In The Studio recordingdude

Published on February 24th, 2011 | by Guest Post

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Making the most of your recording experience–Preparing your recording (Part 1)

This guest post was written by Joey Stuckey. Joey is a recording veteran with over 2 decades of experience in the music and recording industries. He owns and operates Shadow Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia. Joey has performed and recorded with Trisha Yearwood, James Brown, Ted Nugent, Smash Mouth, The B-52’s and more.

The process of getting the sound you hear in your minds ear and out into the material universe is often the biggest challenge for artists that I work with in the studio. However, before that is realized, initial preparation is an essential ingredient to a successful recording project – one that is often overlooked.

This article will deal with some practical tips that will help your next recording project run smoothly and ideally, under budget.

Record at home, or professionally?

The question I get asked time and again is “can’t I record my album at home?” With today’s technology, you can do a lot of great things in the home studio with a laptop and some other reasonably priced gear. However, you won’t ever sound like those musicians that are at the top of their craft if you don’t put in the time, effort and money to bring your very best.

So can you record at home? This will depend upon what your needs are. First ask yourself, what is the purpose of my recording? For example, the needs of a demo for publishing are different than those of booking local gigs at a local bar, which are different yet again for an album that is going to be released and sold in large retail outlets, like Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the proverbial iTunes.

Bottom line is that there will always will be things you will have to do in a professional recording studio. With a few well spent dollars and a plan of action, you can make the most of your home recording set up and gain valuable experience at home which will allow you to get the most of the professional studio, saving you time and money.

So, let’s talk about some valuable tips that from my years as a recording engineer and producer, are essential to a successful recording project.

1. Rehearse arrangements prior to recording

A professional studio that charges somewhere between $60 an hour to $125 an hour is not the place to rehearse the song and construct arrangements. I can’t tell you how many of my studio clients waste lots of time running over the intros, endings and bridges of their songs in the studio. That is what rehearsal in your practice space is for. And it’s even better if you can record the band performing so you can hear how the arrangements are sounding in rehearsal. This can be with a boom box, video camera or home studio. Any recording is a great tool for you to refine your songs. I mean, I’ll take your money, if you really feel like rehearsing your songs on studio time (and so will every other recording studio), but why kill your recording budget just for the ambiance?

Check out this article on pre-production from Home Studio Corner.

2. Use the best gear

Next, make sure you are using the best gear you have access to. What I mean by this is don’t use the guitar that you bought for $50 at a pawnshop to do your serious recording. If you don’t have a better guitar then borrow one from a friend, but, be warned – ask for the guitar a week or two before you go in to the studio. Again, I can’t tell you how many times people come in with borrowed gear like amps and instruments that they bought or borrowed the night before and have no idea about how to work them or how to get the best sound out of them. This is a big time waster and you don’t want that.

3. Are your instruments properly maintained?

Make sure you do proper maintenance on your instruments and other musical gear. Take your guitar to get set up by a real pro, making sure the action and intonation are just right for your playing style.  Make sure you have new strings, but, not too new or your tuning will be problematic.

Check this video out on setting up your guitar from The Next Level Guitar.

4. Utilize the home studio for loops and/or MIDI files

A good use of your home studio is working with loops or MIDI files. These are examples of things that can be done at home with fairly inexpensive computer tools, like Acid or Reason. Some of my clients choose to record the skeleton or foundation of their songs as sequences, which really saves a lot of time in the studio and substantially cuts down your expense.

Although it is easy to record a great performance at home with inexpensive gear – remember, that MIDI doesn’t capture audio, so if there is a sound from your keyboard or soft synth  you are in love with, you need to either, bring that gear into the studio with you or ask your engineer if they have something comparable in house that will provide the same or similar effect.

The same thing goes with samples. If you can, export the beats or other musical elements, then you can use the superior gear at the pro studio to cut guitars, vocals, drums, live horns and so forth. I guess I should say that with all the great guitar amp modeling out there by IK Multi-Media, Line-6 and others, you might be able to get great guitar and bass recordings at home as well. It is really when it comes to vocals, drums and percussion and other live instruments like strings or brass that the home studio starts to fall short. Not only does a pro studio typically have better gear, but, they also know how to use it to get the best sound.

There is a lot that goes in to getting that great sound; what mic for each job, where to place said mic, what mic preamp to use if any, what kind of effects like reverb compression and of course, EQ. We will delve in to those subjects separately as we continue this series as each of those concepts require their own special conversation.

The secrets of great sounding samples from Tweakheadz Lab.

5. Get rough mixes for practicing parts

Another time saver can be spending the money to get rough mixes after each session. Okay, it might cost you an hour of time or more, but, if you get rough mixes of what you have tracked,  you can practice your lead guitar licks before the next session, work on those back up vocals you want to try out and even provide rough copies to other musicians you want to collaborate on your recording. It will also give you time to really think about the mix of your songs. Because each song is different, each mix will also have to be a little different. A rough mix will allow you to figure out on your own time what instruments are the ones that really communicate what the song is about. You will never be able to hear each instrument in perfect balance with the others, this is why, you need to decide what is the thing that communicates the mood of your music in each song. In one track it might be the strings, in another it might be guitar and yet another drums.

Some bands keep the vocals down low in the mix. I have heard many popular rock bands do this. It works because in rock music most of the time, the experience is more about the feeling of the music making you want to dance or head bang… In other words, it is a physical experience mostly—and the louder the better. However, in country, the vocals are the most important as the song is a story set to music, so it is crucial that you hear the lyrics without effort. Of course, these are very general examples and not 100% true, but, you get the idea.

When next we get together, we will discuss the approaches for different types of recording needs, the publishing demo, the booking demo or the finished product ready for retail.

In addition, please post questions you would like to discuss and I’ll do my best to cover those topics.

Until next time, may you write and record a number one hit!

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