The following is really directed
at people entering the studio for the first time, or indeed to studio
owners who can pass on the information to respective newcomers.
(Copyright © 1999
Due to popular demand, the
following is an overview of important things to consider before you
start recording your demo / CD.
Newcomers to studio recording are often amazed at the difference between
playing live and playing in the studio. Hopefully, this will help you
spend more time recording and less time sorting out problems!
Guitarists & Bass Players
Drummers normally take longer to set up their
equipment than the rest of the band. It is true that all instruments are
important in any recording - however, remember that any good drum sound
makes a song rock! So what should we think about, and what should we
look at before we enter the studio session?
1. It is always a good thing to make sure that the
heads of your drums are either new, or at least not worn out. Nothing is
worse than getting to the studio and finding out that you have to spend
2 hours changing skins! The same applies to cymbals. Check for chips and
splits in the metal ware. Take a quick look over your stands and
any moving parts. Make sure that all felt rings for cymbals are in good
condition. Any harsh rings or squeaks will go to tape. "We'll fix
that in the mix..." is a fallacy. You cannot hide such sounds in
any studio. Once you are happy with that, it's time to pack and head for
2. Once in the studio, try and set up your kit as
you feel comfortable with. Good, clear communication between the studio
staff and yourself will create a nice relaxed atmosphere for everyone.
You might think its great to play your kit with everything ringing out
like mad - but the engineer knows the room he puts you in. If you are
asked to tape down your skins, then oblige without fuss - most engineers
require this for microphone placements. A ringing kit will often cause
unwanted and possibly unnecessary boomy low frequencies. If you are
worried about a certain sound that you like to hear, talk to the
engineers. They won't bite, well maybe... They are as willing to help
you as you should be to help them.
3. Depending on the size of the studio area, once
your kit is set up, then the studio staff will need to set up stands and
microphones. This is a very important part of the studio setup, and
normally this is the time for you to take a break. In a studio area,
drums are normally very loud and it can be a little off-putting setting
up microphones when the drummer is knocking out 240dB of kit in your
4. As soon as the microphones are in place, you
will be required to sit at your kit and go through an obligatory sound
check. This will normally consist of playing each separate drum and
cymbal until the engineer is happy with the signal levels going to the
recording machine. It is quite normal that you will not hear any sound
in your headphones until the engineer has gone through the whole kit
check. Once this has been achieved, the engineer will then add
equalisation, dynamics and effects such as reverb, letting you hear this
as a complete sound. What I tend to do is record the drummer for 3
minutes, let him hear the sound, discuss any particular desires the
drummer may have, and then if everyone is happy at this stage, we go
onto the next section of the session setup procedure.
Guitarists & Bass Players
are up next. In most cases, the bass will not go through an amp, but
through a direct-box straight into the recording desk. However, a
combination of the two is preferred. This is a matter of taste, and
can be decided upon in relation to the type of music played, or indeed,
the musicians themselves. Not a big problem, just a matter of deciding
what's best and doing it.
1. Generally it is a very good precaution to put
basses and guitars through a guitar technician prior to entering a
studio. This is a common problem that we experience a lot at TRAM. It's
incredible to think that musicians want to buy the best in quality
instruments, but hardly ever consider keeping them up to scratch...
Remember that an instrument is much like a car. It needs servicing at
least once a year. Main points here to note are intonation and bowed
necks. These are by far the most common problem found at the recording
stage. Why? Because in a studio session you hear everything! Don't kid
yourself. Studios are not similar to playing live. If a demo has to
sound good, then it must at least sound in tune!
2. Next we look at the most obvious problem that
occurs - earth loops or noisy instruments. It's no good saying in
amazement "It's never done that before.." or "That
doesn't happen on stage...". It probably doesn't, but then in the
studio environment, the cabling and wiring is far better and more secure
than most stages around. In other words, even slight soldering problems
will cause earth loops, buzzing high frequency signals that, as always,
cannot be fixed in the mix. A good guitar technician will check for
these problems, but ask him to do so anyway. Just to be on the safe
side. Guitarists should also check their amplifiers. Once again,
electrical buzzes or interferences will arise if earth loops are not
checked. The same applies to cables.
3. It is assumed that all musicians have practiced
their parts? This is also a typical weak point in the course of
recording. It should go without saying that everyone should be well
oiled with the run-throughs and makeup of each song. One point to note
here is solo parts and backing vocals. These should be tried and tested
before you start tracking. Solo tracks can take a lot of time to lay
down - especially if musicians are not quite decided on what it is they
actually want to play.
Vocalists are next in line. At the beginning
stages of the recording, it can be a good thing to have the vocalist
sing a rough guide track as the musicians are recording their songs.
This gives everyone a better "live-feel" for the basic tracks,
and prevents the multi-tracked songs from becoming sterile in their feel
at a later stage. If the musicians are well versed in their songs, then
there should be no problem for everyone to lay down their tracks quickly
and effortlessly. Time is saved, as well as money!
1. Normally, the vocalist is the last link in the
chain as far as recording is concerned - at least as far as the solo
instrument tracks are concerned. These are normally laid down after the
final vocal tracks for obvious reasons: Solo parts tend to be played
better against songs that sound good and offer inspiration. If the
vocalist is well acquainted with the vocal sections of the songs, it is
a good idea for him/her to train the voice prior to recording. This can
take place after the engineers are satisfied with their recording
levels. The voice is without doubt the greatest instrument in the world
- and for it to work best, it is highly recommended to ease the vocal
chords in as it were. Walking straight into a recording can prove
disastrous - at minimum, stretching important muscles, leaving the
vocalist no other choice than to go home and rest....
2. Vocalists should never be afraid of making
demands upon the studio staff when recording. All vocals must sit right
in the mix, and for that to happen, you need to feel comfortable during
the recording process. Make sure that the headphone balance between the
backing tracks and your vocals is set at the right volume. Too loud
backing tracks will cause you to sing off key! Too loud vocals we tend
to put you out of time with the main tracks. Don't be content until you
feel that everything is right for you. Remember that you are paying for
your recording, and to that end, you SHOULD be able to make demands.
Other areas to consider are of course
keyboard players, backing vocalist, solo instruments, special effects
etc. Once again, these points should be taken into consideration long
before entering the studio. Keyboard players tend to record with the
rest of the band during basic tracking. They will normally be recorded
through a D.I. Box, affording them the cleanliness of balanced lines to
the recording desk.
Organs are another matter, and should you happen to own a Leslie B-3
(lucky you!), then this would normally be recorded later in the session.
Solo instruments tend to be recorded after the songs are
"finished". This is quite typical, and affords the band the
chance to listen to, and check if, things are working out as planned.
Special effects, or sampled audio parts are normally added prior to the
final mix. How this is done differs from studio to studio, but the idea
is basically the same.
Once all tracks are recorded, it's time for the mixing session! Here
your songs, with everything previously recorded over multi-tracks, are
mixed-down to two tracks for stereo mastering. These tracks will then be
placed in your order of preference, and burnt onto a CD-R or other
similar medium for you to take home.