Real Mastering and RealFeel

Sheryl Crow Calls

When Timeless came out and Sheryl Crow called me – there are a dozen artists on the record. About half of them called me just to say, “Wow, man, what a sound. How did you guys get that sound?” This was the typical question. The Sheryl Crow conversation is the one that sticks in my mind because this was funny.

We already knew each other. Sheryl calls and says, “Rob, man, I heard the track that you and Keith did for this record. My God, what a sound. How did you get that sound?”

I said, “Well, I’ll answer that, but wait. I have a question for you. How long did you take to record your song?” She said, “Oh, I don’t know; three or four days.”

I said, “Well, just to start things off, I just want you to know that the thing that you’re asking about was done in two-and-a-quarter hours,” which is really true. That’s how much time we spent on that recording, two-and-a-quarter hours all added together – the original take, the overdubs, the mix, me driving to my house, everything. It was about two-and-a-quarter hours when you added it all together.

She said, “What do you mean, two-and-a-quarter hours?”

I said, “Yeah. And it was done with five microphones.” She said, “What?”

I said, “Yeah, five microphones.” She said, “I don’t believe that.” I said, “Well, if you don’t believe that, come up here and we’ll show you what we do.” She said, “You know what? I’m going to.”

Sheryl was working with Trina Shoemaker. Trina was a protégé of mine in New Orleans who worked at this studio called Southlake. The studio was in Metairie, near the airport, where I did Buckwheat Zydeco’s record with Chris Blackwell. Trina had a job there for a while and I remember rebuilding a microphone.

We rented a Telefunken microphone which arrived damaged. It wouldn’t work, so having the technical knowledge that I do, I wasn’t scared about that. I took the microphone apart. Trina is freaking out, saying, “What the hell are you doing? Do you know this thing’s worth $15,000! What are you doing?”

I said, “Don’t worry; I know what I’m doing. I just want to see what I can see. It must be something that happened as a result of a shock or something during the shipping. I’m sure it’s something easy to fix.” I was able to fix the microphone and that blew her mind. Then we became close, she ended up being a protégé, and I taught her what to do.

Later down the line, Sheryl hired Trina and she became Sheryl’s engineer for a number of records.

When Sheryl heard about this whole situation and said she was coming up to Keith’s, she brings Trina with her and Trina brings a suitcase. What’s it full of? Microphones, because I told Sheryl that we’re only using four or five mics.

Sheryl likes to think she’s an engineer and she goes on both sides of the brain when it goes to recording. She’s not just on the artistic side. She’s thinking, “I ain’t going out there and have a chance to be with Keith Richards and screw up because they don’t have enough microphones. I’m bringing Trina with me and bringing some mics.”

Of course, that suitcase was never opened. We recorded with Sheryl and did some cool stuff. I don’t know if it’ll ever come out, but it was recorded with the five microphones.

The Grammy

The album, Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute, got a Grammy as the Best Country Record. There were 12 people on the record and everybody got a Grammy.

I’m at the Grammys and Keith is not. I don’t know if you’re aware how Grammy voting works. There are five categories: the Song of the Year, the Record of the Year, the Album of the Year, the Best New Artist, and I think there’s one other. Maybe there are only four, but four or five main categories that you have to vote in. The rest of the categories, you can choose. You can vote in 12 and you pick which ones you want to vote in.

With those other categories, they do a lottery. It’s like drawing names out of a hat. Based upon the lottery, that’s what gets televised. They televise those first four or five that I was talking about, always. Those are the closers of the show. The other ones, up to that point, are all done by this lottery. The Best Country Record did not win the lottery that year, so it was not televised.

We found out ahead of the broadcast that Timeless won. Naturally, I called Keith. I said, “Hey, we won!”

It was a big deal because he’d never won a Grammy and neither had I. I’d been nominated a few times and Keith had gotten one of those Lifetime Achievement Awards, but had never won a Grammy. The Stones were the bad boys and they never won the Grammys just because of the way that baloney works. It was an exciting moment for everybody.

The positive feedback and Grammy validated our recording method. Really, the recognition has nothing to do with the recording as much as the recording didn’t get in the way. The recording didn’t make the song what is was. Of course, it was only one song of many on a record. You can’t point to which one made the difference, but we did a damn good job and it holds up very well against the other stuff on the record.

This is what the Grammys were about in the first place when they started. Grammys were about the performance and the music. That’s really what made the effort win in that way. Of course, it was gratifying then, but it didn’t surprise me because we weren’t on an SSL console with the most expensive studio in the world. It’s not that that had anything to do with winning the Grammy. Come on, I knew better than that. So did, really, everybody else involved.

Still, the award meant a lot to us. Let’s face it. Especially with Jane saying, “You can’t record down here.” What a vindication that was. “Not only can we not record down here, but we can win a Grammy down here.” Whatever it was – and I’m not trying to slag Jane off in any way. I love Jane. It was an understandable response from her point of view because none of these people understand any of this stuff. I barely understand it, so what do I expect from anybody else?

In case you missed the previous two installments, you can read about the You Win Again sessions and the beginnings with Wingless Angels.