Find out how to choose a recording studio, in-depth info about recording and DYI recording, mixing, all about demos, tips and links. We have a lot of answers we're sure you want to know about… We can tell you that, the more you know, the easier and better the sessions will be, so I recommend reading the FAQ…. and contact us if you need more details or have any questions.
How should I prepare for the first recording session…The following are some guidelines that can take you a long way toward getting a great recording...
Scheduling the session…If you plan a good schedule you don’t have to do multiple set ups; that saves time and makes it easier to redo parts in case you find out next day that something went wrong. It is always better to leave your gear overnight and continue the next day, instead of doing very long recording hours, where everybody gets tired.
Discuss with the engineer and schedule the recording sessions in consecutive days, in order to cut the set up time. Consider recording the drums and bass first for all the songs, and then proceed with overdubs; drum set up is usually laborious.
Be rested and show up on time; do not bring friends, this is about hard work; they will distract you in a way or another. If you do however, then bring the ones that are positive and cheerful (but tell them to be quiet when recording). Have a good night sleep before recording. The vocalists should wake up early enough so the voice gets “in shape” by the time the recording starts.
When you schedule the sessions, arrange with the studio so the evening before recording you can set up the drums and the engineer sets up the microphone. Make sure you tune the drums before the engineer places the microphones. You can do a preliminary sound check and then leave the drums overnight in the studio. The studio atmosphere is different and that can affect the drum tuning; first thing next day is to check the drums again. That's when the final tuning and microphone placement adjustments happen. If you do all this in the first day of recording, you’ll get most likely tired and maybe frustrated, and the smart way is to avoid the set up on the recording day. Double check for squeaks, noises, so you have time in case you have to do some fixes.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse…Make sure the band rehearsed a lot! I cannot stress enough the importance of this statement. The quality of the sound comes mainly from the musician's fingers, and everybody has to feel confident when playing. The studio is not really a stage, so try to move less during the last rehearsals before recording.
Record yourself during the rehearsals, even with a simple recorder. Listening to the recorded material is a reality check for both the performance and the sound. It is a good idea to show the engineer these recordings. These recordings will help you identify problems with rhythm, pitch, even arrangements issues.
Have all the song arrangements finalized before you go into the studio. There is no point to argue over a bridge or a solo in the studio. Prepare the arrangements in writing for every musician.
Recording strategy…Consider laying the drum tracks for all the song you want to record in the first sessions as the drum set up is laborious and it can take time. On the next session, the band can go into overdubs and save time. Make a written plan of what and how you plan to record, what does it needs to be recorded first, as it also helps what’s coming next.
It always takes time to do the set up for the session. Be patient, recording takes longer than just playing the song. The microphone’s placement and level set up are essential for the recording quality. Try to help having your gear prepared properly.
Once the instrument setup is done, try not to move the microphones. They are generally strong enough, that’s not the problem; the problem is that their position affects the sound. If they are moved accidentally, let the engineer know so he can reposition them.
Make sure you have all setup tempos for your songs (know the BPM, it is useful to know it when you do not use a click track), and it is definitely a good idea to get used to play along a click track. If you have never used the click track, then do not try right in the middle of recording session, it's not going to produce results.
If you sing and play an instrument at the same time, try to get used to only play or sing; it will be easier to get a better sound recording the instrument and the voice separately, It is better to concentrate at one thing at the time, however, I have to say it, the technical aspects are less important than getting a great performance on the tape. Experiment!
Recording is hard work, it makes no sense to argue whether it should be a solo over one or two verses; studio time is expensive, rehearsal time is not, there will be enough pressure anyway, so have all the song arrangements figured out and have fun with the tunes. Do not forget the old saying: “less is more”.
It is widely accepted by the greatest recording engineers that, when it comes to the sound quality, the player/band/artists ability to master their instruments account for 60- 70%, the rest being the room (recording space), the microphone placement and the type of microphones and preamps!
Be careful when recording with effects; it may be better to record clean. Once the effects are printed, there is no way to take them out. If a distorted guitar or bass is what you want, it shouldn’t be a problem. But the delay or the reverb can create havoc at mixing. Leave the addition of reverbs/ chorus/ delay for the mixing stage unless they are definitely part of your sound. In jazz, things are a bit different, usually the jazz people know exactly what they want, and they have a better understanding of the sound. When it comes to rock, pop, etc, where there are overdubs, and a song may get to have many tracks, it is better to leave the options open, so there are more possibilities to create the space.
Use comfortable and quiet clothes; the microphones are sensitive, so avoid unwanted noises. Leave the jewelry aside, you don’t really need them. If you know you will try to use a guitar or bass that the studio has, make sure you have comfortable pants that work well without a belt; no studio engineer will allow you to play the studio instruments if they know there is a chance you can scratch it. If you’re a guitar player, and plan to use a classical guitar that the studio has, and if the guitar has French polish on top, make sure you wear long sleeves, as the French polish gets affected by the skin.
Do not hesitate to ask for the engineer’s opinion when you hit a roadblock. Most of the engineers are/were musicians, and they have a lot of experience.
Shut off the phones when you get to the studio; ask what is the policy regarding food and drinks – most likely they are prohibited in the control room. Be well fed, you need energy. Try to keep the chit-chat to low levels, and avoid discussions or comments, especially during the vocal recording. Give space to the vocalist, vocals are the most important part of the song.
Check and listen!Always listen carefully at what you just recorded!! The engineer may not be able to know that something is wrong in the performance; and sometimes you can point to sound problems! Wasting money by not listening to the recorded material is a huge mistake! Listen to low volumes and ask the engineers to play the dry tracks (no reverb or any other effect whatsoever). Does it sound good? If it does, all is fine. If it doesn’t, then decide if you have to redo some tracks.
Do not rush your decisions! Better think twice, try to be as objective as possible.
Always remember that, if you want to get a very personal sound, you need time to experiment; without experimentation, there would be no "Sgt. Pepper's..." – Beatles, or "Time"- Pink Floyd, or Phil Collins's gated drums.
Write down the title of each song; provide as many details as you can, including the key of the songs (or the key for each part of the song), the chord charts, the general arrangement sequence, the words. This is really helpful at the editing stage - for voice correction and for instruments like acoustic bass, strings, etc.
Bring a hard drive with you and have the engineer copy the recorded material into it. A new one if preferable, as usually the recording engineer will either want to use a new one, or format an old one. The reason is simple: the workstations used in studios do not have antivirus programs, as the antivirus software creates major problems with the audio sequencers. So, don’t get upset if the engineer won’t use an old hard drive unless he formats it. Reloading from scratch a workstation and test it can take easy two to three weeks, so nobody takes this risk.
Finally…Bring a notebook and a pen and write down things you should remember lately. Have your Facebook and so on passwords with you, in case you want to post some snippets of what you recorded; you can ask the studio to do it right away. Have a camera, take pictures, post them…That helps keeping the fans excited.
Specific recording preparation: DrumsThe key to a driving groove is a song is a good sounding drum set and the drummer himself. Do not forget that in some of Led Zeppelin's songs, John Bonham was recorded with three microphones. And what a sound! It doesn't matter how good the studio equipment is, if the drums sound like crap, there is not much that can be done to improve it.
Make sure you have a new set of heads, both top and bottoms. Tune them a day before the recording session; once you're in the studio they'll probably sound different, but it will take you less time to retune them. The truth is that so many drummers don't know how to properly tune their drums! Tune, and listen, and then you'll get it right! Pay attention to the seating of the heads! The type of music influences also the tuning: for jazz, the kick is rather tuned high, not muffled or just a little. For hip-hop a low tune is advisable, so you get the "boom"! Check out on the net where you can find many advices and tips for drum tuning.
Check for squeaks and rattles and fix any unwanted noise. The engineer will help you control the sound with gel pads and rings if necessary, until the desired sound is achieved. If you like to hit hard the cymbals, consider rehearsing before you go into the studio and try to hit them softly; this helps a lot in getting an overall good sound through overheads. Consistency on hitting the drums and where you’re hitting them goes a long way toward a good sound. Do not forget to bring spare sticks.
Based on experience, more often than not the drummer is a great musician, but many times he doesn't sound great and that happens when he usually listens to somebody else perform and he doesn't listen to his inner clock. If the drummer is pushing and pulling it's not necessarily a big deal, as much time as the natural groove is there. I recommend rehearsing with a click track and use it while recording.
Specific recording preparation: Bass guitarSo many basses hum!!! Try to solve this problem before entering the studio, otherwise it can take a lot of time to fix it and time costs money. Check for the action and reduce the fret buzz. Hum and buzz is a major problem; once they’re recorded there isn’t too much you can do about it. Check the pots and electronics and, if you use some effects, make sure you know the presets.
In medium and smaller studios the most common way of recording the bass is through DI boxes - Avalon and Aguilar are some of the best, but there are some others, cheaper, still with a good sound. It’s not unusual to re-amp a bass sound at mixing, so getting the sound free of hum and buzzing is paramount.
Bass and drums should be tight as they are the foundation of the tunes; bass has a major role both in rhythm and as main support for vocals/melody. It is a good idea for both drummer and bass player to practice with a metronome. In fact, all class players have in common one thing: the sense of timing. Timing is a shared responsibility between the drummer and bass player.
