Tag Archives: shauna kearney

For Your Ears, Heart and Soul: Leaca Bán – Na Tonnta

Posting and sharing with you, my most recent music production project, the beautiful Leaca Bán by 5-piece, traditional Irish crossover group, Na Tonnta.

Na Tonnta
Na Tonnta

Introducing Na Tonnta (L-R as above): Daniel ‘Hearthrob’ Whelan, Ellie ‘Ellington’ J McGinley, Sinéad ‘Brings her own teabags’ O’Malley, Ciara ‘I♥ Beoga’ Moley and Fiachra ‘Figgy’ Meek. The group met while studying Music in DkIT together and bonded through their love of traditional Irish music, popular music, tea, biscuits and cakes!

My journey with Na Tonnta began in September 2014. I was searching for a musically-new band to introduce to the recording studio and collaborate with for my final music production project at DkIT, resulting in three songs- one being the core and most-polished production.

Approaching Na Tonnta was an easy task. It was actually perfect timing! I already knew Sinéad, their flute and whistle player from the Norway erasmus trip in 2013 and I worked with Ellie, their vocalist and fiddle player on my previous production project, “Crystal Hearts” feat. Fiona McErlane by Audio_Girl | Free Listening on SoundCloud.

I knew I wanted to carry forward my love for traditional Irish music while bringing it into a contemporary production and I also knew Na Tonnta were a hard-working, creative and driven group from my Facebook stalking since they formed in October 2013!

Na Tonnta warming up for the Spirit of Folk Festival, 2014
Na Tonnta warming up for the Spirit of Folk Festival, 2014

Leaca Bán began in the rehearsal room. Sinéad introduced the idea to the group with the beautiful, haunting traditional tune, 250 To Vigo, accompanied by accordion player, Ciara. I sat, mesmerised by the performance- the beautiful tone of the B flat whistle, the rhythm of the tune, the sombre accordion, gently accompanying the haunting tune. The hairs on my arms stood and I knew instantly that this was a tune I wanted to be a part of. I could already hear our studio recording in my mind’s ear!

What happened next lifted my spirits even further. There was a lyrical idea. In fact, there was more than just an idea- there was a theme, a mood, an atmosphere and a poem! A vintage book was produced- a little blue book with yellow pages, about to be tossed out from a local school library where Sinéad worked. For some reason unknown to me, Sinéad opened the book and there was a beautiful poem at the beginning. The Lights of Leaca Bán by Alice Cashel is an old book intended for secondary school children but the poem simply titled Leaca Bán, found at the begnning of the book, is a literary work of beauty.  It was suggested that Ellie fit the tune to the words- amazingly, it worked like a dream. Ellie suddenly started singing the poem and it was just right.

Ellie and Fiachra in the rehearsal room
Ellie and Fiachra in the rehearsal room

By Christmas a humble demo which consisted of a vocal, fiddle, tin whistle and accordion was recorded and then my audio fun began. What I already had was a beautiful tune which was deeply Irish and could hold up on its own with such a small ensemble- how about adding drums? Synthesisers? Guitars? More vocals? How big could we go?! How big did I dare?!

Well, here’s the final production.  Listen for yourself.

My Music Production Project Recording is Complete!

Party over here! I have completed my 3 recording sessions for my music production project “December”, written and composed by Keith Caffrey and myself, featuring Shane Taaffe on cajon and Ciarán O’Brien on double bass.

Monday morning was my last 3 hour studio session, I had 3 blocks of 3 hour sessions over a 6 week period to record the song. Time was extremely valuable and every minute counted in these sessions (especially when the song itself is 5:02 long, one take alone eats up 5 minutes…).

In this final studio session we recorded the lead vocal (Keith Caffrey), my backing vocal (thanks to my assistant Shauna Kearney for engineering for me here!) and a rainmaker. The session was the most relaxed (for me at least!) and though we kept a sharp watch on the clock, we were not under as much time pressure as the previous sessions.

Although it wasn’t ideal to record vocals at 9am, it had to be done and Keith was warming up his voice from 6.30am. The set up was simple- a Neumann U87 with pop shield and reflection filter going through the Audient ASP 8024 to Pro Tools. It would have been ideal to record with compression because there is a broad dynamic range in the vocal performance but as we’re still in early days, the compressor wasn’t patched in. We recorded some takes adjusting the gain for the loud and soft parts and also recorded the contrasting sections separately. It did occur to me after the session that I could have set up an AKG C414 right up beside the U87 on a separate track and adjust the gains of each microphone, so one would have a lower gain than the other. Hindsight! Every day is a school day…

Keith in studio
Keith in studio

Nonetheless I got what I needed committed to Pro Tools. Using the same set up with a tad extra gain I laid down my backing vocal, taking care to double up. Backing vocals are not a requirement of this project but one of the defining sounds of Shock Sorrow (myself and Keith) is our vocal blending. My sweet, soft voice is a nice contrast to Keith’s powerful and deep rock voice.

