A talented young songwriter and singer from the Fredericksburg area, Sarah Perrotto, recently performed her first original solo show downtown. I’d met her months earlier at a late pub night hang with a mutual friend who introduced us. Sarah has a warm, vivacious personality, which made opening a conversation so much easier for me as a natural introvert. I’d seen internet clips of her performing with a couple different bands and really liked her voice. She has a broad range and a command of different voicings, from lilt to power rock.
At her gig I suggested she join me at the studio to work on something together. She seemed into the idea and we agreed to connect later about it. A few weeks went by during which my head was not in the music game. So I touched base with her to show I was serious about collaborating and we set up a date.
She showed up at the studio on a Tuesday night with her guitar and an awesome attitude. She also brought over one of her loveliest songs, “Don’t Look Back,” which I’d heard at the gig. I was hoping to set expectations low and encourage an easy-going environment where we could just try a demo. The most important question to answer was whether there was a good match of personalities and vibe to work together.
Sarah was very much into the idea of keeping things simple. We agreed we weren’t looking to cut a #1 hit record, and instead we could just be spontaneous. Not having a bunch of pre-conceived, grand notions really freed us up to enjoy ourselves and have fun.
I’d prepared a space I thought would work well for her vibe. It’s a tight room in between the room with the mix desk, and the bigger space for band rehearsals. Sarah wasn’t put off in the least, and chose some seating and warmed up. I asked whether she was comfortable enough with the arrangement of the song to put down a guitar track by itself, and of course she was. Since I’d already set up a large and a small condenser mic for the guitar, we got right to work.
The nice thing about adopting a “demo only” mindset is you don’t stress over every detail. If the sound is good enough, and the artist feels good about their performance, that’s all that matters. Sarah put down a solid guitar track, and it was time to move on to vocals.
As a technologist and someone with a home studio, I’m not precious about equipment I can’t afford or use constantly. Sarah and I talked about gear and we see eye-to-eye about using technology to achieve goals. I love this anti-fetishistic view and, relieved, pulled out the Slate VMS ML-1 to grab her vocals. She warmed up quickly and we got good tracks in very little time.
Not only that, but we discovered we had a shared love of background vocals and production (both big Queen fans). We knew it would be easy to go overboard for a demo, and decided to put in a single harmony vocal. Sarah’s timing and matching were amazingly natural and easy. This was definitely a song that called for minimal treatment, and not a lot of auto-tuning or timing adjustments. It was wonderful to hear very little need for trickery with such a talented performer.
Sarah joined me back at the desk. I was dismayed to find I couldn’t get my Slate VSX plugin to produce results for pristine headphone audio. Of course it wasn’t the product, which is awesome. I discovered I’d simply applied the wrong internal matrix mix on the audio interface. Great learning experience for the next visit, right?
We found the Blackbird U-47 model was a beautiful match for her voice. This is a fantastic use case for the ML-1 and VMS: choosing the microphone after laying down the track. Once we had that sound, it was easy to pull toghether a quick mix in basic shape. Then I bounced an MP3 for her, and told her I’d work on it further over the next few days.
The next evening, I found a decent balance between natural and modern sound. I took some inspiration from Taylor Swift’s folklore album from 2020 to strike that balance. Ultimately Sarah seemed really pleased with the results. It sounds like we will be working together again in the future and I’m excited about the prospect!
Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash.