The Recording Process
From my experience as a recording artist, mix engineer, live sound engineer and live performer, I have come to gain a thorough understanding of what is involved in capturing a good performance and how this translates to the speakers, both in a live and studio context.
As a summary I work off of the mantra that if you are organised, you know your music from multiple rehearsals and you are working with an engineer that you trust. Then only good things can happen. Nirvana rehearsed everyday for 6 months before recording Nevermind - look how that turned out.
Here are some of my definitions:
This is basically the part where you get your s%^* together. Pre pro for a band is maybe recording a few demos (these can be scratch phone recordings or more decent recordings using minimal mics). This is where you:
Figure out the key of your songs
Tempos that sit well
Parts - Who plays what when and what stylistic elements you intend on having
Arrangement - How the instruments interact
Things to be aware of when in the studio: Time = Money. You, as the client are paying for the use of a facility that usually comes with an experienced engineer and some pretty decent gear + mics etc… The best thing to do is to:
Have your parts rehearsed to the point where you know every chord, every hit and every stop without thinking. The phrase “practice it until you can’t get it wrong” applies here.
Know what tempo your songs are, experiment with tempo in rehearsals and see what sits well. Play it way too quick and see what it feels like and then play it well slow. You will quickly arrive at a tempo that works for each song, and who knows, you may even discover something interesting.
Obviously know the structure. I have seen countless times where artist are still deliberating over structural elements of song while in the studio. Yeah if you’re Prince and you live there you can do that, but for us musos it’s valuable money wasted.
Post Production (Overdubs)
Do this somewhere else, overdubs are easy and are usually situations where there’s a close mic on a guitar cab (can be done anywhere) or some digital instrument that’s DI. By all means if you have an idea in the studio and you can get it down fast like a weird delay guitar thing or some drum fill, but for the most part if it’s gunna take to long, cut and run.
Doing lead vocals is also a tricky one. I think that lots of vocalists need the planets to align to do a magical take and most of the time that may or may not happen in the studio. If you have the studio booked and it’s just for vocals sometimes the pressure may be too much. Again, do the vocal takes in the studio if you are buzzing and the vibe is good, but for the most part this is a lot of time to spend on one thing? (something to keep in mind)
Mixing is my favourite thing to talk about. There are so many different ways to get mixing done it’s mind boggling. Lots of studio engineers are usually pretty good mixers and they have spent the time working with you to capture your sound and know the songs etc. However here is one massive thing to consider with mixing and it is this: Every person on this earth has a different musical upbringing and they hear things their own way. Mixing is a persons personal expertise and personal flavour, period. The person who mixes your track will have a “sound” in mind when they hear it for the first time and then they will attempt to achieve this sound. Lots of big record companies send multitracks to multiple mix engineers to see what they do with it. Good mix engineers balance the levels and provide a sense of sonic landscape. Great mix engineers create a work of art. You give them the paint….. Sometimes they receive a rough painting of what you kinda want it to sound like and they just add some touchups and other times you give them a rough idea that gets broken down and rebuilt.
Mastering is the dark art of making a track “commercially” competitive. They tend to put high frequency shimmer, corrective eq, stereo wideners, compression and other fancy things on the cake. It is a widely talked about thing especially in modern society with so many “loud” tracks. An interesting thing to think about these days is that most digital streaming platforms have loudness algorithms that tend to normalise the sound. What this basically means is that super loud songs aren’t as loud as the original file and people are tending to stray more towards having a track that is more tailored to the algorithm software which sometimes isn’t a loud “slamming” track. One thing that really stuck with me was a mix engineer told me that compression is a multiplicative tool that makes things sound smaller the more they are compressed. Compression is another story though :)