Q & A

Every recording artist is unique…The following information will give you an idea of how the studio recording process generally works.  It’s a lot of info and is pretty long but take your time and read what appeals to you most.

We like to get a solid understanding of what your goals are. Is the recording one of the following:

Demo for getting gigs

Demo for friends to hear

CD to sell or online distribution via iTunes

Music to put on a website for general listening

Submittal for contest or to record company

 

The basic demo
To some bands a ‘demo’ means they play the song live to capture that ‘live sound’ in a couple takes. Then the band sits back, listens and says, “yeah, take #2, go with that”. In those cases, the band usually has a tighter budget and simply wants me to set up a mix on-the-fly, spending maybe an hour or so to mix-down their song. This type of approach allows the final product to give the listener an idea of the band. This type of approach rarely turns out a mass production radio-ready sound, but it will sound great.

Track by track
This is the most popular approach and gives everyone the most control in the studio. Bands spend time tracking each instrument. We do this by usually doing scratch (temp) tracks while we capture the drummer’s perfect performance. What usually works best is if one member of the band plays along with the drummer, mainly a guitar or bass. Keep in mind, there are some amazing things that can be done with editing, but in this step, we are generally looking for a steady drumming meter, clean fills, and a groove the rest of the band can perform well to. In some cases, we’ll get usable tracks for bass & rhythm guitar, keys, etc, along with the solid drum track – maybe only needing a minor overdub to fix a small mistake here or there in the drums.

After recording the drums, we record each instrument individually.  Each member will take their turn recording their part while listening to the pre-recorded drums in headphones.  Each artist will have their own tracks.

Once all the instruments and vocals are recorded, we assemble the parts to create a final mix. This is done digitally, as in movie production editing…called post production.  Once all parts are edited, if needed, I will quickly go through each track, to remove parts where the instruments are not playing.  Removing dead space in everyone’s track removes anything that may happen during recording such as a vocalist humming to themselves, coughing, licking their lips, pick annoyances, room noise, etc.  Removing part of the guitar solo track where there is no solo removes the small amount of amp hiss you may get.  All these things add up and you do not want them in the mix.  If there is no instrument playing, I LIKE IT DEAD QUIET.

Mixing
Once the parts are edited and the tracks are cleaned up, it is time for mixing.  This is the process that ensures all tracks play nice together, volume-wise. There are also times when the vocalist may sing louder in some parts than in others.  This needs to be smoothed out via compression and limiters so the vocal level is the same during the song. The amount of time it takes to clean up and mix a song depends on how many tracks there are and how well the music is performed. I prefer to not use pitch correction for vocals.  That will waste your time and money.  It is always best to get the track right and go from there.  I prefer to use the organic approach and not use EQ that much or many effects.  I would rather have great organic tracks to work with and just add icing on the cake (minor EQ or effects.) This approach sounds MUCH BETTER! Trust me.

The final step
The final step, after mixing, is mastering. Songs being distributed to any size audience need to be mastered. Mastering brings out the potential of the recording, emphasizes detail that sometimes gets lost in a mix, and improves the over sonic quality of the recording.  It is the final polish on all songs, making sure they are all EQ’d equally and have the same volume, along with stereo spacing.

Don’t waste time in the studio
Go into the recording process extremely well rehearsed. Have a clear vision on the overall recording goal. Know when you have performed your part well. Allow engineers to do their job. What you hear during the recording process at any given moment is not necessarily a representation of what you will hear when your song is finished. Engineers have to keep track of a ton of things during recording. What they may be listening to at any given moment is something you can’t hear or are not used to looking for when listening. That is where years of experience a recording engineer has, is valuable. The recording process has a huge element of trust involved – that’s a good reason to make sure you can work with the people involved. That is what makes meeting in person before the recording session important. We first recommend an over the phone discussion before anything else.

One of the worst things artists do
People are critics. Their expectations will be blown away a lot more if you wait to show them the final mix. Rough mixes are simply designed to provide a sample of the parts that were recorded for the band to review – never intended for the average listener. Sometimes bands take rough mixes out and become frustrated with what they hear because levels are not final or the sound isn’t ‘dialed in’ for that specific mix. Because of this, musicians will want to redo their part over and over again. Recording is simply a snapshot in time. Most people can always do it better and better each time they play a part. The key is to find the point where the drums, music, & vocal parts are well executed and ultimately blend and mix in a way that makes the overall recording sound great.

