“In Two Months We Learnt More Than During The Past 5-10 Years” – Case study Serpico

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This time I’ll tell you how a band who recently visited me managed to improve their playing to much more solid and tight. They even ended up reviving the joy of music on a whole new level! By reading you will learn how you too can make great positive changes. I hope my writing will inspire you too to put my tips in use. “In two months we learnt more than during the past 5-10 years” – Case study Serpico.

This blog post is brings important info and insight to the musician, vocalist and recording engineer.

“In Two Months We Learnt More Than During The Past 5-10 Years” – Case study Serpico

It all started last spring when I received an email from Serpico band. After a few messages back and forth they ended up making the reservation. I always recommend to make the first tape session for just 1–2 songs. This way it’s easier to get more familiar with tape recording. The first session usually affects a lot on how the band reacts to recording and even composing. We settled to record, mix and make mastering for two songs in three days. The band and I would choose the songs together.

They told me that they hadn’t been satisfied with the computer recording and wanted to try the “good old recording technique”.

I wanted to find out if it’s true how different tape recording sounds and how different it is compared to Pro Tools.
–Jani Järvelin, drums

We set the date to late autumn and they started rehearsing for the session. The rehearsal place live recording usually translates the truth much more accurate compared to home demos. With all due respect, this time I was a bit worried. The instruments were not locking-in and the playing wasn’t that solid and tight.

So I decided to take the challenge and simply knew that this session would turn out awesome in the end.

Case study Serpico - tarkkaamossa
Anssi Kippo setting up drum sound for Serpicon at Astia-studio A control room in 2019.

Why you should put a lot of time and effort on pre-production

I gave the band feedback about their accuracy and how to improve it. These are the blog posts I recommended each member to read with full focus:

Unlike on most sessions, I this time suggested to use the metronome. As my dear reader notices, absoluteness is never recommended. You should always use the tools that are the most beneficial to each situation.

Your emails and blog posts both helped a lot. The more I started to digest these tips, the more things started to naturally fall into place with both my drum parts and how the band plays together. And then we started having this feeling at the rehearsal what we’d been missing. Me and the guys were thinking, damn we sound almost too good =D
–Jani Järvelin, drums

Case study Serpico - rumpuhuone
On the evening of the arrival everything was set for the Serpico session.

The rehearsal place demos proved how much the band improved their tightness. As they started to sound solid we put our focus on the song structures. We ended up cutting one part in half and just before the session they came up with a better ending that sounded great.

During the pre-production we tweaked the tempos quite a bit. Especially when you play with a click track, a small change can make a huge difference. Eventually both the songs and playing sounded excellent. Now they were ready for the session.

It was essential to find the right tempo to make the vocals flow. I also learnt that playing faster is not the key to playing solid and tight. The biggest factor is to have the right tempo and have the instruments to lock-in. Don’t think, just let the moment take you away.
–Kalle Virtanen, vocals

Case study Serpico - Antti
Antti Fager shows no mercy to his instrument.

Tracking the basic tracks – drums and bass

On the evening of the arrival they set their instruments to the studio A live room. I then placed the microphones and tweaked the recording sound which usually is 95 % the final mix sound. We adjusted the headphone balance and made a test recording. This helps the band to release the excitement and stress about how they sound on tape.

The session was really inspiring and addictive experience. One of the coolest things was mixing that basically took place throughout the session.
–Kalle Virtanen, vocals

After a goodnight sleep we started recording. The click track for both songs needed fine-tuning. The soft part in one and the half-feel ending on another song needed the tempo to slow down several BPM’s.

We completed the drums in no time and exceptionally continued with the bass. With each take the playing became more relaxed and solid and soon we completed the bass too.

The best monitoring and recording circumstances ever.
–Antti Fager, bass

Read more of my bass-related blog posts:

Case study Serpico - Marshall amps
Serpico band seemed to have a liking to a certain guitar amp manufacturer’s products.

Three Marshall amps

I noticed a cool phenomenon where regardless of the instrument, great takes come in waves. The first 20 takes can be pretty off. Then something happens and we have a couple of excellent takes. Then several takes are off again and after a while few awesome takes appear.

The most important thing is to have the patience to wait for the string instrument players to relax and lock-in with the drums. Eventually this always happens.

