The International Space Orchestra at OTR Studios

We were anxious to get back into the studio and do what we do best… record musicians playing live.  Little did we know what would happen when we took on the project with the International Space Orchestra.

Evan Price, an old friend who was in the Turtle Island String Quartet, called us a few months back and asked if we were available on a very specific date to record string overdubs.  He went on to tell me the performers were all NASA scientists and had formed a group called the International Space Orchestra or ISO where he was the musical director.  That sounded interesting enough, so of course we made all efforts to find a time that worked for all of us.. about 2 weeks away from that phone call.  Short notice for us, but doable.  And oh, by the way, there was a tight deadline.. the music HAD to be done by that evening to be shipped off to the UK so that the artist (they couldn’t tell me at the time because they were under an NDA) could finish up.

And then the art of producing comes into place.  

What many people don’t understand about recording is the coordination that happens the weeks before the “event” of showing up at the studio begins.  You want everything in place so that the musicians are comfortable to play at their best.  That often means coordinating dozens (if not hundreds) of schedules that are affect by someone showing up to record.  Invoices, bills, payments, NDA’s signed, decisions on who records when, getting the basic tracks in advance, loading them up to make sure they play, having a click track ready, scratch tracks performed, parking spaces with neighbors negotiated.  Setting up mics and the record chain is easy!

Well, in this case, the artist turned out to be Kid Cudi, a hip hop artist I had seen briefly on Saturday Night Live but wasn’t familiar with his music.  A few days after we agreed to the project, we heard Amazon was going to send a video crew to create “The making of…” video… a short video on the ISO creating the string parts for Kid Cudi’s song..  which turned out to be part of an Amazon Prime Day promotion

that included Billie Eilish, H.E.R., and Kid Cudi (the promotion has been hard to miss).

My studio is the lower two levels of my house… not your typical place out in an industrial area with lots of wood panels..  except for the control room, it’s kind of small. Also, the limitations we now have as a DSD recording facility have natural restrictions, so we decided to open up the Protools system and bring in one of our former engineers to operate the session.  We had one evening to lay down multiple parts for 9 musicians.  The template alone required hours of work the days before and new ways of working to send headphone mixes while editing on the fly.

Then there was the Amazon video crew… who we thought would be one person.  WRONG!  Eight or so people showed up with a huge van and constructed a camera setup that was mind blowing.  Another fellow came with a rig that was for video audio only….  and had us all wearing clip on mics so that all the 6 hours in the studio were recorded for video purposes.  Evan arrived to lay down the scratch tracks, which had to be redone because the click track was slowed down and he received the basic tracks only hours before he left to come to the studio.  

And did I mention COVID testing?  Amazon has rules that all people, vaccinated or not, had to be tested, so 3 people came with a table and chairs, setup outside and tested everyone involved.  The 9 musicians started arriving about an hour after that.  They had to open their instruments up outside because there wasn’t enough room in the studio for all that was going on.  Fortunately, every one that came were great people and we had a lot of laughs over some of the insanity going on.  

But the stress had only begun…  a new dimension of “crazy session” happens when you add video to the mix.  Every musicians needed to be video’d and interviewed when recording.  It wasn’t enough to get the parts right that they had never heard before, but we also had to account for the interview time.

Somehow we got the parts recorded, edited, labeled and uploaded so that Evan could send them off at midnight.

When it was over, we all felt like we had just returned from flying to the moon and back…  barely making the return flight home.  But home we were and 4 weeks later the promotion came out.

The video only shows a few seconds of musicians in our studio, OTR Studios, but still it’s fun to watch.  More than a million views in a few short weeks. Amazing.

You can also find the string arrangement on Kid Cudi’s song on the youtube video above.

A special thanks to our own crew, Patrick O’Connor and Tim Jones (who did a fantastic job on Protools).

All in all, it was 6 hours in the studio, 2 weeks of preparations and a week to get back to normal.