Specific recording preparation: GuitarsHave new strings and break them in; also, always have a spare set - as a tip, have some pine matches and clean the strings with them; another solution is to buy a Fast Fret brush and use it after playing, then wipe the strings and the neck with 100% cotton cloth. Use hand sanitizers, they keep the palms/fingers dry. Check all your pots and electronics. Know your amp settings.
If your amp needs to have the volume at 10, consider a THD hot plate or a Marshall Power Breaker (they allow you to reduce the volume while the output tubes are run at full speed). I strongly recommend the use of these devices, they also allow you to have a very good tone running the amp at lower levels, which can be a huge advantage at gigs. I can tell you that the house engineers will love it and help you get a good sound.
One secret is this: a small amp- like a 5 to 7 Watts amp- will sound huge in a small room. Interesting enough, a cranked up wall of Marshalls in a small space sounds bad; however, a small amp cranked up in a small space sounds like a wall of Marshalls. Many of Eric Clapton recordings were done with some 5 Watts Fender amp in small recording booths and the sound is great.
If you're a perfectionist, try and record a guitar line a few times, using different amps and cabinets, and then compare them. Listen through the studio monitors and as a rule of thumb do not push the distortion. Too much and it will sound weak. Don’t go overboard and use everything from the studio just because you can, use only what makes sense.
Have the sound set up before, store the presets in your effects, but also look what the studio has to offer, you may find some better alternatives. Use good cables and check your effect boxes for noise; check the action and adjust to avoid fret buzz. Always install new batteries in your stomp boxes before the session or in your guitar preamps if they have active hardware or piezo preamp for acoustic guitars (acoustic guitars sound best when miked, but recording their piezo/sensors doesn’t hurt).
Check the tuning if possible after each take. The guitar can go out of tune after one take. Also don’t forget to relax; over gripping the chords can lead to sharp some chords.
Specific recording preparation: Keyboards and synthsSave all the settings so they can be easily recalled. As a general rule, make sure you bring all the accessories, including the manuals. Sometimes you may need to turn off an effect (like reverb) as that may create problems at mixing, and this is when the manual becomes very useful.
Sound wise, nothing is carved in stones; while you have to have the sounds prepared, experimentation can lead to a very particular and beautiful sound. Putting the keyboard through a different amp may lead to something that really fits the song, and you don't want to miss this opportunity.
Do not rush when recording; better later than early, later gives groove, early sounds like out of time.
In some projects pre-production is mandatory. Regardless of the sequencer used during pre-production, the files can be dumped into the computer and then you can use either yours or the studio sound modules. It’s a good idea to have the midi files with you and try some of the hardware the studio has to offer, especially if your sound modules are not the best. If the studio has units like Kurzweil, Moog, Korg, Oberheim, Waldorf, Access, Nord Lead, Yamaha, it may be worth it to experiment.
Add live instruments to a sequenced track - percussion, cymbals, tom fills, live bass tracks or live guitar tracks. The best solution is to hire a session musician to lay down these tracks. That goes a long way toward getting a track that doesn’t feel like made on computers or drum machines.
Specific recording preparation: the almighty Vocals…Do not listen loud when singing, as this can affect the pitch. Always listen to the takes to see if you went flat or sharp. Ask the engineer to give you some reverb in the headphones if that makes you more comfortable, but do not exaggerate, as it can affect the pitch and intonation.
Take breaks when recording. Recording 6 songs and 8 takes for each one is a hard thing to do. You need to have that in mind when you’re making the recording schedule.
Start each take like it is “The Great One”, but, if something goes wrong, slow down and relax; otherwise you’ll run out of steam. Even if you will comp from different takes, is better to do it from a smaller number of takes, so take it easy.
In the end, I suggest you bring your video camera and use it. You're going to like it later when you see it, it is going to be the proof of your hard work. Take pictures; you can post them in your Facebook or MySpace pages and keep your fans updated and excited with the progress of your work. Who knows, 20 years later the footage and pictures may be part of music history.
What can you tell me about DIY recording?There’s nothing wrong with it, and the good news is that you can do it. With today technology it’s not that complicated; however, do not expect to have the same results like in a real recording studio. It takes a lot of experience, a proper acoustic space and expensive equipment to get professional results. You can get some decent results with some financial effort and a lot of dedication and passion, and that can help you cut the cost of recording in a real studio.
Can I get more practical advices about DIY recording?
DIY recording is here to stay…DIY recording is a reality, and more and more people are doing it! It is amazing how technology touches our lives, raises challenges and also makes things which were impossible just a decade or two ago become reality! More and more musicians are starting to record themselves, lured by marketing campaigns like "Studio in a box!" and by the low price of the technology. So they buy a multi-track workstation like a Korg, a Boss or a Roland, they buy a microphone, they read the manuals, they do the recording and then the mixing (these boxes are amazing, aren't they? tons of virtual tracks, they have all the effects and EQ's) and then they are surprised to discover that their product is very far from an acceptably commercial one! Sounds familiar?
Trying to save money makes sense, and everybody does it, but you have to do it wisely. I am giving these tips away because I had many clients who were recording themselves and then coming and asking me to do the mixing for them. Many of them believed that you can fix all the problems at mixing, but that is simply not true. "Do it yourself" can be a viable option, provided you do it properly and you are willing to learn a bit about recording. Also, there are limitations to this process - you can get a decent product that you can sell at gigs or showcase on the internet, but it can’t properly compete with a major commercial release.
What you need to know…Right off the bat, everybody should understand that recording and mixing require a completely different set of skills. Mixing is a very complex process, and there is no way you can do it right on a $1000 box and a set of cheap headphones. A single high- end EQ plugin could be well over 200 dollars, and a high-end hardware EQ around $5000, so you can understand why these boxes are limited. The listening environment is much more important than you may think, and it starts with good monitors and an acoustically controlled space, like we’ve already talked about. So if you decide that you want to go down this avenue, I would advise doing the recording yourself and having the mixing and mastering done in a proper studio.
First rule: record at 24 bits, period! Get a multitrack that records at 24 bits (you can either buy one or rent one). Another solution, though more expensive, is a computer where you need to buy a good audio interface and along with a sequencer. This path can be very rewarding, as you can use samples and virtual instruments and end up with quite complex arrangements on your own time.
A nice all around solution is a MacBook Pro loaded with Logic and with an Apogee Duet interface (or an UAD Apollo). Logic is a pretty good all around DAW, and it comes with a good library and virtual instruments. Use a good pair of headphones when recording. One major advantages here is that Macs are easier to handle than Windows computers, and if you’re not a computer geek, you’ll be up and running with a MAC in no time. For the purpose of simple high quality recording, this is a very elegant solution.Do not buy a cheap microphone, rather go and rent one or a matched pair. Go for a good condenser, like AKG 414, which has three patterns and is a great all around microphone (for vocals, acoustic guitar and others), and a dynamic like MD 421 Senheiser for guitar amps/percussion or an SM57. The AKG 414 is a standard studio microphone, you can't go wrong with it. Also, rent one or two mic preamps (Neve, Chandler, Focusrite Red, Avalon, dbx Blue) or a channel strip - try a Pendulum Quartet, a Focusrite Red, a Millenia STT1 or an Avalon.
Run everything through the preamps and make sure you don't go into clipping. I repeat, avoid clipping! Keep the peaks at max -6dB! When you record at 24 bit, it is definitely OK to record at a lower level than risk to get close to “0” and running into problems. ALWAYS LISTEN AFTER RECORDING !!!
Do some research (internet will suffice at this point- youtube is your friend) about recording techniques, how the microphones work and how to use them, their patterns, and how to position them when recording. Try end experiment first, don’t settle for the first take. Play the same thing, use different placement scenarios, compare. You will hear the differences!
Many people use drum machines; sync it with the DAW and run the drums separately (kick, snare, toms) one by one through the preamps and record them in separate mono tracks. If you take your project to a studio to mix it, it is a good idea to have the drums in separate tracks (kick, snare, mic room) and eventually the overheads can be in a stereo track. If you are doing the drum tracks with samples, using something like Addictive Drums, Superior Drummer, BFD or the sequencer drum program, export them separately too – mono tracks. These software packages have also usually EQ, compression and reverb, but I would advise to export the tracks without using any of the effects.
Pay attention to the meters on the workstation box, they don’t show you the whole story, especially when it comes to percussion, and it is very easy to go over without even knowing it. Pay special attention to shakers, cymbals, and similar instruments. Make sure you’re not peaking over -10 db for these types of percussion instruments.
Recording finally…To record vocal and acoustic instruments, try to find a quiet place in your house, and try to choose the largest room. When recording vocals make sure the reverberation is rather low. Throw some blankets/duvets around to reduce the early reflections and if you need to dampen the sound. I would however advise you to record the vocals in a recording studio; the vocals are too important, and a proper vocal recording chain is quite expensive! If you still decide to record vocals, avoid to do it in the bathrooms or really small rooms (I suggest trying an electric guitar amp there for fun!). Natural reverbs are desirable if they are excellent; otherwise, if not that great, once printed to tape you can't take them out. Hang blankets around the walls of the room to control the reverberation. And even if the reverb is great - you may live in a huge mansion - it should fit the style of music you’re doing, so give some consideration to that as well.
