In the studio

With the set of initial demos successfully recorded, David Bowie retreated once again for five months, to continue work on his new songs and to write more.

We were really working in the dark on The Next Day. The Next Day was full of wrong turns and red herrings.
Tony Visconti
Mojo, January 2016

By April 2011 Bowie was ready to return to the studio. His initial choice was abandoned before a note was recorded, after the studio’s owners allegedly leaked the news to a photographer.

We told them to keep it a secret and they blew it within 24 hours. We hadn’t even started the album but we got a phone call: ‘Is it true you’re making a record at such and such a studio?’ We just denied everything. Even when we made the first demos, we were sworn to secrecy. The three musicians working on them – me, Sterling Campbell on drums and Jerry Leonard on guitar – had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It was unnecessary with the the three of us, we were long-time Bowie people – if he’d just said keep it a secret and don’t tell a soul, we would have done that without signing – but later on, as the crew on the album got bigger, the NDAs were necessary because we didn’t know everyone that well.
Tony Visconti
The Guardian, 12 January 2013

The sessions instead switched to the Magic Shop, on Crosby Street in Manhattan’s SoHo.

I got an email from David saying, “Do you know a photographer named so and so?” I could find the name, but I don’t remember offhand. I said, “No.” It’s a good thing I didn’t know him. [Laughs] Apparently this photographer had called someone from David’s office and asked if it was OK for him to take pictures of David at the studio. They were like, “What? Who told you there was even a session?” Obviously, someone from the studio leaked it out. We got an email after that saying, “OK, change of plan. We’re doing it at Magic Shop.”
Zachary Alford
Rolling Stone, 1 February 2013

The Magic Shop was new to Bowie and Visconti. The producer visited prior to the booking being made, and ensured that the owners understood the need for secrecy. The studio’s interns were given time off during the sessions, and the in-house staff was reduced to just two. Even so, the studio’s owner, Steve Rosenthal, remained unaware that the sessions were for Bowie until the first day, 2 May 2011.

There were three discrete sets of recording sessions for The Next Day, involving three different sets of musicians. The bulk of the songs were tracked in May 2011, with more following in September. Bowie overdubbed lead vocals in September, October and January 2012 at Human World Wide, a studio owned by Visconti’s son Morgan.

More vocals were recorded in March 2012, the same month that Gerry Leonard laid down extra guitar work at the Magic Shop.

The third and final set of sessions for the backing tracks took place in July 2012, with vocals and final overdubs recorded in September and October.

May 2011

Mario McNulty, who had engineered Reality, was brought in to work on The Next Day.

The Magic Shop live room is what I would consider a medium-sized recording room. The room is treated so the reflections aren’t too crazy, plus the tall ceilings help. There were never any strange frequency pockets in the room that I had to worry about.

For many of the songs there were five people performing live in the room at once, that also changes the sound of the room a bit. I used Magic Shop’s two isolation cabinets for guitar amps and the bass cabinet, but even with those cabinets you have to deal with the small amount of bleed.

Because of this bleed and the fact that the performances were captured live, this might be a nightmare for many bands… but this band was incredible. When a group plays together that well you can record this way.

Mario McNulty
SonicScoop, 11 March 2013

McNulty laid out workstations for each of the musicians in the Magic Shop’s live room.

David’s station was laid out around the Baldwin piano. I made sure there was plenty of room for him to move about and also take notes if he needed to.

In addition David had his Trinity keyboard workstation, and acoustic 6-string and 12-string, a tambourine, and a digital mixer which he had some recordings on for reference. I had an SM7 for his live vocal takes going through the Neve, and hitting an LA-2A very softly.

Mario McNulty
SonicScoop, 11 March 2013

May 2011 was a productive month. ‘The Next Day’ and ‘Atomica’ were recorded on the first day, 2 May, and the following day the band laid down ‘How Does The Grass Grow?’ and ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’.

‘If You Can See Me’ was recorded on 4 May, and ‘Dancing Out In Space’ was taped on that day and 7 May. ‘Like A Rocket Man’ and ‘Born In A UFO’ were recorded on 5 May, the latter backing track completed on 10 May.

‘Heat’ was laid down on 6 May, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ on 9 May, and ‘So She’ on 12 May. Bowie sang scratch vocals with the band, which were later replaced, along with additional instrumentation, during separate overdub sessions.