We made a cast recording.
It was amazing. And hard.
After the huge success of PRODIGY at the St James Theatre last summer, the company worked together to raise the funds to able to head into the studio.
We worked with the amazing Nikki and Joe at Auburn Jam who are the ABSOLUTE GENIUS BEST in the business and dealt admirably with not only the actor/muso madness AND the Jake and Pippa madness but also the general Prodigy team madness – they helped us through it all and although I’ve only heard rough mixes so far, it promises to be incredibly exciting.
I’ve never made a cast album before – we had one on The Wizard of Oz but I didn’t go to the studio to see how it was done – and it was an interesting process. The first big thing I had to get my head around was that we weren’t recording in any kind of normal order – the technical logistics are such that Joe and Nikki advised us to do it in a specific way.
First of all the core band spent two days laying down all of the tracks so that vocals and instruments could be added on top. We then had one insane day of groups in which we scheduled about thirty different items that we wanted to do in small groups. So we might do 16 bars of one song with the five ‘prodigies’ followed by two choruses of another with the presenters, followed by a section of underscored dialogue in a third song – anything that we really wanted the cast to actually do together.
The following day, the entire cast came together to record the full company sections – a seriously intense day where they stood (occasionally sat) in rigid rows plugged into headphones which turned into spaghetti the minute anyone moved. An excerpt of the schedule for Company Day looked a bit like this:
Why I Hate Kate - Letter G - F/C Act 1 Finale - Letter M - F/C Prodigy - Whole Song - F/C The Competition - Whole Song - F/C Say it in Song - Letter B and D - F/C Proud - Letter G - F/C (not parents)...... (ETCETERA)
The next three days were split by performers – all the strings players on one day, brass on another, and wind on a third. In the mornings they got down the instrumental parts (including a mammoth three hours of practically non-stop clarinet from the iron lady Heather Conder!) and then after lunch, whoever had been playing stayed to record their solo lines and dialogue:
Proud - Letter E/ F - Harry - Dialogue Walkaway - Letter D - Harry - Singing Good TV - Letter G - Caroline and Harry - Singing Walkaway - Letter H/ I/ J/ K - Caroline and Harry - Singing Say it in Song - Just before D - Caroline and Harry - Dialogue Act 1 Finale - Whole Song - Caroline and Harry - Singing/ Dialogue Good TV - Letter J - Caroline, Harry, Emma - Dialogue Proud - Letter A - Emma - Singing Just Like You - Section - Emma - Singing/ Dialogue Act 1 Finale - Letter F - Emma - Dialogue
It was entertaining – hearing dialogue being delivered to mystery floating voices who’d already done their bits the week before was a particular highlight for me – and also an interesting challenge. We found as a team that we needed to be even more specific than usual about the kind of performance we wanted to hear beyond what was on the page – and in a couple of cases when we just weren’t tuned in enough when listening to energy levels, hearing sections recorded on different days put together was a bit of a shock!
Watching Joe work was mesmerising – he got to know exactly what our preoccupations were and was always quick to offer suggestions or improvements. We learnt that if you’re tired you can make the sound brighter by raising your eyebrows. That looking at music on a stand just in front of you will make the performance small. That some performers love to do each line separately and get each one spot on – and others are better if they can do the whole thing in one go and then come back and fix the problems. That if you take the first half of a verse from one bit and the second half from another you can get all of the accurate bits and only slightly cheating..!
As a team we were tested again – studio time is precious and notes have to be direct, fast and able to achieve the exact result intended. We developed a system of muting, discussing and agreeing at lightning speed before passing on notes to the performers – using the built in Mute button to hide our confusion and disagreement before presenting a totally united front to the cast on the other side of the glass! (Special mention to Eloise Kenny Ryder for coining the phrase ‘Spare Our Feelings Button’ as everything went quiet in her headphones for the thousandth time..!)
When listening to Joe’s rough mixes I already find it hard to imagine how such a perfect whole could have been broken up into chunks and put down separately to create something which sounds just like we all turned up, pressed record and went for it – it feels so complete and together.. Which I suppose is what we want our audience to feel about anything we put on stage.
For the mega geeks like me who like weird anecdotes, the very first thing recorded was ‘We’ve Got Talent Too’ piano and vocals (before Christmas as we thought Luke’s voice might break… Four months later and it still hasn’t..) and the very last thing recorded was the trumpet part in Block Out the Noise.
The release date is yet to be decided but probably June/ July – watch this space!
Update: Prodigy Cast Recording on iTunes click here to buy on iTunes. Waaaaaaah!