Recording yourself for some small projects could be very rewarding. Feel free to try and experiment. But, as a rule of thumb, when it comes to instrument sound, try to capture the signal as clean as you can. There are two schools of thought: one (the American one) is to record clean and the other (the British/European) is to print with effects. Because of the lack of experience at mixing, if you want to print with effects, hopefully you know exactly what you're doing, because once recorded you can’t undo it, so it is safer to print it clean. If the effects are part of your sound- especially for electric guitars - use them all, but the reverb. Do not be afraid to experiment, it doesn’t cost you, it is fun, and you can get some spectacular results. And in the end, you can do multiple takes, and choose later at mixing; it doesn’t cost you studio time!
Once you have the song recorded, listen carefully to each track separately (solo), and then listen to them together. Is there any clipping? Are there any distortion problems? Is there any excessive noise? Are the vocals clean? Can you understand the words easily? Listen to some music in the vein of the music you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to compare.
Some people record everything themselves except the vocals, and they go into a studio and overdub the vocals. This is a very smart idea, nothing beats a high-end combo mic/preamp/compressor and an acoustically controlled space. And that’s aside from the fact that you can listen to your voice through some relevant monitors and get advice from the engineer whether or not you have to redo some parts, do some more punch ins, or what can be edited and corrected at mixing and what can’t. Also, you do not have to worry about start/stop tape, finding places for punch in, which helps maintain your focus on singing and the performance itself.
What should I look for when selecting a recording studio…This is a great question guys. It takes a bit of homework to get to the correct answer, but in the end you’ll be glad you did it.
Know exactly the purpose of your final product!It makes no sense spending a fortune in a major studio for a demo needed for promotion, for a CD you want to sell at your gigs or through the internet. Obviously, when you have a contract with a major label you’ll be doing your job in major recording and mastering facilities - that's what major labels expect, and also pay for it.
For most of projects, a medium or small professional studio is your best bet. This is not to say that you can compromise when it comes to quality! Today, due to advances in technology, the quality you can get in a medium sized or small studio can be on par with one from a major studio. What medium and small studios lack are the very large rooms - some of them being famous, like the Capitol recording room - and people working who are generally the top professionals in the business. But these studios also charge much more, most likely outside your budget, due to their overhead expenses.
Unless you are at the top of the charts or you have lots of money, a medium or small size studio is the answer. However, be aware that a small or medium professional recording studio doesn't mean a laptop in the kitchen!
Carefully establish your recording budget…Always split your recording budget: from the total amount of money, always think that almost half is needed for mixing and mastering. The rest is for studio hours. It always takes longer to record than you expect, and watching the clock instead of focusing on your music may have disastrous results. Don’t panic and don’t rush the recording stage. Do redo some so and so tracks and delay the mixing if you have to. You’ll be glad you did.
You have a budget, so automatically money will probably be the first criteria. This is not the most important criteria, but c’mon, let’s be honest, this is the reality... at least until you’re at the top... otherwise you wouldn't be reading this! So, look for a studio that fits your budget. Ask around: word of mouth is an excellent bet. The internet is a great source, but you need to use it intelligently; like with everything else when it comes to business, you have to be able to read between the lines. I frequently see an extremely well designed, catchy website, talking about the latest technological wonder the studio has, as if that was the key to providing the holy grail of sound reproduction! Well, it definitely isn’t, but many artists don’t know that and when they find out it is too late... the train has already left the station! There is this human element of liking something or not when you see it for the first time; don't fall for it, do your homework.
Things to look for when checking a studio…Remember that a beautiful website is just a marketing tool meant to capture your attention and is not a guarantee of a better sound. So, pay attention to the samples (and, unless it’s a well-known studio, stay away from the ones that are not putting samples on their site) and, right off the bat, you will have a pretty good idea about the recording quality the studio provides. Be aware of the voice over beat samples- the beats sound fine, but they’re done with synths (software and hardware) and they do not give you the real picture about the real sound capability. If the studio has samples of a band (jazz/rock/funk/...) or some music, where acoustic instruments were recorded, that speaks volume about the studio capability (both recording and mixing).
Check the photos (if available) – they give good indications about the recording space. Is it just a room or is it an acoustically treated room? The equipment list indicates the level of quality achievable if the engineer is good.
Be organized when you start gathering info about recording studios.Take notes so you can compare them later. You can establish a couple of criteria (like price, distance, engineer, equipment, acoustics, sound, space, even your instincts). Notes are the best way to keep the track of what you found out. Otherwise, you’ll forget details that may be important.
Make sure you know the quality you are looking for.The days of a simple voice and guitar demo are long gone. Phil Ramone said it the best in an interview with Howard Massey: “The quality of a demo is so important these days- you can’t go anywhere with a piano/voice or a guitar/voice demo. You can’t do that anymore!"
The music business model has changed a lot over the last three decades. The way music is marketed and distributed has changed dramatically. How to promote yourself and your music has changed too. If you aspire to be signed by the major labels, you need to get to them somehow, or generate major buzz. I don’t think there are too many A&R people today that can envision, by themselves, how a song can be with a proper arrangement. And even if they can, they do not want to assume responsibilities that can cost them their job! They expect a product that, if it’s not ready for distribution, is very close to it. You may have a music business lawyer who has connections; do you really think he will give your demo to his connections if it doesn't sound right? Better think again.
If your target is to promote and sell your music and build your own brand (through sales, advertising, gigs, radio/TV) without getting signed with majors, the good news is that this is very possible today. Many musicians are doing it and internet plays a major role. I cannot stress this enough: the internet plays a major role in the promotion of your brand! Your music has to sound right in all the popular formats promoted on the internet. That poses challenges from a mastering point of view and it’s up to you to make sure the studio you select knows all about it.
Once you have a list of a couple of studios, arrange some appointments, head out and check the studios to get a direct feel and impression of what’s being offered. Check the next chapter- the tips for selecting a studio…
Tips for selecting a recording studio...
- Try to find a studio not too far from your place- driving two hundred kilometres before recording doesn’t help your performance and definitely adds to your bottom line. Many times you have to come back for a re-mix or some post- production. Try looking also at studios outside the downtown area, parking is not cheap… Make appointments with a couple of studios that fit your budget criteria, and go and take a look.
- Do you like what you see and hear? Does the studio have a pleasant and creative environment? This is way more important than you think. Feeling comfortable and confident is extremely important. Stay away from studios in the kitchen, hallways or rooms with cables laid out all over- do not expect a clean audio path, without hum! Basically, if it looks half-assed, your product will probably sound like that too.
- Check the acoustics for your style of music. If you’re into large orchestral sessions, a large studio is what you’re looking for. But for pop, rock, folk, jazz, R&B, a smaller live room will do the trick. Also, get a feeling for both the recording and control rooms - a good acoustic design goes a long way toward producing an excellent final product.
- Speaking of the recording space, think about the level of isolation you need if the act is a band. In some cases, microphone leakage is your friend (especially for jazz bands recording together); whereas in other cases isolation is required. For most projects like pop, rock, isolation is required, so check if the studio offers enough possibilities to achieve it (vocal booth, live rooms, space, etc).
- Have some familiar CD's with you. Ask the engineer to play them and listen from the mixing position. Do you hear every detail clearly, along with every instrument position? Ask the engineer to let you sit in his chair and switch the monitors from stereo to mono, and in that moment the sound should move right in front of your nose, like you can touch it. If it doesn't, the room has bad acoustics and there is no way to get a good mix! The studio acoustics and the room response is extremely important for mixing and mastering! DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYTHING LOUD! Volume merely masks imperfections. Everything should be audible at a reasonable level.
- It is a bonus if the studio has more than one pair of monitors, so the engineer can switch instantly to check the mixes. Aside from the main monitors, the other monitors should help give you an idea how a mix or master translates to the real world. A pair of small Auratones can give you a pretty good idea on how a song will sound on TV sets (they generally have nothing under 100 Hz or over 8000 Hz). Some computer speakers, a set of audiophile monitors and a boombox would definitely help when making decisions.
- Look for a studio that includes an engineer in the rate. The studio engineer knows the studio acoustics pretty well. Yes, you can hire an independent engineer, but generally it’s not worth it. The studio engineer is familiar with the equipment and will solve problems as efficiently as possible, as he knows his way around the studio. Let him listen to the samples you have (samples in the same vein as your music style) and discuss with him how comfortable he feels about achieving that type of sound. There’s no point in hiring a sound engineer that’s never worked with a jazz band if you want to record jazz, for example.
- During the appointment, make sure you talk to the recording engineer. He is one of the key players for the session - the most impressive equipment will only sound as good as the engineer's ability to use it. You’re paying for him, so make sure he is attentive, willing to help you when you hit roadblocks and does what you want. A personality fit goes a long way!
- You may or not have a producer. Producing a song is not easy, and having somebody who worked with many other acts means you get some objective ears judging your project and making valid suggestions. It helps if the studio engineer is a producer too; the experience he’s gained with other acts will only benefit your project. If you’re on a tighter budget, finding a studio operated by a producer is a pretty good bet.
- If you’ve done some pre-production work at home (some tracks), you want to let the engineer know about it, and he will tell you how to have the tracks prepared when you come to record on top of them, so you won’t lose time. Nothing worse than paying money for an engineer to hit the ‘convert’ button and charge you while you wait for something you could have done at home while eating wings and watching TV!