Artists benefit from knowing what they want to accomplish before the record button is pressed.

Thinking about a 3 or 4 song demo?
Your budget will determine where to put your recording energy. Leave enough time for mixing. Are you really looking for an all-out “album” sound or simply a solid recording that lets people know you are a great band or artist?

Not sure what to do?
We try to help narrow down your needs by showing you some examples of what we’ve done previously (usually this is done in person where you can hear some sound examples.) Knowing a bit about your studio experience, playing abilities, and vision of how things would be mixed helps too.

Some bands are very particular about a guitar sound or other instruments and want to be part of every step of the recording process (editing, staging the mix, the actual mix) and others simply choose to rely on my experience as an engineer and producer to help guide them to an overall sound that we consider full and ready to be presented to the world. In many ways, recording can be a partnership in the sense that we at the studio want the best sounding product to go out the door, and so do you. If we let crappy sounding stuff leave, that’s not good for us, and certainly does not help the artist any.

Some of the artists I have worked with have ideas that they can achieve everything from set-up, recording, editing, mixing, vocals, harmonies for 3 or 4 songs in a 5 hour block of time for a {insert low dollar figure here.} Just so you know, we are not that kind of studio.  I work fast and efficiently but if you tend to watch the clock and want it to be rushed, it will sound rushed.  I’m confident we can turn out a great product but you need to determine your budget and go from there.  You can get a great – sounding product for a comfortable price but you need to be realistic.

We work with the artist. We learn what your expectations are and do our best to meet those. We can maximize your budget. If you only want a basic demo with a nice mix, don’t get caught up in editing notes for each measure of the song!  Perfection is great but too much perfection results in something that doesn’t sound human and it wastes money.  Less is always more.  I like to stick to the organics of recording…great recorded tracks means less “fix it in the mix” work.  I like to get the right tone out of the amp or guitar during the recording process, using EQ and minor effects to slightly tweak and add color (after recording)….never to fix mistakes.

Payment – Sessions are paid for at the end of each session and before any media or product leaves the studio. The band gets whatever level mix they did during that time on mp3, either emailed or sent to a dropbox created for the artist.  If the band wants the original tracks, they need to provide a hard drive and are charged for the time it takes to transfer all session files.

Live tracking – This is where bands track everyone, all instruments, at the same time. We isolate each instrument, sometimes cutting only a scratch vocal track – then go back and track the final vocal once all instruments are recorded and minimize the overdubs except for glaring mistakes in performance. Then, we mix the sound to a 2-track master mp3 or wav and call it a day. I’ve seen full bands with drums track 9 songs in 6 to 8 hours, however, the mixes that come from this are only for ‘demo’ or ‘concept’ and wouldn’t be called a true studio mix (from my perspective.)

Acoustic studio demo – For a really solid-sounding acoustic demo for a 2 or 3 piece w/ vocals (no drums.) Figure on the first song that each part usually takes “at least” the better part of one hour to record. The first song usually takes the longest, due to mic’ing everything up and getting sound levels. The remaining songs can take less, once the musicians are flowing in the recording process and everything is already mic’d up and ready to continue recording. Harmony vocals and lesser played instruments can take less time, especially when the talent is solid and well rehearsed. Depending on the complexity of vocals, layers, etc, add around 30 minutes average, per song, for editing time. An hour total to stage the mix for 3 songs, then the actual mix time usually takes longest for the first song (this all depends on how picky the final decision makers are.) The remaining song mixes go pretty smoothly from there. Finally, mastering at this level is relatively inexpensive, and completes your recording process.

Overall, it is not uncommon for an acoustic demo to run anywhere from 6 to 10 hours for a 3-song acoustic demo that will sound great. Keep in mind, we are figuring time based on the fact that there would not be excessive re-takes, tons of layered overdubs, and a traditional mixing approach to the song.

Band studio demo – Similar to above, but we focus on tracking drums first – usually to a click track. Depending on the band, budget, and style, we may do some editing to the tracks. Size of project, band needs, and so on, all influence the course of the recording process. A lot of times, we may spread sessions out over a couple/few days to accommodate the schedules of everyone.

