FAQ The Recording Process
Here are some answers to very commonly asked questions about recording:
Q: How long does recording take?
This question is like asking, "how long is a piece of rope?" It has no definitive answer. It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 months. It all depends on what you need to do the recording for, whether or not the material has been written yet and/or how well rehearsed you are with it. We always think that rushing things can spoil what could turn out to be a great recording and for us, that's what it's all about, making a great recording. For quick live band 'demos', you should allow at least 1 hour for every minute of a songs length, plus 2 hours for setting up; i.e. for a 4 minute song, allow 6 hours. To fit into that time constraint, you may need to cut some corners on 'production' but you will get a great 'live sound' result. For a 'finished' single, it can take anywhere from 4 days to a month+... and that's an estimate for only one version of one song. For a whole 'finished' album (from 10-14 songs), anywhere from 3 months to a year or maybe even two years, generally depending on how many songs you want to record, how much time you can spend in the studio on a regular basis, how many re-takes, versions, and/or mixes of each song you wind up recording.
If you want a fast demo just to hear what something sounds like or to try to get some gigs, you could cram a few songs into a one day session. We have done 14 songs in three 12 hour days, but that was exhausting, laborious work and, in our opinion, the finished product didn't sound very good. In this we suggest to bands, do not send out too much material just to get gigs. 2 or 3 songs are sufficient.
At the end of the day it is ultimately about what you want, but we always warn people of trying to do too much all at once. We really feel this will not save any money in the long run.
Q: What exactly is the recording process?
There are two major ways to approach the recording process.
The "Live" route:
Some bands prefer to record everything as a live performance, with the whole band in the studio all being recorded at the same time. This helps capture the interplay of musicianship better, but it can make for looooong times in the studio and many, many takes. Most studios have a drum booth, which allows for live drum tracking, and closets or booths for the guitar amps and acoustic instruments so they are isolated and the mics used for them are not interfered with by the sounds coming from the other instruments. The band monitors themselves using headphones.
The "Multitracked" route:
Most bands take this route. It is the incremental route. The most important track (several tracks, actually) is the drum track, so it's imperative that it be flawless. Doing it as a "build-up," the drum track is tackled first, either with one or two other musicians or the whole band playing along. Once the drum track is perfect (or acceptable, depending on the skill level of the drummer and/or the budget), the bass track is laid down to complete the rhythm section, and the other tracks are overdubbed, building up to the finished song. Generally, vocals are laid down as the last major track, then atmospherics like tambourine or backing vocals.
Either way, the electric instruments are miked at the speaker cabinet or run through a direct box. A direct box takes an instruments "unbalanced" signal or an amp's direct output and converts them to a "balanced" signal so the mixing board can use it. Acoustic instruments are miked in an isolated or soundproof room or booth. The mics and direct boxes are run into the mixing board, the mixing board sends those signals to the tape or hard drive to be recorded.
The engineer handles the recording and the monitor mix. The monitor mix is the mix heard by the band during the recording process so they can hear what they're doing. It's not the same thing that's actually laid down to tape, however.
There are two kinds of recording formats, analog and digital. Analog recordings are laid down on big (1" or 2") tape, which records 4, 8, 16 or 24 tracks. Digital recordings are laid down on a computer hard drive and can have unlimited tracks available. Both can be used simultaneously if they're synchronized. They can be synchronized by a time code known as SMPTE. SMPTE is a time-coding scheme that gets recorded on to one track of the tape reel. The computer then locks to the tape by reading the code on that track. SMPTE stands for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and is protocol that was developed by that organization.
Expect to overdub a lot of things. Remember, this is your chance to get it right; if you don't fix your mistakes, you'll be hearing those flubbed notes forever as part of your finished product. If you're unsure about anything you're doing, don't settle... unless money is really an issue.
Q: What are basic do's and dont's of recording?
- Do bring your instruments, cables, extra strings, tuners and if needed batteries and spare tubes for your tube amps.
- Do be nice to the engineer.
- Do bring food/snacks and water.
- Do avoid dehydrating drinks (beer, coffee, Coke) if you're singing.
- Don't mistreat the studio's equipment.
- Don't yell at someone for making mistakes.
- Don't expect to make it perfect on the first try.
- Don't waste a lot of time; in this case, time really IS money.
- Don't be too wasted to play or sing. A buzz might be okay, but make sure that you really want to capture that buzz, 'cause you will.
- Most importantly, do observe the rules that the studio has in place.
- Most studios are nonsmoking, so you'll just have to smoke outside on breaks.
- If there's a big sign in the control room that says "No Drinks on the Console", pay attention. Mixing consoles are expensive, and you don't want to have to pay for that too.
Q: I'm getting SO sick of this song...
Yep. So is everyone else, probably. Take a little break, have a smoke, do whatever.
Maybe move on to something else for a little bit.
There's not much more advice we can give here, it happens, it sucks.
Q: I've played this part about a zillion times and I still can't get it.
Yep. It happens, it sucks. There are a couple of options here.
You can take a break, go scream at stuff, try to relax a little, go get a pep talk.
Another suggestion is to try to rewrite the part you may be struggling with to something simpler. Sometimes simpler things, played well, come off a LOT better than complex things, played poorly. It can be disheartening to acknowledge your own limitations, but it might be for the best.
Q: Why is everyone else screwing up so much?
Nerves, pressure, fatigue (physical AND mental). Try to relax a little. One of the best ways to deal with this is positive feedback... "strokes." Let the person who's having a tough time know that you believe in their ability and you're not frustrated with them for screwing up, even if you are.
Keep in mind that when it's your turn, you might screw up just as much as them. It's a part of the process, not something to be upset with.
Q: No matter how well I play this, everyone wants me to do it again...
They know where your potential is, or at least they think they do.
If you're happy with a take and you don't think you can do it any better, let 'em know.
If you're really happy with it, stick to your guns.
This is where a producer can be either an angel or a demon. If they like it, they're an angel. If they're not happy with anything you do, they're a demon. An uninvolved set of ears, however, can give really good feedback.
If nothing else, you can always overdub it again later.
Chances are, after hearing it a bunch of times the way you want it, they'll come to accept it as part of the song.
Q: I'm hungry (Thirsty, need a smoke, sobering up).
Eat. (Drink. Smoke. Drink.) You can't play or sing up to your potential if you're uncomfortable.
If tension is too high to suggest it, wait a few minutes, but get it done.