- Always look for a studio that can accommodate a set of drums in case you need it, so you won't have to record the drums into another studio. And, with more live rooms, it is easier to record more instruments (like drums and percussion at the same time) and get a better performance on tape.
- Speaking of instruments, check if the studio has a piano, if needed. In small and medium studios, space is a problem, and you may not find a grand piano. However, the studio may offer some truly great alternatives, like Roland V-piano or Yamaha AvantGrand. They have a great action (of course, this is a matter of taste), and a very good sound. These pianos are a huge step above regular digital pianos and can indicate that a studio cares about the quality of the equipment it provides its guest.
- Make note of other instruments - guitars, basses, amps, effects- the studio has available. You may need to cut a track with a different colour, or add an acoustic guitar, or double some guitar tracks, and you want to have some avenues available to explore. You’re not going into a studio to write a song, but a little experimentation enabled by different sounding instruments than what you’re used to can add an interesting flavour that really enhances your piece.
- The single most important thing that all famous producers like Ramone, Kramer, Visconti, Cherney, Brauer, Afanasieff, Johns, Parsons, etc, agree upon is getting "THE PERFORMANCE!". And a great performance can be generally only be achieved when everybody in the band plays together, feeding off each other’s energy, even if some tracks will be overdubbed afterwards or only the drums and bass are recorded. A studio that can record at least 12 tracks simultaneously is a good bet in case you want to have everybody play at the same time.
- Pay attention to the monitoring system while recording!!! You want a multi-cue one, so each player can basically have his own mix and feel comfortable. Even better is a headphone monitoring system, which allows the player to control what they hear in their respective headphones. It’s a funny human thing but each player wants to hear himself louder in the headphones! A multi-cue system enables this, allowing musicians to be more comfortable and churn out a better performance.
- Try to find a studio not too far from your place- driving two hundred kilometres before recording doesn’t help your performance and definitely adds to your bottom line. Many times you have to come back for a re-mix or some post- production. Try looking also at studios outside the downtown area, parking is not cheap… Make appointments with a couple of studios that fit your budget criteria, and go and take a look.
How important is the studio equipment?The short answer is this: it is important. Period.
Many studios post on their sites: "Beware of long lists of equipment!” like they know that this is he recipe for a bad recording. Sometimes it could be true, although, this should be more accurately worded as: "Beware of long list of crappy and cheap equipment!" What these studios don't tell you is how important the quality of the microphones, preamps and compressors is.
It is OK to advertise that the engineer’s experience counts for a lot, but if you ask for a certain high end microphone for vocal or acoustic guitar that you know is part of your sound and you're told that the studio has to rent one, it is only fair to assume that the engineer does not have the right experience to get the sound you’re looking for, because he doesn't work with quality equipment on a regular basis, so he doesn't know what can be achieved with it.
A common answer when you ask if the studio has some high-end microphones and mic preamps is that the studio gets a fantastic sound with an unknown brand, as they know really well how to use it. While that may be true (extremely rarely, tough!), a good quality studio has to be able to offer you some options you can try and see which one provides the best results for you. And by options - especially for vocals- I mean large tube condensers with Neumann, AKG, Soundelux, Lawson, Brauner, Telefunken, Gefell, Blue or Manley logos!
Understand that the performance of a single microphone preamp worth double the price of a 16 channels Mackie or Soundcraft mixer is beyond comparison with the aforementioned Mackie! Many engineers use a compressor when recording vocals, but no compressor comes close to the TubeTech CL-1B or LA-2A for vocal work! The best engineer with the best equipment for the money you can afford - this is what you have to look for!
As I pointed out already, the performance is the most important element in the recording process. The sound quality comes mostly from the musician’s ability to interpret his part. Equipment will never replace that. But good quality equipment captures the sound properly and gives the engineer the raw materials for a proper mix and master. In other words, a poor performance or a poorly captured performance can only be masked to a certain extent in the mixing/mastering process. You want to set yourself up for sonic success from the get-go, rather than relying on post-performance trickery.
Always look for boutique quality and high-end/esoteric gear. The most important things are the microphones (look for names like Telefunken, Neumann, AKG, AEA, Lawson, Royer, Earthworks, Brauner, Blue, DPA, Schoepps, Geffel), mic preamps and EQ's (like Martech, Neve, Millenia, Massenburg, Great River, Pendulum Audio, SSL, Chandler, Focusrite Red, API, Vintech, etc), and compressors (Thermionic, Elysia, Tube Tech CL-1B, LA-2A, Portico Neve MBP, Avalon, Urei 1176, Distressor, Cranesong, Manley, SSL, API, Shadow Hill, etc).Do your homework and write down what the studio has to offer - microphones, preamps, EQs and compressors - and then do some research on the internet, there are many forums with a lot of info, like www.gearslutz.com (where recording/mixing/mastering legends like George Massenburg and Bob Katz are moderators).
For a solo act, a good quality microphone might be sufficient by itself. But for a band, you want to have access to different microphone flavours, because if you overdub everything, even with a premium microphone, the final product will sound flat. A good quality studio has to have a good collection of microphones, because each style of music and each instrument requires a certain sound and, there is no one type of microphone that fits them all.
If you want to record a concert piano, a matched pair of omni Earthworks or DPA and a large premium condenser are the way to go, especially for classical music and jazz. Of course, two Rodes or AT will do the job, but YOU WILL HEAR THE DIFFERENCE! For reeds nothing beats a good ribbon mic. And staples like Royer, Coles, AKG 414’s and 112D, Shure SM7, SM 57, SM 58, Electro-Voice RE-20 and MD 421 Sennheiser are a good bet for drums, percussion, bass and guitars. While the most important thing for getting a top quality product is the artist performance, the studio has to be able to provide the right tools to capture that sound.
Regarding the preamps: make sure the studio has premium preamps, which are suitable for the style of music you are playing. If you’re a classical musician, or for acoustic instruments, a transparent preamp like Millenia or Earthworks is desirable; for rock, jazz and R&B preamps like Neve, Focusrite Red, Martech, API, Pendulum Audio, Great River, SSL, Fearn, Vintech, Avalon are great options. There’s a reason the Millennia preamp is used almost exclusively all over the world for classical/chamber/choir music, where "clean" and "headroom" are the name of the game.
Of course, great preamps are not cheap. They do cost thousands of dollars! In your studio search you will be told how great Presonus, ART, Mackie and Behringer preamps are. Here is the news: they’re not! They're not bad, they’ll get the job done, but you can’t really compare a 1500 dollar one channel preamp with an 800 dollar eight channel preamp or mixer! Look for a studio that has a couple of great different preamps, so you can take advantage and get the best in different recording situations! API, Focusrite Red, Neve or SSL are great for drums; on the other hand, when it comes to record or warm up a synth, a tube preamp like Pendulum, Thermionic or Fearn is a great way to go.
You can skip this paragraph, it’s going to be little technical, but it gives you a better understanding of why a microphone preamp does a good job. Most everyone knows that we have to avoid clipping during recording; what is not widely known is that, long before clipping, many preamps exhibit an extreme distortion increase, as they change from Class A to Class AB operation. Therefore, it is very important to have at least 6 dB between the peak level of the music and the clipping point to avoid a harsh sound. The difference between the average level of the sound and the clipping point is known as headroom. The bigger the headroom, the better the sound! The high-end preamps have clipping points as high as 37 dBu (+55 Volts), while the semi-pro and consumer equipment have 20 to 24. In plain English, in order to get a good sound, the preamps have to have very high output devices and high-voltage power supply, which is very expensive; you won’t get that with 100 dollars per channel preamp. These cheap preamps are good for the hobbyist recording engineer, but they are to be avoided if you are looking for quality! The good preamps or EQ include very high quality circuits and excellent transformers, and when you have to mic many tracks, you’ll understand it!
Pay attention to the vocal chain- make sure there is a great vocal compressor like Tube Tech CL-1B or the LA-2A, eventually a Cranesong Trakker. They do a great job without compromising the voice quality and, when used properly, you can’t tell that the voice was compressed – they’ve got a magic touch. Great vocal preamps are Martech MSS-10 (very deep, great for huge voices, huge headroom, many consider this to be the Ferrari of the mics world), Neve 1073, Pacifica, Telefunken V72, Hardy, API. As far as the vocal microphone, you want to be able to choose from a selection of great microphones to see which one fits your voice best and make sure you are given to try at least one high-end tube large condenser.
Always ask about the quality of the A/D and D/A converters. If the studio uses tape, that's not relevant, but if the sound is recorded into a computer, the converters are the first thing you want to look at! There are audio cards with converters like Motu, Lexicon Omega, Digidesign Mbox-2 or Echo which provide a good sound; but when it comes to a great sound, with extremely reduced artifacts in the process of conversion from analog to digital for recording or digital to analog when listening, look for mastering grade converters- Prism, Mytek, Lynx, Lavry, Apogee. When the track count is high, you’ll hear clearly the difference! The aforementioned mastering grade converters are way more expensive, and, again, there’s a reason why. These converters provide higher integrity to the sound and they employ very sophisticated jitter reduction technology. In plain English, they almost entirely preserve the quality of the sound during the conversion to digital or to analog.Nowadays, almost all release-quality recordings include the use of hard disk recording and editing systems like ProTools, Nuendo/Cubase, or Sequoia. Few people know that in a tape-based studio (analog or digital) at least 20% of your time is spent waiting for the tapes to be rewound after every punch-in; this is not a problem in a random-access recording system like those mentioned above. Certainly, tape recording has its own advantages; a lot of people swear by the warmth of the sound. In fact, they bring to the table some distortion that is pleasant to the human ear. While digital recording at today’s resolution is very accurate, the sound of premium consoles like Neve, SSL, API, Harrison is famous and you can hear it in all the major releases of pop/rock/jazz music. Unfortunately, they are extremely expensive, and you can find them only in the multimillion dollars large studios.