Single or Album – We do produce for artists and bands where they get a radio quality sound ready to go head-to-head with anything that you’d buy in a store. Projects like this can range from low to high, depending on the level of our involvement and collaboration, and of course the amount of takes and editing you do.

Have tracks already that you want to mix?
Call us and bring them in. We can work from a lot of different formats.

Want to record tracks and mix in your home studio?  Record your tracks with us. Track your vocals or guitars in our studio We’ll show you how to make your recording project go smoothly and provide tips to best use your existing set-up.

 

More Information about recording & costs                                                                                

Artists ask for quotes on how much it’s going to cost to record their project. Here’s some information we provided to a recent band that is recording at the studio – they appreciated our candid outline of the process, and up front communication – it made the process go much smoother, and the product turned out great.

Scenario – band has a modest budget, wants to do cover songs, and do a couple originals.

Maintain focus…
We recommend tracking all drums during the first session, if the drummer is up to it. Why? The kit is already mic’d up and ready to go. This will save time and money since you wouldn’t need to mic the kit during each session and the levels would be the same, along with drum tone.

Tracking Process…

For Drums

– 1 kick mic

– 1 snare mic

– 1 mic for each tom.

– 1 mic for ride and hi-hat

We always use a stereo or matched pair of overheads, Shure SM81 mics.

What works INCREDIBLY WELL for drummers and will also save you money, is the hybrid kit.  I have a very nice Yamaha digital drum kit you can use. It sounds especially perfect when you use this digital kit with your snare, cymbals and high hat. This way you get the power of the toms and kick without all the mic placement and sound check time. It sounds great because you’re using a real snare, high hat and cymbals.  Feel free to bring your pedals but I do have a dual kick pedal and throne.

– The lead vocalist will do a scratch track while we track the drums, guitars, bass, keyboards, etc.

We find that sizeable chunks of time can get eaten up by a band that does not plan their set-up. This tends to make people antsy and contributes to clock watching. If you can give us an idea what the instrument players (guitarists, percussionists, etc) had in mind for sound that will help us to help you to be best prepared for your session (for example, what instruments they will be using, amps they want to play through, if they use pedal boards, have a special cabinet they want to record, change guitars between songs, one player has multiple parts, number of keyboards, horns, percussion, etc.)

We have a proven method that we work with when setting-up for tracking a ‘live’ playing band. The guitars or bass may play along to the drummer.  Once the final drums are recorded, the bassist lays down tracks with one of our many amp and cabinet plug ins. We can customize the hundreds of plugins for you and save for future sessions. For guitars we can put the amp in the vocal booth and mic it up just right to get your tone, or, we can utilize some of the many guitar plugins available in the studio. Electric bass goes direct through one of the bass pre-amps we have – we always get a good sound there. We advise (heavily) against any bass player mic’ing their cabinets on lower budget projects and have rarely found justification to record a bass cabinet for rock music – we get great results using the bass pre’s and some recording & mixing tricks that have been very successful for us. The vocalist will usually perform the scratch track from the control room or the 4X4 vocal booth. After all the music tracks are recorded, the vocalist records the final vocal track, replacing the scratch track. Any harmonies get recorded after the lead vocal is tracked. We find the best results evolve from individual tracking. Once the first song is tracked we move to the next song.

We highly advise you do not bring friends or non-band members to attend tracking sessions. We can tell you from experience it more often hinders the recording process. While some people find it is nice to have an audience to get them in the groove, all too often, having a girlfriend, significant other, buddy, boyfriend, sibling around only creates an atmosphere that winds up taking too much of your valuable time and energy away from recording.

We also urge artists and band members to avoid text-ing throughout the session. Not only for the interruptions that they cause, but for noise purposes. Believe it or not, cell phones even in silent mode can still affect the sensitive studio gear.

Payment                                                                                                                                        

Cash, credit card or debit card is accepted.

Media
Recording these days is primarily via some form of hard disk recorder. Artists/bands should plan to have their own hard drive (external USB/Firewire or internal IDE) available for taking their tracks with them after the sessions. While we can make arrangements to hold your session files during the recording process for your project(s), we can not be responsible for long-term housing of your content on any media format. You want at least 40 GB of space or more. Flash drives will not be large enough to hold your band’s project. We do not back-up to iPods or similar devices.