It wasn’t enough to play it right as you needed to also play it from the heart. And if you didn’t, you could definitely tell.
–Antti Fager, bass

As we usually need more than just one guitar track, guitar recording takes a bit longer compared to other instruments. And then again to compare, the bass plays just one track from beginning to end. We tracked two rhythm guitars that the guitarist had wisely arranged to be a bit different. Double guitars for the chorus and other big parts we tracked using a Marshall Super Lead mk2 amp. I bought the amp from the guitar player of Endstand band back in the days.

Case study Serpico - Anssi ja Snake
Anssi Kippo and Snake from Serpico in Astia-studio A drum room.

Read more of my guitar-related blog posts:

Recording vocals

This time too I used the Neumann U67 tube microphone from the 60’s through two 1176 hardware compressors on the way in to tape. The vocal sound was immediately there, therefore I used no eq during recording and mixing.

I’ve been singing and playing for 22 years, but let me tell you this was my first genuine studio experience.
–Kalle Virtanen, vocals

On the third session day we recorded the melody and lead guitars. Then it was time to spend the next few hours on mixing and mastering. There was no need for any mix changes as the band loved the first version on both songs.

After the session I noticed how our sound was very close to the bands that I liked in my childhood and how our style and playing stands out from the masses. Exactly as during the 60’s to 80’s and up until the mid 90’s. Godd*m we have a great and unique sound!
–Jani Järvelin, drums

Read more of my vocal-related blog posts:

Case study Serpico - Kalle
Vocalist Vee Dour. at Astia-studio A vocal room just moments before the beast was unleashed.

How did the session at Astia-studio affect you?

Let’s hear it from the members what they have to say about the first tape recording session at Astia.

The tape session at Astia changed my attitude to as positive as possible. This is once again the coolest thing ever, just as it was when I was a teenager! This is what I’ve always wanted to do!
–Jani Järvelin, drums

The topmost feeling is the warm, comfortable and relaxing atmosphere, the producer/recording engineer’s hard as iron professionalism and the patience to wait for the best take to come. I was singing a lot more compared to other studio sessions and he captured on tape the very best of me.
–Kalle Virtanen, vocals

The playing became a lot more clear and comfortable. It simply felt more professional and wasn’t just a scratch on the surface as we were really deep in it.
–Antti Fager, bass

Case study Serpico - tarkkaamossa
The Serpico members concentrating on what the tape captured at Astia-studio A control room.

What you can learn from the Serpico session

During pre-production I managed to make them play much more solid and tight together. The same could happen with your band too. You’ll get a great start by reading my blog posts. Then again, for those who seek for fast and easy solutions, there’s not much here to gain. The road to success very rarely comes without any effort.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of listening with full focus. Anyone can play fairly well until the playing needs to lock-in with others. “At home this was solid and good” is a phrase I’ve heard too many times when the patterns don’t match. With Serpico things eventually started connecting great in both the rehearsal room and in studio. Now the band sounds awesome and is definitely ready for the radio and live shows!

Case study Serpico -tarkkaamo
Once the session was completed even the scary rockers cannot help but to smile for the joy of music.

Recording on tape seems to positively surprise each band that visits me. The drummer Jani nicely sums up the thoughts of those who have experienced it.

The magnetic tape captures a lot more than just the sound while the digital medium captures only the sound. If you want to deliver the unique energy and sound of your band, I highly recommend recording on tape.
–Jani Järvelin, drums

What the future holds for Serpico he shares with us the following.

The tale of Serpico will continue until one of us kicks the bucket. Most likely we’ll play rock n’ roll with full force even in 2055! We got a great boost from the session and will record the next full length using analog equipment!
–Jani Järvelin, drums

Case study Serpico

Serpico band originally activated in autumn 2005. They learnt a lot by listening to my advice and worked very hard before the studio session. The first step is to pay attention to what does not work. Only after that you can start improving and eventually the hard work always pays off. And this time was no exception. The members followed the instructions on my blog and that raised the solidness and tightness of their playing to a whole new level!

To experience as awesome sessoin as Serpico, contact me privately by clicking here and let’s continue from there. Thank you very much and all the very best!

Enjoy more case study posts from these Astia-studio sessions:

Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.

Listen Midnight Cowboy that was recorded, mixed and mastered on this case study session here:

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