In the last couple of years the hybrid digital/analog mixing that gives a more personal and organic sound became possible due to analog summing boxes. Some of them have a unique and beautiful sound: Chandler (made by EMI/Abbey Road), Inward Connection Mix690 (made by Steve Firlotte with the famous 690 Jim Hall op-amps), Fat Bustard (made by Thermionic), Great River MM20, Shadow Hills, Neve 8816, X-rack SSL. While quite expensive, they are more affordable than the legendary consoles and there are medium and small studios that have started to use them; make note of studios using this approach – these boxes again indicate a studio that has probably taken some pains to provide a really quality final product.
As some of the medium and small studios ventured in the hybrid analog/digital mixing, check to see what hardware are they using along with their plugins: names like Eventide, Bricasti, Lexicon, TC Electronics for space/reverb/delays; Elysia, Neve, Cranesong, Thermionic, 1176, SSL, API, Avalon, Empirical Lab, Pendulum, Manley, etc for compressors; and Neve, Massenburg, Chandler, Millenia, Avalon, Pendulum, API, Weiss and Manley as EQ’s are quite desirable.
Another thing to look for are the plugins used. It helps if you see the UAD or Duende cards with plugins, or native plugins like Sonnox Oxford, Acustica, DMG, Soundtoys, Fab Filter, Waves, SSL, Lexicon, Altiverb, Eventide, and so on… After many years of developing better and better algorithms, most of the plugins are excellent. Also, make sure the studio uses good software for voice editing - Melodyne, or Antares. Drums are usually a problem, and a tool for drum replacement like Drumagog or Trigger (which can be also used to add actually another drum) can save the day!
Always ask to listen to some music (have some CD's with you) in the same vein with your music through the studio monitors. The monitors are used to judge the tracks, the mixing and the mastering. If they're low quality, there will probably be a problem! The studio engineer is used to them and he can do an excellent good job, but there are situations when you may be asked to make some decisions, to accept or redo some tracks, and you may not be able to have an objective opinion! It definitely helps if the studio has 2 or 3 sets of monitors of different makes and sizes, so you can check through all of them! It helps even more if the monitors are made by ATC, Barefoot, Focal, Klein & Hummel, Adams, Tannoy, Dynaudio, KRK, etc - just ask to listen to your CD's and you will notice the difference!. They reveal easy any problems and allow an engineer to achieve great balance and imaging.
There are many small and medium studios and there is nothing wrong with them, especially if they pass the lower overhead costs to you (unlike big studios who can’t afford to do so, as they have a large overhead, due to rent and maintenance). Just make sure they provide comfort, good acoustics and monitors and good equipment. Beware though: many people are recording with a computer, a cheap console or preamp and cheap microphones. My suggestion is to think twice before you pick the most inexpensive studio as your product will definitely reflect that. A $200 mic or preamp can’t provide the same quality you get from a $4000 microphone or preamp (cheap mics made in China working exactly like Neumann is just plain marketing BS, you know they have to make money too! Not that they're terribly bad, they can be useful, but they’re very inconsistent). When you're putting a lot of effort into making a recording, saving one or two hundred dollars at the cost of low quality is a mistake.
In conclusion, always choose the studio that makes you more comfortable and meets your recording needs. What really make the difference are the engineer’s ears and experience, your musicianship, the space you record in and the equipment that captures your performance.
Why are mixing and mastering so important?The short answer is that you want your songs to sound at the same quality standards like all the other songs you hear on the radio, in the car, on TV and home stereo. All these audio systems have their limitation (when it comes to sound dynamics and frequency spectrum), and through mixing and mastering your music gets prepared to sound right. Don’t forget that your competition are the commercial releases, and your song has to sound right amongst them.
Can I do the mixing and mastering myself?You definitely can mix and master yourself, however, do not set your expectations too high. It takes many years to develop the skills of a professional engineer, and there is a reason why top mixing engineers are the highest paid in the music industry. It’s almost the same like when we do work around the house, like renovations, instead of hiring professionals to do it. It is definitely cheaper, but it will never be as good or as efficient as professionals can do it, because they spent many years doing it, got tons of experience, and they have the right tools to do it.
The learning curve for mixing and mastering engineers is a very long and difficult one. On top of it let’s not forget how important are the acoustic space, the monitors, and the equipment are. If you want your songs to sound like those on the radio or commercial CD’s, then working with people with experience and the right tools and space is the way to go. Saving money with DIY recording is somehow more durable than mixing and mastering yourself. However, if you still want to do it yourself, I would suggest to take some courses at puremix or groove3; these are two sites moderately priced, with very competent teachers.
Can I get a detailed explanation of what mixing is all about?
Mixing is the process of putting everything togewther to get great balance, frequency range, panorama, dimension, dynamics and interest. It's that simple!Mixing is the most complex part of the music production chain and I would say the most important. It takes years for a mixing engineer to get good at it; that is the reason the mixing engineers are the highest paid in the industry.
Why is it mixing so important? For starters, hearing is way less objective than sight and much more open to interpretation, and the way songs are resonating in people when they listen is different in each individual. We don’t know too much about how music reacts with our brain and how the emotional mechanism really works. However, a lot of research was done in the last three-four decades, and the results of these studies help us understand better how to put a mixing together. Interesting enough, with all the subjectivity, almost all of us know when a mixing is bad or good.
The marks of a bad mix are easy to recognize: vocals are hard to understand, sometimes are too low or too loud or out of tune; some instruments, even if they are there seem to disappear at times; some lead parts are too buried within the instruments, sometimes it seems that the instruments/vocals are not together, like they perform in different spaces; at times, the combination of instruments doesn’t fit, you just know something is wrong.The marks of a good mix are even less complicated: everything flows, nothing seems to be unusual, you feel emotion, the groove is there, you feel moved and comfortable, and you feel like you want the song to keep on going: it is that simple!
The mixing engineer takes a song and, through experience and creative decisions helps tell the story of the song. The song is the single most important thing, no matter if the idea is to showcase a song, voice or a band. The mixing engineer puts all of the instruments and vocals together, like a painter puts colours in a painting. He needs to support the song message, and each song is unique, so there are no rules and standards.
The engineer comes with a rough mix, which will be presented to the artist/producer, so they can provide their input. A good mix has strong and controlled lows, the mids evenly distributed across among instruments, and strong but smooth highs. The mids are extremely important: a great mix still has to sound good if you filter everything bellow 100 and over 6K (remember the old Blue Note releases). While the engineer has a certain view and tries to do his best, what really counts is the customer's opinion, and the mixing engineer tries to get as close as possible to the image that the artists and producers have in mind.
Arguably, the most important factor that influences the quality of a mix is the song arrangement. The musician/composer/band will have more success if he is good at song arrangement, understands the sound of the instruments and how they are complementing each other, to underline the melody and the song message.
A good arrangement pays attention to tempo, rhythm, pitch, consonance and dissonance. You do not need to listen to a whole song to know which one is it, when people hear some chords in a certain order in an Eagle concert (B-minor, F-sharp major/A-major...) they start singing “Hotel California”, or when the bass line starts people recognize right away “Beat it” of Michael Jackson. Through arrangement you can capture the attention of the listener, put him in a certain mood, create tension, bring or not a finalization of the tension, suggest control and then take him out abruptly and move him into the unknown.
Most of the commercial music we hear operates in patterns that induce good mood, rhythm, without any major change; if you look carefully at the main commercial hits you’ll discover they have the same structure. When listening to the progressive rock bands (like Yes, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, ELP) the forms are different, the way the attention is captured is different, there is a different level of richness – both harmonically and rhythmically; there is definitely a deeper sense of how to use and group sounds. Jazz overall is rich in harmony, rhythm and improvisations, and the natural side of the sound is very important.
Mixing is the next step after recording. Don’t proceed with the mixing right away after recording, give it some time. Doing the mix the next day won’t help when it comes to objectivity. As a precaution, allow for some last minute changes if needed, or maybe something that has to be added to the recording. All the instruments have to be heard properly, and there has to be a fit in between them. There should a feeling that they are together, not that they are playing in different spaces. The song gets to be round, polished, with a good sense of tridimensional space. In theory, this sounds simple; in reality, it’s much more complicated.
What exactly is the mixing engineer doing?Every instrument carries different amounts of energy in its frequency bands and they have to be worked out so they don’t cancel each other out, and so they sound naturally together. They have to be placed in space – both stereo and depth. The voices or leads have to stand out.
