A Day at Hyde Park

Hyde Park 6

We arrive at Hyde Park Studio at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2008.

Rod Drake (my bass player) and I spend the first half hour or so helping Ryan Booth (the engineer) and Joe Green (my drummer) set up the drums and all the equipment. If you don’t know, recording drums is the most tedious part of the process. It’s like recording eight instruments at once! Every one has to be checked, and all the levels have to be right before you can lay down the first track.

So we do that.

Then I lay down a scratch track – a quick run-through of the song with vocals and acoustic guitar so everyone has a point of reference. (You can’t just set a drummer loose to play. They’re crazy! Just kidding.)

So for the next three hours, while Joe does an AMAZING job on the drums, Rod and I sit around. This is the majority of time in the studio – sitting around. Then you get to listen to the same drum track over and over while the engineer edits three takes into one seamless performance.

Joe goes to bring back lunch for everyone. Since the bass is plugged directly into the system, there is nothing to be miked, so Rod just sits down in the control room with all of us and begins recording the bass line. This goes really quickly.

We make a few changes as we go, which often happens in the studio. Once you start to hear it all together in that context, you begin to have ideas you never considered before. Of course, when you’re limited to one day of recording, you can’t spend too much time on those crazy ideas.

We eat lunch, and Rod finishes the bass track. He does an amazing job, but it still doesn’t sound like a song yet.

Then, we all tear down the drums and unplug all but two microphones. Ryan mikes up my acoustic guitar, and we pretty much breeze through that in just a couple of takes. We sit around for a little more editing and listen to it about a hundred times. It’s starting to sound a little like a song at this point.

Next, I set up my Stratocaster and effects pedals in the control room while Ryan runs a cable through the wall and connects me to a Vox AC30 in the other room and mikes it. Again, the electric guitar parts go quickly.

Then we plug the keyboard directly to the system and I run through some keyboard stuff in a couple of takes.

Then, I go into the vocal booth and do three takes of lead vocals.

All this while, Joe and Rod are sitting around. (Oh, the fun!!!) After each instrument, we listen about 4,000 times to little bits and pieces or the whole thing.

Now, it sounds like a song.

Then, Rod goes into the vocal booth to do harmony, which goes really quickly because Rod is a great singer and he only has to do harmony on a few lines.

Then, we pack up equipment and carry it downstairs while Ryan sets up more mikes for the final task of the day.

Joe, Rod, and I team up for “gang vocals” or, as Ryan calls them, “group vocals.” (I like my name better.) You know, in a song, when it sounds like a whole bunch of people are yelling the vocal line? Those are gang vocals. Love ‘em!

This was an idea I’d had for the chorus. I thought, “It will really give the chorus some energy.” The more I thought about it, the more doubts I had that it would actually work. But we decide to give it a shot, and it sounds flippin’ sweet!

So, we head back into the control room and listen about 400 more times while Ryan edits and tweaks. The song sounds freakin’ amazing!

We’re done for the day at 8 p.m., so we pack up and head home. All of it takes about 10 hours. And it is AWESOME.

Writing a Theme Song (lyrics included)

Well, we’re slated to hit Hyde Park Studios in Houston, Monday morning, Oct. 27, at 10.

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride getting us to this point. A good friend who was going to play lead guitar had to back out pretty early on, but God provided an amazing replacement (Ryan Truso, former guitarist for Jeremy Camp, who will also be mixing the project.) We had an engineer lined up who then disappeared off the face of the earth. That was fun!

But it’s all ironed out now. Ryan Booth at Hyde Park will be laying the tracks down for us.

Oh, and by the way, “us” is me on guitars and vocals, my new friend Joe Green on drums (a very talented percussionist), and my old friend Rod Drake on bass (and maybe keys). Those of you who’ve known me since the Standing Still days will remember Rod as Standing Still’s bass player.

I said in my last blog that I’d write about the challenges of writing a “theme song,” which is essentially what I had to do with “You and I.” When my friend the missionary wrote me and asked me to do this, I was excited about it from the first moment. As a more or less unknown songwriter, you don’t get a lot of requests for songs, so I was really looking forward to the challenge.