The rainmaker was the next recording- we set up 2 AKG C414s (mono tracks, cardioid pattern, no filter), and recorded the gentle sway of the falling beads during the intro and outro, this is a nice falling rain-like sound as opposed to a rhythm. I have two rainmakers, one bamboo and one plastic, the bamboo one was the rainmaker of choice as it sounded much more organic and watery! The plastic one sounded like a hail storm!

Me and my bamboo rainmaker :)
Me and my bamboo rainmaker 🙂

With 15 minutes to spare before wrap up time (once the clock strikes 12 we had to be out- mic’s put back into their cases, cables tidy, stands collapsed, wrap up time had to occur at 11.45), we recorded 2 lead vocal ad lib tracks for fun. I was impressed with Keith’s improvisation, counter harmonies, whispers and echoes. He gave me so much good stuff I can’t bear to edit them! 😀

Ready for your close-up Rockstar? :)
Ready for your close-up Rockstar? 🙂

Later that afternoon after my last lecture, myself and Shauna headed to our beautiful, ambient Winter Garden in the college building. The Winter Garden is probably my favourite place to hang out between classes for it’s greenery and general peace and quiet!

I had my own recording set up with me- Macbook Pro (with Pro Tools 10), Cakewalk UA25 EX audio interface, Samson S-Amp and Rode NTK microphone. I wanted to record a couple of extra tracks to see if they might work in the project- violin and small djembe drum. I wanted the massive natural reverb so I placed my microphone in the middle of the garden and stood about 8 feet away.

My on-the-go recording set up
My on-the-go recording set up

I actually didn’t play my own violin (the Chinese violin my parents bought for my 13th birthday- too long ago!!!) although it did sound really nice. One of my lecturers actually loaned me his 100 year old German violin for the recording! I’m honoured to have played this violin and even more honoured that I’m the first person ever to have actually recorded it! Not even my lecturer has recorded it! It was beautiful. Beautifully smooth and amazing tone. It was slightly smaller than my own violin (it wasn’t 3/4 size but just slightly smaller than full size) and as light as feather.

Me playing the beautiful 100 year old violin in DkIT's Winter Garden
Me playing the beautiful 100 year old violin in DkIT’s Winter Garden

I played the djembe for the first time in my life (it’s been sitting in my house for years as a decoration!), I just wanted the simple accents, “snap” sounds with that lovely reverb. It actually sounded really lovely and different! My right hand is in absolute bits, 3 lovely bruises on the insides of my fingers! But definitely worth it!

We actually spent 3 hours in the Winter Garden, it was busier than I thought it would be and most takes were spoiled by the noise of people opening doors, walking by, chatting, cleaners hoovering, you name it, I heard it through the sensitive Rode mic! I did expect such noise in the public space and it was really after 5pm that we started recording “clean” tracks.

I was absolutely shattered after all this but after 2 hours of chilling out at home I was back in Pro Tools, editing and starting the first rough mix until the small hours. Of course the point of the project is to not fix anything in the mix but I did need to comp the vocals and go through the violin takes while it was fresh in my mind. All I have left to do is some fades, an micro edit here and there and adjust the mix balance.

Then the write up… 😉

So expect to hear the final mix of “December” on my SoundCloud in… December!

Studio Session 2: A Reflection :)

I must be getting old or I must just be a hard worker! After the 3 hour session in the studio this morning, I was left absolutely exhausted for the rest of the day! Teehee! Only now, at 11pm after a long, hot shower and a couple of headache tablets do I feel like my normal self again! 😀

Studio session number 2 for “December” went fantastically well! In short I got everything I hoped to record committed to virtual tape/disk/the digital land that is Pro Tools! 😀

I recorded 3rd Year Applied Music student Ciarán O’Brien first thing this morning. Ciarán is an expert in all things bass! Armed with a double bass and a bow, Ciarán gave me unexpected goosebumps, I couldn’t help but squeal with the sheer audio-pleasure! Hehehe! I literally could have listened to that all day long. But time was precious so we had to get to business straight away and track pizzicato bass for “December”. We had to keep a very strict schedule as I only had 3 hours from the minute I entered the studio to the minute the gear is checked off when I wrap up! So working quickly, I set up a Neumann U87 about 14 inches away from the bridge of the bass. Time was ticking faster than I thought and we got 4 takes (20 minutes-the song is 5 minutes long). I will have to comp a little here and there but I’m absolutely delighted with what Ciarán played. He’s a little star, a pleasure to work with, very professional!

Ciarán O’Brien and the Neumann U87

Next was the recording of my own 12 string acoustic guitar. My assistants Shauna Kearney and Shane Taaffe were absolutely brilliant help here. They set up my microphones as I required; an AKG C414 in a corner, cardioid pattern, 1 overhead, omni-directional for some room ambience and a Shure SM57 at the 12th fret. A sparkly 12 string with some bass presence. The corner idea may seem odd but trust me, the warmth it offered works in the production.