For every type of music there is a certain idea of sound that is a starting point for the mixing engineer. Getting in details, every instrument vibrates at different frequencies at once. Each sound has a fundamental and overtones- the frequencies above the fundamental. Each instrument has its own overtone profile, its own timbre, so we can make the difference between them. These overtones put a different amount of energy in each harmonics, as an example, trumpets have a pretty even distribution of energy, while clarinets have high energy in the odd harmonics (like multiples of 3, 5, 7 of the fundamental).
Peter Schaeffer did a very interesting experiment: he cut the very beginning of each tone, and at that moment it was almost impossible to distinguish the instrument. He proved that the attack of the sound is essential to its definition. Another researcher – Petr Janata – proved through experimentation that, when removing the fundamental of a sound, it will be restored at early stages of auditory processing (we listen to some stereo systems or in the car and we have the feeling that the bass is strong, but in reality, there is no bass there, as the speakers do not go under 125 Hz; what we hear are only the overtones of the bass).
All these things are taken in consideration when doing a mix, as there is a limited area where all the vocals/instruments are occupying the space. In isolation, some instruments may sound thin, but together they must gel. As an example, when strumming an acoustic guitar in a rock typical song, the body of the guitar is less pronounced, but the higher harmonics are brought out. In isolation, it may sound harsh, but it fits in the mix.
Each song is different, and each mixing engineer has his personal approach when doing the mixing. The engineer needs to understand what the song is all about, what is the story and what is the best way to tell it. The engineer has to understand the arrangement and identify the starting point (like in disco the kick is everything, or in jazz the melody and the musical dialogue between musicians), and then, using panorama, EQ, dimension (effects), dynamics (compression, gating, limiting) he starts to build from the bottom up, he has to figure out the direction of the song, making sure it has the groove and captures the interest.
In modern music, for some of the engineers the mixing approach is to build the foundation, creating the triangle drums- bass – vocals and getting the main balance of the mix. The drums may need editing and enhancing, sometimes drum sounds have to be replaced or reinforced. The bass and the kick have to be together, complement and work extremely well with the vocal and the snare. If this triangle is right, the mix will be good. Other engineers start with the driving element of the song and then build the foundation with it.
The vocals are undergoing editing, breathing reduction, noise removal from the tracks and subtractive EQ. The voice editing (pitch correction and intonation if needed) requires experience and specialized tools, like Melodyne or Antares.In classical music things are a bit different, even though the final objective is the same. The editing and compression have a very limited role, you can say it’s somehow easier. Attention has to be paid to dynamics and their preservation as they are definitely a major form of expression; also, the idea of space is different than in the modern music, and the most important word here is “natural”. High end realistic and credible reverbs are required (as famous as Lexicon or TC Electronics are, for natural acoustics Bricasti is unbeatable).
The mixing for classical music is a bit different also because the way of capturing the instruments is different. The proper way to record a choir as an example is to use a Decca tree, or maybe XY, with the purpose of capturing the choir as a single instrument; I did see some recording a choir putting acoustic panels between the sections of the choir, which is definitely not the way to go. The performance and space is already there, normally only fine tuning is required during the mixing if the recording was done properly.
In general terms, the fundamental music mixing process consists of: 1. Establish levels and panning. 2. Editing and pitch correction. 3 Equalization - subtractive and shaping. 4. Compression 5. Effect processing 6. Automate levels 7. Print the mix.
The engineer comes with a rough mix which will be presented to the artist/producer, so they can decide which way to go. A good mix has strong and controlled lows, the mids evenly distributed across among instruments and strong but smooth highs. The mids are extremely important: a great mix still has to sound good if you filter everything bellow 100 Hz and over 6KHz (remember the old recordings from Blue Note label, most of them done in Rudy Van der Gelden studio: there are no strong lows or highs, they were mono and they sound great in any speakers!). While the engineer has a certain view and tries to do his best, what really counts is the customer opinion and the mixing engineer tries to get as close as possible to what the artist/producer has in mind.
Typically there are a couple of versions of the mix:
1. the master mix, the one everybody likes;
2. vocal up 1-2 dB;
3. vocal down 1-2 dB;
4. the TV mix, with no lead vocal, often called trax, used for TV/karaoke
5. the instrumental mix.
It is a regular practice to prepare multiple versions of certain songs. First is the album cut which usually stands out for artistic integrity, then the AM version which is the radio mix, with a length of 3 minutes or close, and the dance mix for use in dance clubs, generally longer, around 5-6 min.
When you're budgeting for a project, always consider the time for mixing; this is very important. It is common to spend between 6 to 10 hours in the 16 plus tracks world and 2-3 hours for a voice over. You may ask for compromises if your project is a demo for club promotion, but it would be a mistake to do so for important projects.
Aside from the engineer's experience, there are a couple of important elements that have a major influence over the mix: room acoustics, the monitors, and the quality of the equipment - hardware and software. I can't stress enough the importance of the monitors & room acoustics in the mixing equation!
What are the editing processes do?
- COMPING is the process where a track is put together using the best parts from different recording takes. It is a typical process especially for vocals.
- NOISE REDUCTION is basically the process where unwanted sounds and artifacts like background noises, amp hissing, kick drum pedal squeaks are eliminated, or greatly reduced.
- TIME EDITING is the process of aligning in time off-beat notes, using various methods.
- PITCH EDITING is the process of bringing back on pitch some sour notes.
Some are saying analog is better than digital mixing, is that true?There is a dispute, with arguments in both side concerning mixing ITB vs OTB (ITB = mixing in the box, inside the computer, OTB= mixing out the box, with a console/summing box and outboard gear). I think that too much energy went into this subject; I just think both ways can produce great mixes. There are famous engineers using only software, others working hybrid (both software and hardware), while the rest are swearing by the pure analog consoles.
Mixing in digital vs analog has the same basic principles, but some things are different. Too many mixes done ITB sound weak, which suggests the idea that mixing in analog produces better results. The reality is that digital mixing is more affordable than ever, and too many people are doing it, but not too many know how to really do it. Like with analog, it takes many years to develop the craft. In digital there are some steps a mixing engineer should go through, like gain staging, in order to avoid clipping.
This is especially important where the hybrid approach is used, to take advantages of both worlds (and my way of approaching the mixing process). Regardless of the way the mixing is done, all these top engineers work in an acoustically tuned environment, and this is something you should be looking first when you are shopping for a mixing facility. Digital or analog, it doesn’t matter if the sound is not properly heard, and the acoustics of the room are messing with some frequencies, creating peak and valleys in the room response. The mix will not be good period.
Digital systems have reached full maturity: the quality they provide is outstanding. Platforms like Avid/ProTools and Steinberd/Cubase-Nuendo are used in the most professional facilities. For years ProTools was the professional's choice, but in the last decade Steinberg (which is now part of the Yamaha Group) audio engine took over, in my opinion, quality wise. Their open VST platform stimulated third parties to produce a plethora of plugins software. Nuendo became the main force behind the sound in the film industry (Nuendo and Cubase share the exact same audio engine).
While in North America Pro Tools still dominates, in Europe Steinberg platforms are the first professional choice and trend. There are other platforms- like Sequoia, Logic, etc which are good too. The plugins industry brings to table some excellent software processors, I would mention here the Universal Audio - UAD cards, Acustica, Sonnox, Waves, Lexicon, TC Electronics, Soundtoys, Altiverb, Paul Frindle's DSM, Algoritmix, Brainworks, Fab Filters and many others…
Digital systems offer some excellent advantages: fast and accurate editing, total recall capability, clarity and (at least in theory) a large dynamic range (at 24 bit recording it is 144 dB). Unfortunately, just because so many things are possible when working digital, there is a tendency of going back and do all kind of adjustments and corrections, which usually prove to be detrimental to mixing. There are so many famous songs where there are pitch problems, or noises; they would not be so famous if they would have been done perfect technically.
Lately, with the evolution of DAW software and audio interfaces - AD/DA convertors – and analog summing boxes, hardware processors can be easily integrated in the mixing process. These hardware processors have their own sonic signature. A plugin is basically a mathematical representation, and in many cases they are emulating the real hardware with a pretty impressive accuracy. However, the sound of the hardware incorporates so many other things, like transformers, op-amps, etc. A hybrid system brings together the analog and digital world. You can spot right away the sound of a Neve or Harrison console, a Chandler EQ, and many others. They are in fact part of the sound of rock music history.
There is definitely a sonic signature to both digital and analog, and I personally like to take advantage of both of them. I feel that the clarity of digital fits better classical and jazz music (in many cases anyway) while other styles- rock (hard, heavy, alternative, punk, etc), latin, country, progressive jazz, funk, soul, R&B – benefits from the character brought in by the analog gear like Neve, Chandler, API, Neve, Thermionic, etc. Of course it is a matter of taste and vision, and a good engineer will do a good job regardless, but it is good to have tools handy and be able to select the best ones for the job and have an expanded palette of sound options. The essential thing is to end up with a balanced mix, which brings up the unique musical characteristics of the band/singer/etc.
What exactly is mastering?Many musical projects are born in home recording studios, where monitoring system and room acoustics are, to put it nicely, less than accurate. I definitely recommend having the mastering of these projects done somewhere else, with an experienced engineer, familiar with different styles of music, working in an acoustically treated room using a high-end speaker monitoring system, with mastering grade A/D/A converters and audio cables and high-end analog and digital equipment.
