A charter bus with 20 members of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band cruised down Sunset Boulevard and stopped in front of United Recording Studios in October.
Brendan James entered the building and admired the platinum records that covered the walls. The records included copies of Green Day’s “American Idiot” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – albums that had been recorded in that same studio, he said.
“Just being there and seeing all of the platinum records, you would feel like you were a professional musician,” said the second-year business economics student.
A select group of about 20 UCLA Bruin Marching Band members took their music off center field and into the recording studio to record new music for the television show “Imaginary Mary,” which premiered March 29. Though the band will not appear on screen, its recording will serve as the music played by a band of actors for a scene in a yet-to-be-disclosed episode later in the season, James said.
The ABC television show follows Alice as she learns how to adapt to family life when she falls in love with a divorced dad who has three children.
Third-year communication studies student Christina Martin said the band members could not give away the name of the song or specific details of the scene in the show where the music will be used. However, she said the music they recorded is an arrangement by UCLA’s marching band director Gordon Henderson of a pre-existing song in style of a slow-paced rock ballad.
Working in United Recording Studios to record the two-minute track for the show required that the band adjust to a more intimate style of music performance, Martin said. The band had adapted to playing in a controlled studio setting smaller than they were accustomed to at games in Pauley Pavilion and the Rose Bowl, she said.
The marching band often receives calls for commercial gigs, such as when the band performed at “The Ellen Show” last year. UCLA marching band assistant director Ken Fisher said he receives multiple requests per week; the close proximity of UCLA to the Hollywood scene makes the band a popular choice for professional and high-profile gigs, he said.
The full marching band stands at more than 200 members to fill in the massiveness of the Rose Bowl, Fisher said. With only a tenth of the members present recording for “Imaginary Mary,” the smaller band – coupled with microphones that stood only inches away from each performer’s instrument – made detection of minute mistakes easier, Fisher said.
The experience of recording for “Imaginary Mary” became more nerve-racking because the band was significantly smaller, Martin said. The downsized sections of the band contained about three horns, four trumpets and two tubas in comparison to the multiplicity of instruments in each section when performing at the Rose Bowl, said third-year political science student Patrick Chesnut.
The sound technicians recorded the song with the full band first and then began to re-record individual parts of the piece according to the different instrument sections. The process lasted three hours, James said.
The producers of the show then had the band record the song again but with small changes such as cutting a few bars, repeating a section or adding a second ending, Martin said. They wanted a couple different versions of the track as options when they would later edit it to suit the show, she said.
A typical problem with a large marching band for live gigs involves matching each individual player’s tempo with a field full of other band members, said second-year mathematics for teaching student Kelly Flood. Someone always seems to go too fast or too slow, she said. But to record for “Imaginary Mary,” each band member received a set of headphones with a metronome that kept them in sync with each other and the plot of the show, she said.
“By the end we had to shift things around and add notes to match what the audio engineer envisioned for the show,” Flood said. “You don’t know what you want until you listen to it.”
Without having to perform while marching, Chesnut focused on mastering the notes of the pop-inspired song by focusing on his fingers and tone, instead of on the hot sun beating down on his uniform or the next step in formation.
The first time the band rehearsed together was when they arrived at the recording studio, Chesnut said. Although Martin’s part on the mellophone, which looks like an oversized trumpet, was simple with mostly even quarter notes, the pressure of recording in the studio made the song more difficult, Martin said.
“When you’re just focusing on music and not visuals you can create the art to better fit what someone is looking for,” Chesnut said.
The “Imaginary Mary” recording is among the more than 100 outside performances that the marching band participates in each year, Fisher said.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of something outside playing in the Rose Bowl or being in Pauley Pavilion,” Martin said. “It’s like being out in the wild a little bit.”