We provide back-up to hard disk as an included courtesy for most normal sized projects while you are recording your project. That process usually is something we do in off-hours or while performing other aspects of your session (like breakdown, wrap-up, duplication, etc.). It is to the artist/band’s advantage to come prepared with a hard disk if you want your session files when recording sessions are complete.  We do not archive files once the project is complete. We can not be responsible for tracks left behind at session end.

Rescheduling                                                                                                                                    

We are certainly aware that things come up with the coordination of a recording project. Getting multiple band members on the same page, scheduling various instrumentalists or finding the right voice talents can sometimes present some unforeseen circumstances – what we ask for is communication. Confirmation the day prior to the session via telephone, email or text. We work with you when things come up, but do not expect this flexibility to be abused.

How long will it take roughly?                                                                                                  

Drums: Through our years of experiences – it usually takes about 2 to 3 hours to track drums on 2 songs. Experienced/Session drummers can pump out 2 to 3 songs in 1 to 1.5 hours, but that is exceptionally rare.

Bass: We have seen bass parts take 20 or 30 minutes on one song, and we’ve spent 3 or 4 hours with bassists on one song. For Bass, much depends on how well the musician is rehearsed – and – for many first-timers in the studio, we find a lot of bassists become enlightened as they “discover” the kick drum. We’ve even sent bass players back home to practice their parts with rough drum mixes so they can save time tracking in the studio – our interest is to capture solid performances, not watch your recording time fly by without results – plus, most bands don’t have the patience to use studio time to help people learn their parts.

Guitars: Guitar parts are split into clean, dirty, lead, and acoustic tracks – and – when we track a guitar those parts are not blended into one track in real-time (as in the guitarist hits the foot pedal on various parts or switches sounds on the fly). To get the best and cleanest recording results, we usually treat each sonic part as an individual track. Single guitar players can run from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours on average per song. Multiple guitarists, bump that 40 minutes to 1.5+ for rhythms, and 20 minutes to an hour (or more) for a solo.

Vocals: Vocalists – again, depending on skill level can do lead vocals in 3 to 4 takes, plus reviewing and editing time – that makes for at least an hour per song. Harmonies – depending on complexity, skill, and tuning of singers, 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours per song is about average – sometimes less, and, with singers that need tuning help, sometimes more.  I have tracked lead vocals where they nail it in one take and it sounds great…it all depends on how prepared you are.

Mixing: Can sometimes take an hour, usually longer. With heavy editing/alignment of drum parts, alignment of musical parts, noise clean-up, etc, can take 2 to 3 hours per song, sometimes longer with really complicated projects.

Mastering a CD: Typically, mastering places can charge $45 per song to as high as $300 or more per song at really high-level places (which is rare, but is the top of the heap when it comes to mastering). While we’ve mastered tons of projects, there always is that extra step that some people can take – we can provide sensible guidance through this process as you need it.

Budget for recording a single song with solid production level: We suggest budgeting between $400 to $700 per song as a good guide for an average multi-song project for original songs. We’ve seen songs require less, and we have proven radio play results in major markets from artists/bands that have spent more. Some projects require more complex production, extreme editing, or arrangement help. It all depends how much time you want to spend on it.

We recently tracked an experienced drummer/band (30+ years of playing for most members) for 10 cover songs over a 9 hour period. This provided good music & drum tracks. Not mixing.

This should give you an idea on what to expect in the studio. Your needs may be different. Call us and we can discuss your project. We make every attempt to provide project efficiencies and will give recommendations where appropriate. We work to help you keep the creative process alive and keep your budget sensible. As we get into tracking original songs we discuss your expectations figure out the best way to achieve that, or match your budget with the best solution for your needs.

About email…
Please, do not hesitate to give us a call if you have a short-term need… while email is a great way to get preliminary information, please do not just ask “how much will it cost to record our CD” – your needs may not be exactly like everyone else’s. We find that a good old fashioned phone call can get things moving along for you…

 

Planning to Record

Prior to booking your recording please think about the following questions so that we can best serve the needs of your band and provide you with the best recording possible within the realm of your budget, time restraints, aesthetic, and purpose. We want you to walk away completely happy with your recording. Proper planning will help ensure that you do.

