The making of Smiles

In May, I finished another song, and felt it was time to fulfil my dream of releasing a single. Leigh McRae, my vocal coach has been a fantastic supporter of mine, since we met late last year and it was Leigh who introduced me to Michael Carpenter from LoveHZ studios. 

I approached Michael with a specific song in mind that I wanted to release. Michael was very happy to work on that record but things changed when he asked me two questions:

  • If I am listening to you, the artist you want to be, what five other CD’s would be in my CD player with yours?
  • Of all the songs you’ve written, which one best represents you?

Answering both of those questions gave me a clear view on the direction that I wanted my first release to go, and led me to change my mind on the first song that I wanted to publish. 

I chose Smiles, because it is both reflective while also looking forward. I have found that when people first listen, they enjoy the melody and metaphor and the story of what was essentially a journey on Sydney harbour. To me, as with most art, it represents a lot more than that. 

Through my frame of reference, the song reflects on previous more stressful times when I’ve battled with my mental health, but it also looks to the present and beyond where I am able to enjoy my family, friends and the beautiful natural environment. 

Michael afforded me a lot of his time ahead of recording. I visited the studio about a month before to play the song live and we discussed a key change and making one of the verses a bridge. Michael also discussed the dreaded click track and I went away to polish my guitar playing against a click, as well as refining the vocal melody under the stewardship of Leigh.

Through the time of my preparation, I made a late change to the song, slowing the pace and making use of the “finger picking” style I imagined when I first wrote Smiles last year.  My study at the Australian Institute of Music meant I could now execute what I had originally envisaged. 

On the day, we started at about 9.30 am and I laid down guide guitar and vocals. It was really satisfying to be able to do that in one take, which was a testament to the guidance I’d received and the practice I’d done.

Working with Michael was a real pleasure, he was very supportive and a great listener. It felt like we were on the same wavelength as we lay down the drums, which Michael delivered brilliantly and then recorded the guitar for the chorus; I played my faithful Cole Clark acoustic and Michael added colour with a 12 string. I then added the finger picking before Leigh arrived to lay down piano and to mentor me through the vocals. Michael suggested adding slide guitar based on some of my comments and that proved to be an excellent addition. 

After lunch we completed recording with backing vocals and Hammond organ. It was a real treat  to watch with Leigh and Michael combining brilliantly to record the backing vocals. Their skill and experience really added to the song. Recording my first single wrapped up at around 5pm. 

I’ll never forget the look of amazement on the faces of my children and how proud my wife was when I played them the rough mix that evening. Even with mixing and mastering still to come it felt like I had achieved a massive milestone. Reflecting back, since the beginning of my musical journey, I have been helped by so many generous people. I have done my best to thank each one of them individually but to everyone involved, thank you again – you have helped me achieve a lifelong dream, and that is very special indeed.

To be one of the first to listen on Spotify please follow me below, or pre-order your own copy on iTunes.

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