It has always seemed to me that if you approach a theme song just as a theme song, it’s doomed to mediocrity. You have a specific message that may or may not be readily relatable to every listener, and when you write pop or rock songs, you want to write songs that people relate to. Think of just about any movie theme song that has the same name as the movie. “Ghostbusters,” any of the James Bond movies. Those songs are generally not very good. (I’ll be the first to admit that I LOVED the Ghostbusters song when I was a kid. But I was a kid! Who you gonna call?!) There are, as always, exceptions, like Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me or Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” But for every “Live and Let Die,” (How could that title NOT work in a rock song?!) there are at least 12 of “Another Way to Die” (by Jack White and Alicia Keys from the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I’m sorry. It’s awful.)

So, I approached it a little differently – although I’m sure that I’m not the first songwriter to do so. I tried as much as I could to internalize the details of the theme “Engage Russia,” which is the name of the new project the video production I’m writing for is highlighting. I watched videos of the same kind highlighting other missions projects.

Then I thought about it all. A lot. I looked for aspects of the theme that really hit home with me. I thought this idea of walking in someone else’s shoes, of stepping into and living someone else’s life in order to better love them for the cause of Christ – this is something that touches my heart and will touch the hearts of a lot of people.

So, that was really the big challenge. Rather than just try to write a song around theme, I need to find the aspect of it all that would make a good song.

And I think I did. And you can judge for yourselves – at least on the lyrics. Let me know what you think!

You and I
by Jud Kossum

Verse 1
We’re separated, you and I
By countless words and ways
Unrelated, you and I
Our paths will cross today
I’ve decided just to try
To live life where you do
We’ll be the start of something new

I want to stand where you stand
To engage, to see the change
I want to reach out my hand
In Jesus’ name

Verse 2
We are so far, you and I
On two sides of the earth
But here we are, you and I
In a common place of birth
I will walk by your side
Because your pain is just like mine
Let’s walk together, you and I

(repeat chorus)

Chorus 2
I want to stand where you stand
To engage, to be the change
I want to reach out my hand
In Jesus’ name

Though we walk down different streets
We live through the same days
Though our hands may never meet
Our hearts are just the same
And I want to love you
Just like Jesus loves you

(repeat chorus 1 & 2)

Learning to Let Go

For a while now, I have sensed that God is calling me to let go of music. Not to totally give it up – I am, after all, a worship leader – but to lay down my aspirations of having a band and being on stage outside of my responsibilities at my church.

So, not long after finalizing a new lineup for my band, I made the decision to put it on indefinite hiatus. There may be some of you reading this who are upset by that. I imagine there are many more people out there that are pretty much indifferent. Of course, if you’re indifferent about that, you’re probably not reading this!

God just wanted me to relinquish control. Often in leading a band, I operated from a place of fear. Not in the creation and performance of music or in leading worship, but on the business end of things. Especially with booking, I got really hung up on making phone calls, trying to convince people to hire us. It got to the point where I didn’t actually have time for the music! Of course, that’s always a danger when you’re a professional musician. That’s why people get booking agents and managers.

But God has other things He wants me to focus on. I have a wonderful church I’m serving as Interim Worship Leader. I have an amazing wife and daughter. God has been calling me to lay down music for a long time. In fact, I’ve felt that call since before I formed the Jud Kossum Band back in Florida.

But somehow I know that music will always be a big part of my life. I love to write and to record. Somehow, I think God’s still going to give me the opportunity to do those things.

In fact, He’s given me at least one opportunity already. I made the decision to lay down my music career last Monday. On Tuesday, a friend from back in Florida who is now a missionary in Moscow, Russia, sent me an e-mail. He asked me to write and record a song to be used in a video they are producing to highlight a new project called “Engage Russia.”

From the moment I first read the e-mail, I have been excited about this project and felt God’s hand on it and sensed that He was saying, “Run with this, Jud!” I wrote feverishly for two solid days and – with the help of a couple of very patient editors – came up with some lyrics that fit the theme and really resonated with me as a writer and believer. (I’m going to blog later about the challenges of writing a theme song!) Now, I’m getting together with some of my old songwriting partners to complete the music.

And God worked even beyond the initial opportunity! I’ve received offers from recording and mixing engineers to use their services for free. I’ve gotten great deals from mastering studios. God has worked it out so that this project will be of the highest quality at very little cost. I am just incredibly excited about that!

He wanted me to let go, and He took control.

It seems like this is how it always goes with us hard-headed people. We want to have control. We’re afraid not to. But when we let go, more often than not, God takes it and makes it exactly what we needed, and sometimes exactly what we wanted.