Why are you recording?                                                                                                                     

Is the final product of your recording going to be a free demo, a full length album, an EP, a single, etc.? Your answer will help determine the length of time you need to complete your project.

What is the style of music?                                                                                                     

Different genres and musical styles will take different amounts of time to complete and the recording process will vary. Know what you want to sound like so that our engineers can make accurate aesthetic decisions for your specific project. Give us names of bands whose sound you’d like to resemble. For instance, you might like Weezer’s snare sound, Hank III’s guitar tone, Pennywise’s bass, and Cher’s vocal effects. If you want something unlike anything you’ve ever heard, let us know and we can experiment!

Ultimately, you know your music better than anyone else. It will make it much easier for us to find your sound if you know what your sound is.

What is your budget?                                                                                                                       

No one wants to spend more money than they have to, so it is important to find a balance between financial and aesthetic decisions.

We have had 28 song albums recorded, mixed, mastered, and out the door in only 2 eight hour sessions. We have also spent the same amount of time (or more) recording a single song. Knowing your budget will help us make decisions that will effect your recording. The higher your budget, the more time you will be able to put into your project.

Decisions on overdubbing, mixing style, mastering technique, and total number of recorded tracks will be affected by your budget.

How much time do you need? How much time are you willing to spend?                      

Generally speaking, the bigger the project, the more time you will need to complete it, or at least the more time you SHOULD take to complete it.

If you are well-rehearsed and can play your part exactly right in one to three takes, you’ll need less time than if you need five or ten takes. Therefore, if time and budget is an issue, practice frequently and have a good idea of what you are going to play before coming into the studio.

You will also save time and money by scheduling more than one day at a time. For instance, let’s say you want to record 6 songs over 2 days of recording and each song includes drums. It will take at least an hour to set up microphones for a drum kit, so by scheduling those 2 sessions back to back and leaving the drums set-up overnight, you will save yourself an extra hour of time. We also offer incentives if you book back to back recording sessions, which also saves you some money.

Please keep in mind that our schedule is typically booked up at least a couple weeks in advance, so if you only book one session at a time it may take you months to finish your recording project.

If you have a big project and it is a priority to get it done in a timely manner, plan to take some time off to get it done. It will be worth it in the end.

Prepare

Bring with you…
  • Extra Strings
  • Extra Drum Sticks
  • Fresh Guitar Picks
  • Guitar Tuner

We sell all of the above as well, so if you forget to bring your own, you won’t be left high and dry.

Preparing Your Band and Your Instruments
  1. If you are bringing your own drums, TUNE THEM and tune them well. Fresh heads will help a lot, but slightly worn (non-abused) heads that are well-tuned are generally just as good. I cannot emphasize this enough. TUNE! TUNE! TUNE YOUR DRUMS! For the love of God. Please. Tune your drums. Lube your kick pedal, too.
  2. Have new strings on your guitars and bass and don’t be cheap about it. Buy good strings and lightly play them for about a half hour to stretch them out so they don’t go out of tune in the middle of a song.
  3. Decide whether or not you will play to a click track. If you play to a click, overdubbing will be easier, more accurate, and your overall timing will be better (but some people think it sounds too mechanical). If you chose not to play to a click, you may have timing issues and your songs will probably sound more live (good or bad depending on aesthetic). Nonetheless, if you want to play to a click, practice to a metronome before coming to the studio and know the tempo of each song. This will save you a lot of time and confusion during recording. Even if you don’t plan to record to a click, we recommend knowing the BPM and Time Signatures of your songs before your session… just in case.
  4. Have your songs well-written and know what you are going to play. If you need to hear yourself back a few times to get that song perfect, we suggest getting a mini-recorder and recording your practices or coming into the studio for a rehearsal recording before your actual session.
  5. Try not to come to the studio hung over or on drugs; you won’t enjoy it as much and your recording will suffer. Go to sleep early the night before. I promise that you will have fun at the studio. You can stay up late and celebrate afterwards.
  6. Show up on time.
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: