This week sees the release of One World, One Song with Dionne Warwick and Joe McElderry.
I was asked to produce the single – recorded in aid of The Hunger Project (THP) and World Hunger Day – by Tim Holder, UK country director of THP, who also co-wrote the song with the legendary Tony Hatch (Downtown, Call Me, Don’t Sleep in the Subway and countless other hits) and Rod Natkiel. I also introduced Tim to Geoff Foulkes who would help with the distribution of the single.
The song was first premiered in 2012 at a World Hunger Day concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a star-studded event where Dionne was joined by Sir Cliff Richard, Alexandra Burke, Caro Emerald, Boy George, Tony Hadley, Joe McElderry, Katie Melua And Rumer. Dionne and Joe performed the newly written song to huge acclaim, and fans have been clamouring since then for the single to be recorded.
I enlisted music director, Steve Sidwell, with whom I had done The Voice Series One and many live shows over the last few years. I first met Steve at Olympic Studios back in the early '80s, and he agreed to interrupt his hectic schedule recording Robbie Williams’ latest album in LA to look after the rhythm section and orchestra for the single. We recorded the rhythm section at Ralph Salmins’ studio in Welwyn, with his renovated Harrison console and a perfect studio in the English countryside to get away from things and concentrate on the music. Pete Murray astounded us all with a single take of the piano part, no mean feat for a big anthemic ballad such as this.
The rhythm section recording was followed by Ralph producing countless pieces of African percussion from various cupboards, and the recording continued for some hours with djembes and all.
Rhythm section complete, we moved to Angel the following week to record the Southbank Sinfonia, and then continued at Angel with the two choirs under the skillful baton of Annie Skates. The children’s choir, now officially named the World Hunger Day Youth Choir, and the London Community Gospel choir, gave us the two interweaved layers of choral backing.
Between each of these stages, I was mixing stems for the next round of overdubs so that I could quickly bring up the mix on the next recording. This was also good house-keeping, as I could make decisions straight after each recording session, and make sure we had chosen the best of the multiple takes.
Due to their commitments, we couldn’t get Dionne and Joe in the same place at the same time, so we recorded Joe at Angel Studios on the same day as the choirs. Joe is a master of his amazing voice, and took on board very easily the interpretation and emphasis we were looking for. We then looked for the first opportunity to record Dionne. She was performing at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on May 1st, and I was delighted to find Yellow Shark studios being looked after by an old friend and colleague, John Acock, literally a stone’s throw from Cheltenham Town Hall. Dionne’s vocal required a microphone with gentle harmonics, and amazingly they had two mint-condition C12s available. Recording Dionne was an absolute joy, an unmistakeable voice and an amazingly emotive performance.
With everything complete, I took the multitrack to my studio, transferred it all into Nuendo, and tweaked vocals and choirs until I felt we had 'mix one' ready for listening. A duet is a hard thing to mix, but their two voices combined beautifully with their differing timbres. Sitting a duet on top of the rhythm section, African percussion, full orchestra, and not one but two choirs was a good challenge!
I used Nuendo’s Vari-Audio to correct little bits of pitch. This is a great tool, and I only ever tune manually note by note, as I hate what automatic pitch correction does to vocals. When you have two amazing singers like Joe and Dionne, there are wonderful moments of emotive intonation which need to be retained within their phrasing. Vocal processing included the SPL de-esser and Major Tom compressor, which for me give the digital equivalent of the Distressor EL8x and dbx902 combination. Final mastering was through the TC System 6000, one of my favourite bits of outboard equipment.
I mix on the Yamaha DM2000, rather than 'in the box'. I’ve yet to achieve the same results from HUI mixing as I do from an audio console, but at some point in the coming months I am looking forward to trying out Nuage, a logical conclusion of my current Yamaha/Steinberg production system.
Transitioning from Nuendo 5.5 to Nuendo 6 half-way through the project produced a couple of little niggles, but once fixed the new interface of version 6 is a lot nicer to use and well worth the upgrade.
The single was officially released at the weekend, and we’re all hoping it will do great things for this amazing charity – see what they’re up to around the world at www.thp.org. Please buy the download and support their work – yes, a blatant plug!
I am off to the Palm Expo in Mumbai tomorrow to give some talks on audio production, but I will be keeping an eye on our chart position with Dionne and Joe. My huge thanks to everyone involved in the production of this epic song; it was a lot of fun and it’s an amazing song.
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