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HomeArts & CultureMusicAndy Reed: A Day in the Life

Andy Reed: A Day in the Life

Photos by Daniel “Keebler” McKay

If you are a music fan residing in the Mid-Michigan region, it is likely you have encountered Andy Reed or are aware of his work. Beginning with bands put together with his brother as a teenager, Reed has now entertained audiences and collaborated with many of the area’s top artists for a few decades.

At this juncture in his career, Reed is mostly known as the creative force behind the Reed Recording Company. This venture started from very humble beginnings; Reed recorded his friends on relatively simple multi-track gear. It has since grown into an award-winning operation that produces recordings that compare to any being produced anywhere in the U.S.

While Reed’s circle has expanded and his work over the years has included “name brand” bands, soundtrack work and his solo material, the bread and butter of Reed Recording is in the mold of an old-fashioned day studio, where bands come in to produce a track “soup to nuts” in one session.

What follows is a rough account of one of these sessions, in which Bay City songwriter and guitarist Rick Gellise came in to record a track for an upcoming album of surf-inspired tunes.

9:55 Everyone arrives.

Timing cannot be taught, and true to form, Gellise and I pulled up to Reed’s place at the same time. It’s a good thing, as even on a recording date, load-in is the worst chore.

Gellise is known among his musical friends as “Twelvis,” in honor of his penchant for 12-string guitars. For this session he brought a Fender 12, an Eastwood Sidejack 12 and a vintage Fender Reverb tank. These things seem heavier than they used to be.

10:00 “So, show me the song.”

When you arrive in the studio, the chances are high Reed will be already working — taking advantage of the freshest ears of the day to give a previous project a listen and possibly apply a tweak here or there.

After a little small talk, to pivot to the session at hand, he will ask what it is you are recording.

This is the point where you might strum through a quick version of the song on guitar. Reed will use this to start mapping the song sections out, set tempos and begin preparing the session in Pro Tools, the digital software he uses to record and mix music.

Gellise is one of the local artists who mixes recordings of his favorite songs with his original material. Today the choice is “Farmer John,” a surf-pop classic from The Tidal Waves. With a “cover song” you can pull up the original and talk about how you plan to make it your own.

10:07 “OK, let’s get a scratch track.”

When you hear of classic bands recording multiple songs in an afternoon, it is very likely that they were able to do this because they recorded the songs live, with all of the musicians playing at once, and with very little editing available to the original performance.

Modern recording is mostly done a track at a time, with each instrument or performer getting a spot to be documented.

Much of how the track turns out will be dictated by which elements you nail down first. In this case it was the jangle guitar, followed by a demo vocal. With these parts in place, the rest of the track is constructed like building blocks, adding and shaping them into a sonic recipe.

10:26 “What are you thinking about for drums?”

If there is a secret sauce to a Reed Recording record, it’s probably in the drum sounds. This is even more amazing given that big drum sounds are usually associated with big spaces, and that is the least apt description for this studio.

Reed employs a number of techniques to capture traditional drum sounds in the room, then utilizes a range of engineering and production techniques to make them “jump.” He has also been known to delve into software-generated drum sounds, where an engineer can turn a keyboard or trigger a pad into a drum or another percussion instrument. 

Today he opts to take a turn behind his vintage Rogers kit. As he put it: “I think this one is within my pay grade.”

10:42 “Next up, time for some bass.”

One thing you may be noticing is the time between these events is pretty small. Recording in this fashion is admittedly somewhat frenetic. Reed is mixing as he goes, tweaking the recorded sounds and bringing in an array of outboard gear. It’s fun, but it is really not a leisurely process by any means.

Once my Fender Precision Bass is plugged in, Reed will tell me to give him everything it’s got. Though I know that this means he would like me to turn the tone and volume control up to 100%, I read years ago that Carol Kaye swears the sweet spot for a P Bass is with both between 75-80%, so this is what I actually do. (Reed is finding this out for the first time along with you, for what it is worth.)

“A day in the studio” in some ways is an overstatement, as it is actually the norm to come in prepared, and your part might only take a few minutes. 

10:50 “This needs more guitars.”

While Gellise clearly came prepared for this moment, and Reed has a rack of very fine instruments available to add to the mix, how many tracks you use to develop an idea has implications beyond the recording, for instance, on whether the artist plans to play the songs live.

In this case, it was more all hands on deck, with Gellise and Reed adding multiple tracks of color and sauce to the mix. Gellise also knocked out the lead part.

It was also a reasonable time to add some additional rhythm, and a quick dig in the percussion locker revealed the perfect tambourine for a period-correct sound.

11:25 “Is anybody hungry?”

It’s well known to Reed Recording regulars that lunch is a big part of the creative process. It not only provides a break in the action to keep everyone’s mind clear and ears fresh, but it’s also a chance to build the camaraderie of the group that happens to be in that day.

Because of this habit, Reed is a fixture at any number of local restaurants, pubs or delis serving at lunchtime. Today, the choice is Coonan’s Irish Hub. 

Sports, concerts, kids, the bridges — it’s all on the table at that point. 

12:35 “I’ve got an idea.”

Back in the studio, Reed turns to Gellise with a phrase we are all hoping to hear at some point when we hire him to produce a session.

When Reed tells you he has an idea, you need to open up your ears and listen. Most often these are support parts — keyboards, synths, or spatial effects that really make a track come to life. It may also be where you decide to give an outright homage to an influence. Maybe it’s an instrumental bridge.

Today it was an array of keyboard sounds that supported the song structure and tied with the 12-string jangle to create harmony. Basically, it was the sound of fun.

1:35 “You ready for vocals?”

Once the keyboard parts were in place and some additional mixing completed, it was time to put on the vocal tracks.

Choosing a mic for the lead vocal is a critical part of the process. Between knowledge of his own mic locker, cues from the recording of classic tracks and experience with the voices of people Reed has recorded multiple times, a favorite will be selected.

Since everyone has been singing along with the nearly finished track since lunch, Gellise is able to knock out the lead vocal in a couple of takes. 

Backing vocals are another specialty of Reed Recording. Look no further than Reed’s own band, The Legal Matters, for proof of this statement.

Today, Gellise and Reed collaborated to provide the signature howl you hear over classic surf tracks. As soon as we played it back, we knew they made the song.

2:22 “I think that’s a wrap, guys.”

Four and a half hours, including lunch. From a scratch track to a very serviceable first mix. 

At this point the track is deposited online, where everyone can give it a listen and let it settle in a bit, once the adrenaline wears off. This is a process that will begin with the first real test of the track — listening to it in the car on the way home.

It’s really not a bad day’s work. 

Matt de Heus
Matt de Heus
Despite his background in chemical and manufacturing engineering, Matt's true passion lies in music. Matt has received local awards from REVIEW magazine, recognizing his achievements in country songwriting, single releases, music videos, and more. His captivating song "Gone" has garnered particular acclaim. Alongside his musical pursuits, Matt is an accomplished freelance writer, lending his expertise to REVIEW magazine. He now joins LLL as their resident music expert. By following Matt and LLL, music enthusiasts can stay informed about Michigan's exceptional artists, captivating venues, and remarkable music scene.
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