With producer Elaine Martone: Behind the scenes of a live recording session

Elaine Martone in the Music Hall recording booth
Elaine Martone in the Music Hall recording booth

Over the weekend, I was able to go backstage at Music Hall for a few minutes to meet Grammy-winning producer Elaine Martone. She and Chelsea VandeDrink of Cincinnati Public Radio were making a live recording of the Pops “American Originals” concert, to be the Pops’ 95th album.They were tucked in the recording booth/opera props room near the stage.

(Read the review and see a photo gallery here.)

Elaine, of course, has been coming down to Cincy for years from Cleveland, where Telarc is based, for all of Erich Kunzel’s Pops recordings — as well as for those of the CSO — with hubby and Telarc co-founder Bob Woods. (Telarc was later bought by Concord Records and the award-winning production team left in 2009.)

Like most major orchestras, the CSO now has its own label for recording, and Elaine, who is up for Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards next month, is still very busy. I asked her three questions:

Question: How is a live recording different from a regular recording session?

Answer: This is our 95th recording with the Pops. I’ve been coming down to Cincinnati since 1985, and I used to assist Bob Woods, my husband. This is the first live Pops recording we’ve ever done. We always recorded in sessions. What’s complicated about this is we have six different groups of artists. And they’re all playing different combinations of instruments and singing and so forth. So that makes it very complicated.

Chelsea VandeDrink
Chelsea VandeDrink

The stage crew here is amazing, and they’ve set it up so there’s very little stage change. But  (the performers) have got to come and go. So we’ve got to re-balance every time. That’s Chelsea — she’s got to re-balance the recorded sound. Ralph, who’s the front of the house engineer, and works for the orchestra, has to balance the hall sound. The two have nothing in common. That, in and of itself, is complicated.

And then, the other thing, there are 19 new arrangements.

Q: This is your first recording with Rosanne Cash. What is she like to work with?

A: She’s been very lovely. The chart she sang on “Beautiful Dreamer” is a very complicated thing to sing because there are some musical elisions over the bar. I was singing it, and thought, I wouldn’t know how to do this. She came in and she was ready; she’d been working on it. That is a pro. She literally got off the plane — I think it was her son’s birthday in New York yesterday, so she took a 6 a.m. flight, came in, warmed up and boom. She was right on.

Q: With so many acts, how will you decide what makes the cut on the album?

A: We’ve got three recording sessions and a very teeny tiny patch section on Sunday to fix the real warts. We’ll put everything down, we’ll edit it all up and then we’ll see what the greatest is, and what kind of falls away. I usually go for 55 really great minutes, and we have 80-plus minutes.




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