The list of the most important issues the mastering takes care includes:
Mp3 files are very popular; their problem is the inherent sonic compromise and loss in audio quality. More and more acts are paying attention to the quality of mp3 and understand that these files can be improved sonically through mastering the same way the regular songs are mastered. Mp3’s are a fantastic marketing tool: you don’t want to compromise the sales because others have better sounding mp3’s. Apple came with a new concept, in their effort to control the sales of music for different platforms. Their last format - HD ACC - basically allows the customer to play the music at the highest resolution that his player can do it (iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc). In some cases, it will be a lossless format, in some not. It would be useful to know how your song will sound on each one of them, and yes, mastering is definitely a good idea, and, if you plan to sell your songs through iTunes, make sure you tell that to the mastering studio, and the mastering engineer knows what you're talking about.
- noise, glitches and hiss removal, de-humming (cause by the 50/60 Hz of the power supplies), de-clicking, de-scratching and de crackling for re-mastering from vinyl.
- clean up the beginning and the end of each song and smooth out or create fades through editing, dynamic or harmonic enhancement of the song or just make up for inconsistencies through EQ, compression and multiband compression.
- optimize average and peak volume levels for proper loudness.
- achieve the right sonic balance for the type of song (country is different than jazz or R&B).
- add warmth and depth to your mixes.
- correct and adjust stereo imagine if needed.
- place songs in proper order and adjust the gaps between them.
- create a sonic signature for all tracks.
- sample and bit rate conversion.
- adjust the song levels and make them match so the listener won’t have to turn the volume up and down between songs.
- place everything into the format required for distribution and create the master from which all the copies will be created. That could be the master CD, the DDP, but also other formats used for distribution over the internet.
Lately, the sound quality requirements improved as the streaming services impose a certain dynamic range, and, if the songs are overly compressed, they will not sound loud and good anymore. You want to be able to hear how your songs will sound when they are used by the streaming services, so you want to make sure that the mastering studio provides you with this opportunity. You do not submit to these streaming services the file in the format they are using; they are converting the file themselves, so you need to be able to hear how the conversion sounds, and that depends on how good the master is.
The vinyl LP is coming back; sales are up in the last couple of years. When you plan to release a vinyl, mastering should be done accordingly, because preparation and the rules for mastering for vinyl are a bit different than for the digital format. Yes, you can send your master CD to the printing house for making the lacquer vinyl, but that's not the best idea. The rules of the process when cutting the "lacquer" with the sapphire tip impose some special requirements. Getting the low end mono, or having the songs with more groove at the beginning of the vinyl are just some things that are very different than the masters for CD or internet formats. And for the first time in years, last year I was asked to do masters for cassettes!
- noise, glitches and hiss removal, de-humming (cause by the 50/60 Hz of the power supplies), de-clicking, de-scratching and de crackling for re-mastering from vinyl.
What are the mastering process steps?Let’s talk about the mastering steps that are involved. In the beginning (around 1900) and up until the analog tape machine, the audio was captured directly to the so called “lacquer”- a form of vinyl, which was used to create the “metal stamper”, which pressed the melted vinyl into the discs played on turntables. In 50’s, all that changed, with the introduction of the analog tape machines, allowing a dramatic improvement in sound quality. As the final product at that time was still vinyl, the process of preparing the audio became critical, having a major influence in the delivery of the songs and accordingly, in their commercial success. The technology advances in the sound delivery to the customer brought in a series of new formats for the audio product: CD’s, SACD’s, mini discs, and the new generation of files used to deliver music over internet. The mastering ensures that the sonic signature helps the delivery and the integrity of the artistic message in any system, while providing to the listener an enjoyable experience no matter where he listens.
Despite the evolution of the music delivery formats, there are a couple of basic steps in the mastering process: they depends on what the master is for. As an example, for a CD the steps are:
- Master / Mixes preparation: have every possible information handed to the mastering engineer, like sample rate, bit depth, file format, etc
- Tape/files transfer
- Create song order / editing / spacing: The song order is extremely important,
not only for the mastering process, but from the listener point of view. Think the
song order having the flow of the album in mind.
- Processing / levels: this is the stage where the mastering engineer, through the
use of EQ’s and compressors polishes the songs, adding clarity, punch,
removing the mud, adjusting the imaging.
- PQ coding + ID tagging process: at this stage ISRC codes, UPC/EAN, CD text
and copy protection data are created.
- Dithering: always the last step in the audio mastering process. It basically adds
random noise when converting from a high resolution format to a lower one – like from 24 bit to 16 when creating a master CD.
- Final master: creating and checking the master, be it PMCD (pre-master CD) or DDP file (Disc Description Protocol).
- Master / Mixes preparation: have every possible information handed to the mastering engineer, like sample rate, bit depth, file format, etc
How to select a mastering studio?When shopping around for a mastering studio, there are a couple of things you have to pay attention to. The monitors and an acoustically balanced room are the most influential elements after the mastering engineer’s ears and experience. The mastering speakers should have a flat frequency response, provide a very detailed stereo image, meaning excellent accurate phase response, and controlled dynamics. Good mastering speakers are very expensive. Some of the most used are ATC's, Duntech Sovereign, Barefoot MicroMain27, B&W Nautilus, Tannoy, Lipinski, Paradigm, etc. They have an almost perfect impulse response, a fantastic phase coherency and a stunning accuracy: you can hear clearly a half dB when added or subtracted! They are meant to reveal all the details.
When going to a mastering facility, the rooms are acoustically treated and the people working there know what they’re doing. However, it is quite interesting to note that almost none of the mastering studios are posting their room frequency response on their websites. The room response is essential for a proper mastering, and here you really do not want to cut corners; improper monitors and bad room acoustic are a lethal combination for mastering.
The room acoustic response is essential for a good mastering, because it is so important to have a proper representation of the sound coming from the monitors. Bruel & Kjaer determined that the ideal room response should increase linear by 6 dB when sweeping from 20Hz to 20 KHz. The measurements are to be performed by using a sweeping tone through monitors, record it and analyze it. Usually these measurements are done with software like Room EQ Wizzard and FuzzMeasure. The results show the problems in regards to frequency response, decay, phase coherency, impulse response.
The range between 20 to 300 Hz is extremely important and affects the mix to the highest degree; due to the room modes and energy of the lower spectrum, the normal variation on this frequency range for un untreated (common) room is between +/- 25dB to +/- 40dB. The reality is that, in order to improve the room frequency response, you have to invest tons of money, and go through a very long trial and error process, until the frequency response gets to be within a couple of decibels at 1/48 smoothing octave resolution versus the ideal graph (be it the Bruel& Kjaer line, or a perfect flat one- some are still debating this aspect). What you hear in an acoustically treated room gets close to what’s in the song in reality.
The graph below shows the measurements performed in Fandango Recording's control room with an Earthwork QTC-40 into a Millenia preamp, and displayed by FuzzMeasure; our room is within +/- 3.5 dB from the 20Hz to 20KHz ideal Bruel&Kjaer curve.The proper equipment - both hardware and software - dedicated to mastering is quite expensive, but this is the only way to achieve a proper sound dimension. You can research the internet and see what kind of equipment the major mastering studio have. The regular compressors names are: Elysia Alpha, Thermionic Mastering Compressor, API2500, SSL-G, Manley Vari-Mu, Rupert Neve Design II MBP and the EQ's are: Masselec, Millenia NSEQ, Chandler Curve Bender, Manley Massive Passive, API5500, Avalon AD-2055.
What is remastering?The master is basically the recording that is the definitive copy that gets duplicated for the end users. Until digital storage, the masters (be it glass, vinyl, tapes, etc) suffered the effect of time's deterioration. In other situations, masters are missing, but copies from masters still exists. In the remastering process, the information is converted to digital, and then, through the use of digital and analog, the master is improved and prepared for the new generation of listening devices and it’s stored digitally.
The source undergoes a couple of steps, like DC removal, clicks, scratches, cracks and noise removal, channel volume corrections, spectral repairs and corrections and dynamic editing. A new master is created, to be used for further duplication for the end users. Like in any mastering process, the experience and skills of the engineer, the listening environment and the quality of the equipment are essential.
Tell me about the music production process stages ...Overall, the music production process involves six steps, as per the following picture. In some particular cases, some steps may not be needed.Everything starts with an idea; that is the first step. Some have the lyrics, others the melody, others both. Once the two sides come together, the next step is arranging the song. This step is very important: this is where you actually lay down the foundation for a good finish product. Adding tons of tracks of instruments that have information on the same frequency range makes everything sound boring and it will be hard to hear them
Once arrangement is done, recording, editing, mixing and mastering are the next steps. This is a general representation of the process; in some cases some steps are bypassed.
What is a demo?Unless you want to do it just for fun or for family/friends, A DEMO IS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY! Let that sink in, and say it again: A DEMO IS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY!
This opportunity is not only yours, it is also the business opportunity of the other part (A&R people, publishers, agents, managers, record labels, clubs and pubs). Think of the other side that you want to reach, and how it sees the business opportunity in dealing with you.
So, make the life of the person receiving your demo easy. The demo (be it CD or any other format that can be sent over internet) is basically the tool to facilitate the opening of a business, with the purpose of making money, because selling music is a business!
