Giving a Grand Piano Some Teeth: In The Studio With Ted Hu


What was your pre-production like on this project?

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As a pianist, the most important thing was to find the right piano. Unlike other musicians, we don’t usually have the luxury of taking our own instrument with us to the studio. For this record, I really wanted something kinetic with a huge sound. The songs really called for a bit more grit from the piano and a really big, booming bass. My fantastic team at Zippah Recording went on a search, and that search eventually led us to Blue Jay Recording Studio where they had a beautiful grand, just waiting to be played.

How did you originally find Zippah?

I telephoned Brian Charles at Zippah about three years ago when I wanted to record a six-song EP. At the time, I was searching for studios that had a real piano. We set up a tour, which was extremely important, so that I could get acquainted with his studio and I started explaining to him what I had wanted to accomplish. I played a couple of my songs for him and the dialogue just started to flow. It was so great talking to someone who had a similar vision for the music. A studio’s best assets are the people who work there and Zippah’s team is top notch. From there, the six-song EP turned into my first full length album, Wolves, Foxes, and Cranes. This time around, there was absolutely no question. Zippah was where I wanted to be.


What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?

This is always a hard question for me. I want my music to push the envelope; to both be easy to listen to and to be intricate enough to really capture someone. I wanted a record that was a little bit digital, a little bit rock, some splashes of orchestral, and a whole lot of energy. Also, the piano needed to be big. It really had to take your breath away. Thanks to my incredible team, I absolutely achieved this goal. Without them, this record would not be the same.

What are your thoughts on live tracking and overdubs?

For me, I am a live take kind of guy: piano and vocals in one. My cover of ‘This Woman’s Work’ was done in one take with no overdubs and only a tiny amount of leveling. ‘Path to War,’ however, was a very different beast. Because of the programming I did for the record, and the fact that I still had a full band lined up to play, we really had to take it all apart. It would’ve been too intricate to have done full band takes. Unfortunately, you do lose the live performance flair of it all, but you also get to perfect the music down to the most minute detail. You have to use your resources; the studio is there for the surgical precision and I really like to use that in the best way possible.

What did you try to accomplish in the studio that you’re not able to do live?

Because I’m a solo artist, I really wanted the sound of a full band with effects. Almost always, it’s just me and the piano, and at times the songs really call out for other voices, other instruments.

In the studio, I was able to add vocal harmonies and lush strings to the songs. They became little scenes from movies that came alive. ‘American Perfume’ is a song that really thrives off of the grandeur of the drums and the strings and ‘Anchored’ is completely programmed except for the piano and vocals. The studio really lets me paint with other colors.

What were the toughest challenges you faced?

Programming, definitely. I’ve always been a fan of digital music but never thought that I could do it myself. As a classical musician, I was trained to perform, but with programming, now you’re arranging. I was scared that it wasn’t going to work or that my ability as a programmer would leave the listener baffled as to why there was any programming at all. Brian assured me, ‘You never have to worry about that. We can always make it work.’ Like I said, my team is incredible.



How did you handle final mixing and mastering?

I trust Brian and Annie [Hoffman, engineer] with my life. I sat in on all of the mixing sessions but could only offer ‘Can we make the strings louder?’ or something to that effect. Really, I just watched as they took the reins and worked their magic. The mixing process always proves to me that your team has to really understand you, simply because they have to make the songs sound the way that you want them to. Even before I would say something, Brian and Annie would be leveling or adding effects to different sections or suggesting ideas that would fit exactly what I wanted. This shows to me that there is a connection to the music and from a musician’s perspective, that means the world.

How does it compare to your last release in terms of style and the creative process?

It took me a while to come to terms with this, but my last album was a bit esoteric. I had really wanted to make an intelligent record with odd melodies, key changes, and bizarre time signatures. Mathematically, this is a great way to make a record. However, you lose a bit of the beauty that is simply making music. Don’t get me wrong, I stand by my last record completely. I just knew that there was still some growth to be had.

This album is completely different. It was written from a much more emotional perspective. The songs really wrote themselves and I had at least half of them written by the time Wolves, Foxes, and Cranes was finished. I kept writing and liking everything that was coming out, but I wanted to stay impartial and not become an artist who thinks every song is gold. So I let them marinate for a year, but they kept coming back. Then I knew it was time to give Zippah a call again. Wolves, Foxes, and Cranes was a collection of songs and stories that I picked from my repertoire. Basically it was a chronicling of six years of my life and there are certain songs that were left out. Path to War was also a collection of stories, but these stories set out to tell you something as a collective. This album was built to house them. No extras. This was brand new to me.

What are your release plans?

I really want to do a grassroots movement. With social media today, you can really create a buzz unlike before. Indie magazines, such as Performer, and local radio stations are the routes I want to take. Also, as the film major I was, I really want to get these songs into movies and shows. They’re so theatrical. It would be great for my music to really make someone’s cinematic moment.

Artist: Ted Hu
Album Title: Path to War
Recording Studios: Zippah Recording (Brighton, MA), Blue Jay Recording Studio (Carlisle, MA)
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 5/29/12
Production Credits:
Head Engineer: Brian Charles
Assistant Engineer: Annie Hoffman
Album Design: Angelica Stockdale

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