Independent Artist Website – Sound Decisions About Studio Recording

Now that you have had a general introduction to recording, specifically for tracking a live show, this Independent Artist Website will give you an overview of studio recording, from the usual rent-a-pro approach to setting up your own project studio.

First things first: You have to decide who is going to be the producer, even before deciding on the engineer. None of the later decisions about tracking instruments, recording vocals, doing overdubs, processing signals, or getting a final mix will mean Bo Diddley, to coin a phrase, if your bands three or five or eight members are arguing all the time about who sounds the loudest and what so-and-so?s girlfriend is doing in the vocal booth. Someone has to run the show.

This is even true for a solo act in independent artist, since in a studio leadership vacuum most seasoned (or semi-seasoned, or even just salty) engineers will step right up and make the decisions for you. If the band does not present a united front behind its leader, the whole process will be at risk. So, before anything else, decide

? Who will be the producer?
? What arrangements of what songs will be recorded?
? How much debate and democracy will be involved in the process,
? When the various deadlines are going to be set, and
? Why things are going to be run them way they are.

Now is the time for clarity, group cohesion, and common goals. Larger-than-life egos and delusional daydreams have to be left at the door (better yet, down the street) so that a workable, affordable, efficient, and effective plan can be developed ? and pursued to a successful conclusion. Everybody needs to get on the same page (or play the same tune, or whatever metaphor you prefer). Now you are as ready as you are going to be, so what is next?

Well, as usual, it is about money, mostly, and time, too. What is the working budget? Can you afford (and do you want to afford) to go into a project-level studio at $30 an hour with engineer included? A pro studio at $50-100 an hour with engineer maybe included? To make these calculations, you need to have your songs down pat, know how you are going to record them (rhythm section together or dubbed) and how long all of it will take. If you are doing a three-song played that is one thing; if you are doing your debut CD with 11 tracks that is a whole other thing. For simplicity is sake, and to keep consistent examples from here forward, let?s go with your demo for now.

The whole decision process can take a U-turn if one of the band members, or a good (really good) friend, has a decent project studio set up ? meaning pro and semi-pro equipment, a decent recording room, good microphones (and cables!), and so on. So, this is the second big decision, after choosing the producer, but it is not one that the newly christened producer should make alone. Once again, unanimity is vital.

Wherever you do the sonic deeds, if you are recording your drummer and bassist (and maybe a guitar or keyboard too) as a unit, which imparts an organic feel to the tunes, then you will need baffles, sound deflectors, etc., to minimize bleed. You will have to have headphones for everyone, good mics that are properly placed, quality cabling to minimize hum and pops, and so forth. If this is all starting to sound awfully complicated, opt for the best mid-level project studio in town, the one with good equipment and a decent studio, if not state-of-the-art. We were doing your demo, remember? Not your platinum-worthy debut.

Most likely, the studio will have a computer-based recording system, with a Mac or PC running one of the major Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software applications ? Apple?s Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer (Mac only), Sonar (PC only), or some other. You probably don?t want to do your demo with entry-level programs like Apple Garage band or Cakewalk?s Home Studio unless you have to; they are competent in the tracking arena, but fall way short in terms of plug-ins and quality of effects (like reverb) that are essential to the project.

If you do not see a number of different kinds of microphones, you will at least want to see the trusty Shure SM-57s and 58s for miking guitar amps (and using as drum overheads) and at least one good condenser mic for vocals. There should be a decent outboard mixer available, if not always used with the DAW, a sufficient number of cans (headphones) for everyone, Monster or other quality cables, perhaps a piece or two of vintage rack gear, and pro-level monitors (for Pete sake, no living room stereo speakers). If the producer is not a gearhead or audio pro, well, he or she will need to study up on the subject, or find a good (low-paid) consultant.

If you have your plan together; if your parts are practiced and tight; if your excitement level stays high despite the ups and downs of getting your demo project together ? well, you are in about the best shape you can be, considering the importance of what you are doing. You will need the help of a good, flexible, communicative engineer, so do not make a hasty decision about where to do your demo recording. Talk to different people, get referrals, interview studio owners, ask tough questions, and keep your priorities straight. If you get too off into the equipment and the process, well, maybe you should be in the recording music business, and that is okay, too. But never lose sight of what is really important, and the reason you got into all this in the first place: the music.

It is about the music, folks. If you need reminding, put a big sign on the refrigerator.

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