What demo do I need when I am looking for a record deal?You have to have three things: you must have really good music, you must look like you will bring in money, and you must have a professional demo package. It is as simple as that; yes, I know, that's not that simple.
Part of this package is the demo, and it is this demo that A&R guys will listen to, and it may be the only time when they listen to your music. You better have great original songs and an original sound. The record labels will show interest in your music to the extent of whether they can sell your music or not. The demo should have three songs, not more or less, this is the industry standard, show that you know and play by the rules.
The best song should be the first one- your demo gets evaluated in the first 30 seconds, make sure the special thing about your music can be heard right from the beginning. I know a professional demo is not cheap, but remember: you get what you pay for.
A demo is not a big price to pay if it gets you signed to a label. It may be tempting to do the demo at home, with your computer, or with a minimal set up, but that will give you a demo that is not in the same league with the professional demos. If you’re serious about being an artist, you have to do everything right from the beginning.
The harsh reality is that your competition is the artists that are already on the radio and are playing big venues. So you need to think twice if you want to send something of a lower quality that can compromise the chance of getting people to pay attention when you have something great to show.
One more thing: read music business books, check the internet and find out how you want to present yourself to the record labels- there is a whole package, the demo is a big part of it, but there are other important parts. And don’t forget to come back from time to time and read our blog, as it debates different aspects of the music business.
What demo do you need as a songwriter to showcase your songs?Songwriter demos are a bit different. These demos do not need to be overproduced, with full orchestra! A good rhythm track and a great vocal or even better a simple guitar/bass/drums foundation with vocals could be all you need. Try to match the gender and style of the vocalist with the gender and style of the artist you want to pitch to! The lead vocal is very important for song pitches. You need a great performance, not flat notes!
Sell the song! Try to have the "hook" of the song heard as soon as possible, forget about that guitar or drums solo. While these demos should not be overproduced, vocal correction (pitch especially!) is mandatory.
You may record the tracks at home - DIY recording - and try to record the vocal and do the mixes yourself. A better option is to have the vocals and the mixing done into a recording studio, which has better recording equipment/ monitors/ controlled acoustic environment/ tools of the trade. If you are a songwriter but you don't play an instrument or are not a decent singer, have a studio doing the demo song for you - many studios can help you with that.
What demo do I need to get work in clubs and pubs?You definitely need a demo CD for booking agents, club, and pub managers. It may be a good idea to record a live performance and then select the best moments (snippets). A club manager will be more interested on how well your band can play live and the act ability to entertain!
If you have some studio demos, that’s OK, but I would recommend adding at least one song recorded live. You may even think of a video, but a CD is the best idea, just because most places have a CD player. You can have it recorded out of the console (a live to two tracks), or hire somebody to do it professionally, as a multi-track recording and then do the mixing in the studio. Another way is to go in the studio, set up the gear as you play live and play and have it recorded, and then you can remix if so you wish.
If you’re a singer/songwriter looking to get gigs in clubs/coffee shops/etc, you can either have it recorded live or in a studio or even at home, but if it doesn’t sound right, check at least with a studio and see what can be done to improve it!
What demo do I need for a music school or classical music contest?Part of the registration for a University/College music school or a classical music contest is to send in a demo. You can do it in either a studio, or hire somebody that can do recording on location, so you can record into a place that you know, feel comfortable and like the acoustics. It could be even your home. If the demo is important to you, check the studio credentials and see if it has experience in classical music!
Recording and mixing classical music is quite different than modern music. While in modern music there is a loudness war out there, and everything is compressed, in classical music dynamic is a form of expression, so make sure the studio has that kind of experience.
Do I need to master my demo?Do not underestimate the mastering stage! Imagine that somebody is listening to your demo and the volume is really low. Do you think that the A&R people will turn up the volume and work with the EQ? The same goes for any demo whose purpose is to get somebody’s attention! You may not want to do it into an expensive mastering studio, and that is OK, as there are other options, but make sure that your demo stands against the others!
What songs should I use for a demo?The choices of what to put on a demo are quite logical: if you want a singer/songwriter career you have to record only originals. If you want to showcase your voice, you can use covers, but it would be a good idea not to use the most known hits, unless you can really bring something exceptional to them! If you want to work in cabaret, theatres, pub/club circuit the demo should be a compilation of your interpretation of the type of songs that you will be performing.
In plain English, the demo CD should be tailored to the market that you want to tap in.
Can you recommend session players?We're work with various session players, and you can find below a list of people that we know are top players. The people in the list are all pros, members of the Union, some of them Grammy and Juno nominees.
If you are a musician and play an instrument and meet the requirements of pro level, please Contact Us, tell us about yourself, what you play, what instruments you have, your contacts (phone, email, website), any other thing you consider relevant. No references are needed for AFL members.
We will include you in our list absolutely free, however we would appreciate if you can link back to our studio in your website.
Useful music business links…The following is a very useful list of links for musicians and producers; it includes also links to music lessons and teachers. We are open to link exchanges, however note that Fandango Recording links only with websites that are useful for musicians and producers, with a focus on Canadian music!
www.socan.ca - The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, an organization that administers in Canada the performing rights of virtually the entire world's repertoire of copyright-protected music.
www.factor.ca - Foundation to assist Canadian talent on records!
ISRC registrant codes - this is the place where you have to go and get your ISRC codes required when mastering your music!
www.cmrra.ca - Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd.
http://www.copyright.gov United States Copyright Office- a department of LIbrary of Congress. It’s not a bad idea to register the copyright of your songs in US, that gives you access to US courts.
www.arts.on.ca - The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) is an arm's-length agency of the Ontario government that provides granting programs, funds and awards and services to artists and arts organizations across the province
www.musiccentre.ca - Collecting, distributing and promoting music by Canada's composers!
www.vocalscience.com - Vocal coaching, Non-surgical voice repair and Speech development, in Toronto Canada and London UK!
www.gearslutz.com - an excellent forum about recording equipment, techniques, recording, mixing and mastering! The moderators are famous producers like George Massenburg, Dave Pensado, Daniel Lanois, Chuck Ainlay, Frank Filipetti, Ed Cherney, All Schmitt.
Copyright Board of Canada: Canadian government website extremely useful regarding copyrights!
The Indie Bible - Promote Your Music to the World!
www.indiemusic.ca - another extensive, comprehensive resource for Canadian music.
Piano Player World - Have you always wanted to learn how to play piano? Get your free resources here.
www.canoe.ca/IndieBands/home.html - If you're a Canadian indie band, you can get a free listing here!
www.hiphopcanada.com - A Canadian Hip Hop resource site!
www.cleverjoe.com/radio.html - College and University radio station! Promote your music to all the wild and crazy students in Canada!
www.afm.org/149/ - Local 149, American Federation of Musicians, Toronto, ON
www.harmony-central.com - excellent info and database about all instruments, reviews, great forums, advices, industry news daily!
BPM Checker - The largest database of beats per minute in the world.
www.overhear.com - A source of information on solo artists, singer/songwriters, bands, and live music venues and events. overhear is also a guide for independent musicians and artists in Ontario.
Kick in the head - The Ultimate guide to Canadian music created by musicians for musicians who love their music and want control.
The muse’s muse - This is an excellent Songwriter's Resource web site created by a fellow Canadian with tons of songwriting information, tools, and links
Artistopia - Join music artists across the world in their pursuit to music stardom. Artistopia’s music community includes artist profiles, free MP3 music downloads, press releases, artist gigs and events, music resources directory, classified ads, and music forums.
Country Music Planet - country music for country music fans! - Country music featuring independent country music singers and independent country music songwriters!
Get Signed - resource for advice on A&R, record deals, getting gigs, getting promoted & getting signed!
www.taxi.com - TAXI’s Music Biz FAQs contain songwriting tips, music-business information, and articles on Film & TV Music placement
Addicted to Songwriting - Addicted to Songwriting offers great resources for songwriters, including tips, news, articles, and more. If you write songs, visit this site.
Audio Recording Center -Want to get some awesome recording software? Trick out your home studio? Find a recording studio? See Audio Recording Center.
Record Labels & Companies Guide - What's the deal with Record Companies, anyway? Don't they want your songs? Learn more at RLCG, a site for songwriters, producers, and more.
Indie Music Network - Resource for create, produce and sell music!
Music Media Entertainment Group - A niche search engine for the music industry
Running music - Great site for mp3. They have created custom running music tracks with 30, 45 and 60 min in length. Highly motivational!
Pure voice power - Singing Lessons - in East Toronto (Scarborough) with Kathy Thompson. Kathy has been a vocal coach since 1992 and is a Certified Teacher of Adults. Beginners or seasoned recording artists are welcome. Find your own unique style. Prepare for musical theatre auditions, study jazz, rock, hip-hop, R&B, country or all contemporary styles of singing: free styling, increasing range, pitch placement, intro to voice therapy, increased volume and resonance, good breathing techniques. Build confidence for performance!
Musical Advantage - dedicated to connecting musicians with students and audiences across the United States and Canada.
MPCsounds - Hip Hop Samples for Akai MPC. MPCsounds.com offers downloadable hip-hop samples & loops for Akai MPC drum machines
Sheet Music - Sheet music search engine where people can search for free and commercial sheet music in a fast and easy way.
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