So you’ve had a quick look around the site and you’re a bit overwhelmed with some of the jargon we keep firing out. Fret not, you don’t need to know or care about any of that nerdy stuff. We will take care of that side of things. What you *do* need to care about is feeling relaxed coming in to record, so here is an explanation of what goes on and what you can do to prepare.
This is where we meet up with you and see where you are coming from. You might have demos recorded on a computer, a phone, even (and we would love this) an old tape recorder. You might have words written on paper and some piano parts or guitar chords. It really doesn’t matter – what we will be doing is trying to get a sense for how strong a vision you have of what you want your music to sound like when everything is done and dusted, and how we can get you there. Maybe you are just beginning and have a million questions – that’s cool, we will answer where we can. The end result though should be you knowing what you need to do to get from where you are to being ready for the studio. This might mean borrowing some better guitars/amps, working on your lyrics, analyzing how your favourite artists construct their songs, and looking at the ‘flow’ of your songs if you are working on an album. For drummers it might mean brushing up on some technique, practicing playing to a click (though we don’t like them!), analyzing the kick/snare patterns of your favourite songs, that kind of thing.
Ideally we will do some basic unfussy recording of the tunes [if you have not done so already] to give us some guide tracks for later on when we go in to the studio.
Don’t worry if you are totally new to all of this – it should be fun, creative, and inspiring, and our goal will be to help you envisage the recorded version of yourself.
Usually after Pre-production we will have “guide tracks” of all the tunes you plan to record – you singing or playing into our recording system without worrying too much about getting everything perfect. If not, we will put them in on day 1. More often than not the rhythm instruments (drums, bass) go down first, and the way this is usually done is a “click” (a horrible noise going tick tock tock tock) is sent to the drummer’s headphones so he can play to a grid in the computer. The guide tracks help here, as it is nice for the drummer to have more than just a click to play to. In fact, we often use your natural timing (i.e. no clicks involved) in those guides to create more ‘human’ clicks for the drummer – this way the natural tendency to speed up in choruses, slow down in verses, etc, is preserved. Of course, some music needs the unwavering tempo as part of its charm, particularly if lots of electronic stuff is going on, so sometimes we go that way.
Once the drums [and bass, if the rhythm section are very “tight”] are done, there usually follows some editing of said drums to fix any fixable timing problems. This can take anything from 2 minutes to 2 hours per song. Then it is usually on to the melody instruments (sorry bassists I know you kids are melodic too). For acoustic guitars etc we have you sit downstairs with headphones on and play along to the nice new drums and remaining guides, and for electric guitars you can either do that or sit in the control room. We usually go with whatever you prefer, unless we feel the energy is being lost by you not being by the amp.
For vocals we set up a cosy “booth” around you to deaden the sound of the room so all we hear is your voice, not the reverberation of the room. On with the headphones, and off you go.
Most people these days are aware that they can do a million “takes” (go’s) if they want, and that things can be tuned, copied, moved around, massaged… fixed. This is true… but you will end up with some very sterile, boring, uninteresting music at the end of the day. We try to encourage people to imagine they are recording onto a tape machine, in that they need to be at least as good this time as they were the last time. We keep everything, but very often the sense of commitment that this scenario encourages gets the best out of people. A heartfelt, ever-so-slightly-pitchy delivery will win over a piece-by-piece approach every time.
Now that we have everything recorded, it is time to make the bloody thing sound amazing. This is where we will refer to the work we did in pre-production in trying to identify what you want the finished product to sound like. Based on that we will adjust the tone, volume, and “placement” of all the various parts to get things where you want them. Referencing other records you like will help here, as it will help us shape the character of the finished record.
We tend to mix in stages, as after about 2 hours of intense listening the ears go “funny” and you start to undo good work you’ve already done. Better to take away a high quality copy, listen for a few days on the stereo, in the car, on the headphones, compare with other music you like and come back with changes and tweaks. Usually two rounds of this does the trick.
The final stage, usually done by a dedicated mastering engineer, involves taking all the mixes and making them sit nicely together in terms of tone and volume. It would also involve adding ISRC codes (embedded codes that help radio stations (among others) assign royalties correctly for any songs that are played on air), PQ codes (the start/stop points of songs for CDs), and handing you back the final MASTER CD. If you are looking at pushing your music to radio, getting CD copies done up, and being “pro” then we recommend going to a dedicated engineer. If however you want to get onto the web immediately with a WAV/MP3 for soundcloud/youtube/whatever then we can do a mastering job for you.
So how to prepare? Practice your parts. Think like and artist, and keep honing what you do. If your instrument needs new strings, have them on a day or two before. Or not – if you like that ‘elliott smith’ sound, dead-ish strings might be better. I suppose the point is be aware that it is much better to be making the sound you want before we reach for the effects, pedals, EQ, etc.
Another good idea is to record yourself playing your parts and listen back with a critical ear – how is your pitch? is everything in tune? Adopting high standards for yourself is a good thing, all the poeple you [and we!] idolize do it