Recording at The Annex

April 3, 2012

In the coming weeks, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints will be recording our first album at The Annex in Menlo Park, a Silicon Valley studio with a long and storied 35-year history.  As we get ready to do so, I wanted to describe the setting and share a little bit about why I find this place particularly special for the project ahead.

The gold records lining the walls highlight the long list of artists and celebrities The Annex has welcomed a over the years.  Windham Hill artists such as George Winston, plus many others including Joan Baez, Chris Martin, Alan Parsons, and Michael J. Fox have spent time in the studio, working on everything from recordings and rehearsals to videos and voice overs.  Even Steve Jobs came in once to do a quick voice over. There is an awesome vibe just walking into the place.

Gold records line the walls of The Annex studios
Gold records line the walls of The Annex studios
Photo by Adam Tow

But the physical studio is only part of the story.  We’re very fortunate to have Russell Bond recording and producing the sessions.  Russell was part of the crew that originally built the studio and now has come full circle as the owner.  He has decades of recording experience and is a longtime Mac user who immediately clicked with the geeky fun found in the songs.

Talking with Russell, I discovered that he came of age as a producer right alongside the Mac and digital recording.  In those early days, The Annex served as a software proving ground for audio pioneers like Opcode and Digidesign.  Engineers would drop in from their nearby offices to test their early betas in a working studio.  Today, the studio is filled with modern Macs handling the production duties—a fact likely appreciated when original Mac evangelist Guy Kawasaki recently came in to record excerpts from his latest book.

When old Mac-heads get together, the conversation seems to eventually turn to the first time you used a Mac—that electric moment when you realized that your world had just changed in a big way.  For Russell, that moment happened when Apple was recording “Guided Tour” cassette tapes at The Annex to teach users how to use the amazing new mouse-driven interface.  Unable to resist, Russell snuck a prototype Mac 512K home for the weekend, pulling all-nighters playing with MacPaint.

For me, it was my college roommate’s Mac Plus.  My freshman year found me completely mesmerized by the bitmapped wonder of it and very lucky to have a roommate willing to let me use it for countless hours.  (For someone who never used an early Mac, it is hard to explain the profound joy that I experienced the day that my roommate bought an external floppy drive.)

When I started looking for a place to record, I wanted to find a great studio and someone who was not only excellent, but who would also really get into the spirit of the project.  So, I am incredibly excited about the environment we will be working in, not only the fundamentals of the studio facilities and recording expertise, but also the feel of the place with its great history and Apple connections.

A large audio mixing console
Big honkin’ console in Studio A at The Annex Studios
Photo by Adam Tow

Category: Music

Into The Studio

March 29, 2012

It is amazing how exciting it feels to finally start working on a project after thinking about it for a long, long time.  Back in 2001, I had the thought that it might be amusing, in the middle of a technical presentation, to pull out a guitar and sing a little song about the topic at hand.

That idea led to over a decade of original songs on topics ranging from design patterns to data modeling and beyond.  The songs have gotten a great response from audiences, and I’ve wanted to record them for some time now.

There are eleven songs in total and the plan is to record and release them all.  A decade is a long time in the tech world however, and it’s been interesting to look back and see how well the songs have weathered the years.  For instance, the Objective-C memory management ditty “Hold Me, Use Me, Release Me” from 2002 picked up a garbage collection verse in 2007.  Now with the advent of Automatic Reference Counting, another lyrical tuneup may be in order (unless I can just convince LLVM to sing it for me).

There are many aspects of this project that I’m excited about in addition to the material itself—the musicians, the studio, the recording engineer and producer.  And those are all combined with the rush of trying something new, far outside the realm of sitting in front of a monitor, writing code.

I’m also glad that I’m not going it alone.  I will be joined in the studio by the Breakpoints.

The Breakpoints are a fabled group of talented engineers-by-day and musicians-by-night who have helped me bring my tech-inspired songs to life.  Although the lineup has changed over the years, all of the original Breakpoints are back for the recordings.  Each song will be recorded with its original musicians (and possibly some surprise musical guests in the mix).

Since this is a whole new adventure  for me, I’m going to blog all about it (like some guy on .Mac did).  Look forward to photos and details from the recording sessions in upcoming posts.  I think we are going into the perfect studio to record these particular songs.  I’ll have more to say about the studio in my next post.

Category: Music