Myself in my multi mono mic set up

In case you were wondering, Shane played the guitar in the style of the song while I monitored the sound in the control room and asked Shauna to move the mic here and there, an inch or two closer etc! Only after I was happy, did I sit down (on my cajon actually, brought it with me just to sit on it-best seat in the house for guitar playing!) while took over the recording process for me.

Ever watchful of the ticking time, I spent exactly 30 minutes tracking my part. The only problem I had was of my own right hand on one part which decided to have a mind of its own, when I got over that, we had a few takes which I will comp together later.

Following that was Keith’s 6 string guitar parts using the same multi mono mic set up. Keith owns a gorgeous Tanglewood jumbo guitar which a lovely bass presence. His parts are complimentary to mine, filling in single strums for the chorus’s (two separate takes, one left and one right for the mix-down), an arpeggiated fill for the final chorus and of course the big solo. Keith was so in the zone he played the main rhythm and solo in the same take, much to my delight and the ticking clocks! The arpeggiated fill took the longest to record like myself, one finger refused to be told where to go! It happens to us all huh? 🙂 But Keith is also a pro and nailed it.

Keith recording in studio

Looking at the watch, 20 minutes left? Let’s record one more thing before we leave! Pop the Shure SM57 in front of the Marshall Valve-State combo (to one side of the cone), whip out that Fender American Stratocaster, plug in the Boss DD6 Digital Delay pedal and pop that bottleneck slide on your finger please Keith! Make me some noise, anything at all! Soulful cries of a Strat, yes, this is an element I wanted indeed for that final chorus.

Keith feels it out on my Strat 🙂
Excuse my mess but with minutes to spare, Keith tracked electric guitar like a pro 🙂

Ten minutes left…. tidy up, fast! All hands on deck as we backed up the project, tidied away the mic stands, leads, guitars etc!  Bang ont he stroke of midday we were ready to hand over the studio to the next session team!

Not a single minute was idle and I have to thank my production team for working so hard, they deserve a well earned drink! Thank you Keith Caffrey and Ciarán O’ Brien for your artistic skills, very creative and especially appreciated before 12 Midday! Morning studio sessions are never easy! 🙂 Thank you Shauna Kearney and Shane Taaffe for the technical side, you were both stars and complete professionals with the equipment!

So next to do on the list is some minor edits and minor comping. Then we get ready for our last session in 2 weeks time where we nail the lead vocal, harmony vocal and creative element track! 😀

And after that? A small mix and Christmas drinks! 😉

Music Production Project Session 2/3 is Tomorrow!

Very excited for tomorrow! Part 2 of my music production project is taking place! I’m recording double bass and acoustic guitars and one electric guitar for “December” the song myself and Keith Caffrey (we’re better known as Shock Sorrow!) wrote together this summer. The parts are all written and ready to go! Keith is going to play a fantastic guitar solo, it’s all very exciting! 🙂 I will be advancing my recording skills by applying a little (and I mean a little) bit of compression when tracking! I’m looking forward to this!

I’m all packed (I’ve a ridiculous amount of stuff to bring with me, hehe, I’ll be the crazy music lady walking through the college corridors tomorrow! Roadie position is available! haha!) and I’m off to bed, tomorrow’s an early start!

Reflection diary plus photos will be online tomorrow evening, like the last time!

My gear, ready to go tomorrow! Lola the cat (she wants to be my roadie) must not be brought to studio! 😉

Sleep tight y’all! \m/

Have You Heard the Voice That Belongs to Monica Heldal Yet?!

Monica Heldal 2012

I’m so excited to share this with you! This is a project that I have been working on for a couple of months and I’m delighted to introduce you to one very talented young lady- Monica Heldal.

Monica is a singer-songwriter from Bergen, Norway and at 21 years old, she has already taken the international music scene by storm and is one very busy lady! Her love for American country-blues and the music of Irish legend Rory Gallagher has brought her on a very busy musical journey so far. After playing the Rory Gallagher Festival in Ireland last year, Monica has been invited back to play again this summer during her busy Norway-Netherlands-France tour.

I have produced this song “Silly Willy”, a personal favourite from Monica’s original set. A delightful, bluesy, shuffling song which brings a smile to everyone’s face who’s heard it already! Monica exhibits raw, natural talent in her advanced acoustic guitar fingerstyle performance and in her alluring vocal on this recording and I think you’ll agree with me when I say that this lady is blessed with a gift!

Drums were performed by Daire Stanley, bass was performed by Sean Moher, electric guitar was performed by Darren Mc Eneaney and my recording assistant was Shauna Kearney. I recorded, produced and mixed the song and threw in some additional keyboard and electric guitars.

I really enjoyed this creative process and I’m pleased with the mix-down. This was my first full-band mix on Pro Tools (Logic Pro user!) and I hope you enjoy the song as much as we do 🙂

You can find lots more Monica material on her Facebook artist page: Monica Heldal.

Monica Heldal
See Monica perform at the Rory Gallagher festival this month