Going into the studio to record your music can be a daunting task - getting used to playing under pressure and hearing your own voice or playing played back to you can be quite nerve wracking! Take it from me (Andrew btw), it can be a learning curve - a curve I know all too well, having traversed it many times! Not to mention there can be nerves surrounding money, cost and keeping time and therefore expenses to a minimum, without compromising on quality! All that being said, I am here to help. I thought this blog post could be a good read for people who maybe are unsure of what it's like to be in the studio or even folk who might like to get an idea of how to keep costs low whilst also still getting fantastic results!
Jack and I are always committed to finding the best and most cost efficient way of capturing performances. We don't have one set way of working because each band, artist and client is different and therefore requires different things! I hope that this post can outline some of the ways we approach things so as to help you make cool decisions in your own preparations to keep things smooth, cheaper and ultimately end up with better recordings!
Also, on a reassuring note, Jack and I are here to guide and help you give the best performances you can - we have been doing this for a long time now with as many different types of people as you could think of! We have a bag of tricks so large it puts Santa's sack to shame!
Let's start with the absolute basics. These days, it's really, really easy to record yourself. Almost everyone walks about with a tiny studio in their pocket - aye, you guessed it - your smart phone! Even with something as rudimentary as a voice recorder app on your phone, you can sit it down at a band practise or in your home and record yourself play. From here, you can listen for inconsistencies and things to improve upon - maybe the speed isn't quite right or a note in a vocal melody that's a lil tough to grab. By recording yourself, you can start using the type of listening that we use in the studio frequently - it's somewhere between a normal person listening to music, being aware of how a performance makes you feel and moves you but also using quite an analytic ear. In the studio, we're always listening out for features of a recording and measuring them up to see how they contribute to the overall performance and delivery of a song or piece of music. Does it contribute good things or bad things? If bad, how can they be improved upon or changed to make the performance better? Fortunately, with modern technology, there is a certain acceptable margin for error - rhythms can be nudged into place and melodies can be treated with a bit of Melodyne to get them slightly more in pitch. I've heard Jack fix a single out of tune string on a guitar before, even within the context of chords! So don't worry - things don't by any means need to be perfect but things will always go faster the more confident you are and the more rehearsed and practised each song and each member of your ensemble is!
What is enormously useful coming into the studio is if you, the artist, has a clear idea of what you'd like the final version to sound like. The clearer this is, the more Jack and I can help achieve this! For instance, if you're a singer songwriter, are you a Joni Mitchell or a Tom Waits? Are you an Ed Sheeran or an Yvette Young? If you have a clear idea of this, it helps us at the Owlshed to make choices and streamline processes to make things faster whilst also sounding better! A Tom Waits likely won't need to worry as much about Melodyne but we'd be looking for truly moving performances! An Ed Sheeran, we'd be looking for polish and a really clear sound. Yvette, we'd probably want to track guitar and voice separately as both elements are involved and would take a lot of attention to nail on recording!
If you play in a three piece band, do you sound like Nirvana or Rush? Both ensembles are three pieces but both Very Different Vibes! A Nirvana, we'd recommend recording live to capture the energy of the band. Rush? You guys should probably multitrack, given the fact that your music is likely fairly intricate and will take some attention and concentration to really nail!
These types of distinctions all really count to a) the sound of the finished product and also b) the end cost.
Cutting Costs and Keeping Things Cheaper
As previsously touched upon, being as proficient and confident as one can be at the songs being recorded is vital. There is an invisible but undeniable difference between studio performance and live performance. A live performance is by its very nature transitory - it happens and then is gone. Studio performance is permanent. A mistake in a live performance is gone and forgotten the moment it happens. In studio however, that mistake is there to stay! Once again, as mentioned, mistakes can be fixed and guided into place (lord only knows the amount of my own I've needed to give nudges to!) but that being said, the more time spent working around mistakes means less time covering ground and getting more songs recorded. Almost all recordings get an element of fixing at some stage, be it rhythmic, melodic or re-tracking elements and this is to be expected. The point is to try and minimise as many of these as possible! Recording oneself and being quite meticulous in approach is vital to being able to move fast in the studio - if you're able to get a song done in three takes and overdubs as opposed to five or six with overdubs, you've reduced the amount of time required to record that part by 50%!
A point very worth noting - there is an enormous difference between an imperfection and a mistake. A mistake, to me, is something that is present in a recording that detracts from the delivery and intention of the piece. An imperfection is something that could be viewed as a mistake but ultimately adds character. Music is absolutely FULL of imperfections - imperfections can make performances human and often provide a bridge for people to be able relate to them! A drummer playing behind the beat could be viewed as an imperfection or a mistake - in certain circumstances, it can provide an effect that makes people want to dance. In others, in can produce an undesirable effect of dragging or lagging. It's all about context and whether or not a performance and vibe is supported!
In post production, there are almost always ways that we are able to keep things cheaper. These things tend to be very project specific and require consultation with Owlshed Studios. Usually these things will be covered in discussions surrounding quotes and project expectations, both from our point of view but also that of the client!
A Note to Drummers
Drummers! My people! In the studio, we're often in the hot seat. Generally people go into studios to record drums and then plan on tracking other stuff at home (guitars, bass, keys and vocals etc). This means that the others in the band have a little more flexibility and forgiveness than you. If the drums aren't nailed by the session end, there sometimes aren't as many options to repair or fix as there would be tracking guitars. As such, I have some pointers - don't worry, the list is short!
1) Get comfortable with playing to a click or to a guide instrument! If you can do this, it means that different performances can be layered on top of each other and final takes can be very easily and quickly pieced together from these different performances. For instance, say you nail the first half of Performance 1 but Performance 2 has a better second half, it becomes a task of about 20 seconds to highlight the good parts of each performance and BOOM, job's done! When recording without click, tempo is not as consistent as it needs to be for a seamless join and it would be likely near impossible to join the two halves together, let alone to do it quickly! If a click does not suit the style or performance of the band, playing along to a guide guitar or bass can yield the same results!
2) Learn how to balance your sound behind the kit! What I mean by this is make sure that how you're playing is how you want to sound. The most common culprit is snare drum being played too quiet and hats being played too loud. Obviously, one's dominant hand plays the hats usually and non dominant hand plays the snare so this can lead to some problems when it comes to mixing. The best way around this is to make sure your left hand, playing the snare, is nice and strong, preferably hitting rimshots. I would say that of the hundreds of songs I've recorded, there have been a tiny handful of occasions where it has been preferable to not be catching nice strong rimshots and of these occasions, they have mostly been section specific, so not for whole songs! The backbone of the mix of most western band based music is vocals, snare and kick so make sure these elements are exactly as strong as they need to be!
To Sum Up
Just like the sea, the studio can be an unforgiving mistress! Being underprepared is a good way to end up in the soup - at least in the studio nobody needs life jackets and as such, nobody is at risk of drowning. Jack and I both firmly believe that everyone is truly capable of capturing the performances that they hear in their heads and in their hearts. With our years of experience and gathered knowledge, it is our job to help guide these performances out of you, into the mics and ultimately, into the ears of your fans! Prepare well and we've got your back from there!
If you have any questions at all, please do get in touch at email@example.com