when I say this, but I’m oddly fond of January. If you’re somebody who likes eating healthily and working hard it actually has a lot to offer as a month 🙂 It’s also the time when musicians tend to get down to projects they want to work on but can’t make the time for the rest of the year round; there’s not many gigs going in January so many of us take to the recording studio around now each year. Early January was spent in Galway with the Lazy Band, a magical few days recording originals and covers in a series of live sessions with engineer Mike Nestor. 3 days, 17 tracks. Intense but rewarding.

lb pic galway1

jack mccarthy, stephen james smith, josh johnston at the Lazy Band recordings sessions, Galway

Next up was a session at Lamplight Studios  to put down some strings on Sive‘s new album which promises to be a stand-out collection of original music. Yes, she’s my friend and I can’t claim an unbiased perspective, but I can honestly say hers is a unique talent.Looking forward to hearing the finished product.

Then over to Jealoustown Studios for some video shoots with Don Baker. So, all in all, loving January so far. The one drawback? Recording studios, apparently without exception, are freezing in January.


Cathy McEvoy EP online cover




I allowed myself a glass of Prosecco this week, I won’t deny it. When you work on something for as long as I’ve been labouring at Letters to Loved Ones  you almost come to believe that the journey will go on forever and there’s no destination in mind.  I loved writing and recording the songs, and was massively privileged to have some extraordinary performers share their talents with me. But writing the songs is the easy part compared to the other areas of work. Why did it take so long? Because it’s been self-financed and self-released, and it’s hard to rush people such as session musicians and engineers who are working for next to nothing!

There’s also a good reason why record company personnel were employed in the past (and of course still are for big names), as many of my fellow DIY-musicians out there will testify. When it comes to promotion, formatting artwork, sourcing ISRC codes and all the other minutiae associated with getting a record across the finish line, indie musicians are a little off our patch. Can you do it yourself? Yes, but it will probably take you a lot longer than it would somebody with the skills and training. Are you the best person for the job? Definitely not, but the best person for the job is not available. So we muddle on and do the best we can……it just sometimes means that a collection of songs which took a month to compose takes 18 months to see the light of day in finished form. But finish it I have, and I’m rather pleased. Hence the Prosecco. Thanks for your continued interest and support, and I hope you like the finished product.

The first single from the EP is Heard You call my Name, performed by The Gospel Project. Click here for your first letter…….

Just finished a few days’ EP mixing. Regular readers (do I have any of them?!) will be aware that I’ve been working on an EP for the better part of 18 months…..why so long, you ask? Mainly because recording, mixing and mastering is of necessity a slow process when you have a budget of nothing. I’ve begged, borrowed and bartered my way through the project so far – and been blessed in having some hugely talented musicians share their talents with me on this basis – but there’s a limit to how much you can rush people who are working for nothing. If I have  a bass player booked for a recording session and he gets offered a paid gig the same day there’s only one call to be made at his end –he’s gotta take the paid gig. So, we wait. I’m at roughly the 70% point now – which in my experience is the point at which there’s the greatest risk of project abandonment. Starting things is easy, finishing them is another story.  Still, after a long delay it’s good to be back in the studio, mixing and listening to the material with fresh ears. Stay tuned 🙂

recording pic