For Those About to (Record) Rock

I find myself often answering the same sort of questions from musicians about the recording process so I thought it would make sense to jot down an overview of some things as a reference that I can direct people to…

The Process

So you’ve written some songs that you’d like to record and release, but you have never been through the process so you are unsure of what needs to happen. It roughly goes like this:

  1. Pre-production
  2. Recording
  3. Mixing
  4. Mastering
  5. Manufacturing and Release

Pre-production

Pre-production includes writing and arranging music, booking studio time, production planning, prepping equipment and budgeting.

A band that is well-rehearsed and that has their sounds sorted are easy to record. This is the foundation on which the quality of your recording is based.

A producer might be involved, but what a producer is can be different things to different people and in different genres of music. Generally a producer works with the artist in arranging songs and developing the overall production style/aesthetic right through to the final product including during recording and mixing. In lots of indie projects there is no separate producer from the artist/band, and perhaps the engineer. Discussing the role of the engineer or producer is important at the pre-production stage.

It shouldn’t need to be said but you shouldn’t be trying to learn the songs in the studio if you want to be efficient with your time in the studio. If your band is tight and have considered your sounds before you get into the studio then things should go fairly smoothly.

If you are a band that thinks they want to record to a click track, then make sure you practice to a click track.

Guitarists and Bass Players – Bring your own guitars and amps as a general rule, although you could consider hiring other gear in too. Make sure that you have fairly fresh strings and bring up a backup set or two in case you break a string. Has your guitar been set up recently with attention paid to the intonation? If not, make sure you check and adjust if required or take your guitar in to someone to check the set up before you get in to the studio.

Drummers – Generally drummers bring their own kit. You could hire a drum kit if your own drum kit isn’t up to standard but make sure you arrange this well in advance of your session. Make sure that your drum kit is in good condition including the drum heads, unless your 20 year old drum heads are part of your sound. It is a good idea to bring at least one spare new snare drum head, as they can get tired quickly on long sessions depending on the genre and playing style. Check for any squeaks or rattles in your kit and try to eradicate them before you go to the studio.

Recording and Mixing

Recording and mixing can be undertaken by the one “engineer” or could be done by separate people. It is not uncommon for bands to record in a studio some place, or record themselves in their home studio, and then hand their files over to a professional mixing engineer to undertake the mixing.

Recording is essentially just that, recording the music, typically in multitrack formats. Recording could be done to digital, or to an analogue format such as reel-to-reel tape. I undertake the bulk of my music recording work at Infidel Studios in Queanbeyan which is a fantastic studio with capability to record to 2″ 16 track tape. This option can be nice for some bands who suit that aesthetic.

Mixing takes the multitrack recordings and mixes them together to create a (typically for music) 2 channel stereo mix track/file.

How long to allow for recording and mixing is always a tricky one. It varies quite a bit depending on genre, production expectations/standards, how rehearsed the band is, number of overdubs required, amount of time allowed for creative production experiments, amount of editing needed, etc. I have recorded and mixed punk and folk albums of about 12-15 songs over 5-6 days, which is on the shorter end of the spectrum. The last couple of metal albums I have worked on we spent roughly 3 weeks on each. Bands that have decent budgets might spend longer periods in the studio fine tuning arrangements, sounds and overall production.

A wise and experienced recording and mixing engineer that I know says to allow twice the amount of time you think it will take, and then add half again. That actually seems to work out to be fair a lot of the time (in essence, it always takes longer to record and mix than people think it does).

Mastering

Mastering is traditionally seen as a separate step to the mixing process. Mastering takes the 2 channel stereo mix track/file from the mixing engineer and prepares that file so that it is optimised for whatever format(s) the final release will be.

By way of example, in the case of mastering for a CD release, the mastering engineer will typically take the mix file(s), do some processing such as equalisation and compression/limiting to make them louder and (hopefully) sound better, ensure the tracks have appropriate fades, sequence them and ensure appropriate gaps, and then create a master CD or DDP file for manufacturing from.

I always recommend that music is mastered by a specialist mastering engineer who is separate from the person who has mixed the music where budget allows it. This allows a fresh perspective on the music that can be invaluable to the final results.

Some mastering engineers where some of my projects have been mastered include:

There are actually quite a number of mastering engineers out there, and these days it is easy to send your files off for mastering anywhere in the world. A number of projects that I have recorded have been mastered overseas. When choosing a mastering engineer I suggest checking out who mastered some of the music releases you like the sound of and looking them up.

Mastering an individual song might typically take a couple of hours, whereas mastering an entire album might take in the ballpark of one day.

Manufacturing and Release

Once you have your final mastered files, you can then send them off for manufacturing if you are getting a physical format. Audio CD is still the dominant physical format, although vinyl and even compact cassette is an option. Some artists are skipping the physical format releases these days and going straight for digital download only releases through platforms such as iTunes (via aggregators like CDbaby or Tunecore), or Bandcamp.

If you are after CD manufacturing, just google for options, or here are a couple that artists that I have worked with have used:

 

This entry was posted on Monday, October 30th, 2017 at 1:19 pm and is filed under Music, Resources. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

 

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