Next, Pat Mastelotto added drums. Pat was at his place near Austin, while I was now on vacation in a little village on the coast of Nova Scotia. My net connection was over modem at 28.8kbps, useless for eSession, so I would go sit in the parking lot of the local elementary school when I needed to borrow some higher bandwidth. I asked Pat to take my sketch drums as an indication of a light, supportive groove, but to evolve it over the course of the song.
He did that and then some, giving me something far more detailed than I had in mind, but it ended up working beautifully. I was at first a little worried about the risk of virtuoso playing distracting from the song — the "this guy is too good" problem. In particular I asked myself if Pat might have stepped a little too far outside during the bridge:
But my instinct was that it would work — and if it didn't, I could always edit it or go for another take. It turned out that when all the tracks were layered, the drums were great all the way through. I kept the whole performance as it was.
eSession provides a Messages interface and a Chat window. Messages allow you to send and receive email with your eTalent without either side revealing their email address unless they choose to. The messages are routed via eSession.com addresses — another way of protecting one or both sides from spam. I found that most of my team members switched back and forth between eSession's messaging and just emailing or phoning me directly, depending on what seemed easiest at the time. The Chat window allows you to chat with any of your team members, or other buddies, who happen to be online at the same time as you, and allows video chat for the webcam-equipped.
Pat's recording impressed me as well. Any time there are a lot of mics open, as when recording drums, there's a risk of phase interference among the mics making the sound smaller and mushier. Since eTalent usually record themselves, it's important that they have some skills in this area or else it will be a weak link in the chain. No problem with Pat. An interesting detail: he uses no separate hi-hat mic, "like Zep, the Beatles, and Motown," as he noted.
Byron's bass was next, recorded at his place near Nashville (I was back home again in Monterey). I'd used a sampled fretless bass for my sketch, and we decided to stick with fretless for the real one. I loved Byron's first pass, and after a little experimentation we had just what I'd been hoping for: a part that was spare, deep, and grooving, locked in with the kick, and featuring a lyrical, melodic solo climbing up out of the rhythm section during the bridge. (I would later have the steel take over the second half.)
By this time I'd normally be getting the guitars under way, but Bruce wanted to hold off recording his steel parts until after the vocal was done. He told me he's found that because steel playing features so much sliding in and out of chords, it can throw off singers who try to sing to it. So my next step was recording the singer.