Recording Preparation for Bands Part Two: The Phone Call

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   To put it quite simply, whenever an artist (or an artist’s representation) calls me to book a session, my rule is to ask three questions:


   1.) “How is it getting here?”

   Are you just starting your recording with no pre-recorded sounds, parts or samples?  Do you have a format on which you’d like to record?  There are many different types of formats, ranging from analogue tape to ADATs to DAWs such as ProTools, Cubase & Logic.  Either the engineer can pick what he/she would like to use to best serve you, or you can have your engineer select a studio based on your needs and preferences.

   If there are pre-recorded tracks, loops or sequences, this is the stage where you (or your engineer) can figure out what the studio needs from you to best incorporate those tracks into your recording session.  A safe bet is to just provide audio files and/or an audio cd (as in, one that will play in your generic, cd player).  However, many facilities will accommodate files (such as MIDI files) made on a sequencer on your home system, but it is very risky and without guarantee that your tracks will sound the way you intended them on someone else’s setup.  As a side note, it’s wise to start your sequence further along in your project/session file--like bar 17 or 33-- in order to accommodate any unforeseen intro material added in the future.  Oh, and please make sure any discs you bring are in good condition and haven’t been stepped on and scratched in your cat’s litter box.

   It will behoove you to bounce down your tracks or MIDI sequences into audio files, printing all of your processing and desired effects & volumes, and starting the files/recording at the same time (preferably at the beginning of your session/project file or the designated measure number).  Whether you decide to bounce everything down to one, stereo file or create several, pre-mixed, stereo “stems” with various instruments, all depends on how much pre-recorded material you are bringing in.  Always get your engineer's advice when making all of these decisions.

   Now, let’s talk a little about formats.  Once again, there are three categories.  Sample Rate, Bit-Depth (or digital word-length), and file type.  Sample rate refers to the number of samples or snapshots taken of any complex waveform during a single second.  An example is 44.1KHz, which stands for 44,100 samples measured per second.  Most systems can handle 44.1 or 48KHz, which are the resolutions found on CD’s and video DVD’s respectively, but higher resolutions are also possible; just keep in mind that your CD will end up as 44.1KHz, 16-bit, eventually.

   Bit-Depth or Word-Length refers to the dynamic range (or basically, range of volume) of each sample taken.  CD’s are 16-bit, but I recommend starting your project at 24-bits.  The difference is noticeable.

   And file type simply refers to .WAV’s, .AIF’s, or for Pro-Tools users, SDII files.  mp3 files, obviously, are compressed to the point that you would never want to use an mp3 file on your master session, so it is safe to make sure your files are WAV’s or AIFF’s, for compatibility’s sake.

   *A lot of this sounds pretty heavy-duty & on the majorly technical side of things, which is why I emphasize the importance of the relationship between the artist and the engineer/producer, rather than whatever brief relationship an artist can hope to have with a room and it's staff (which may even change hands from time to time).  "It's the man, not the machine," remember?  Get someone you like working with, and then they can guide your creative vessel into port with maximum efficiency and care.

   2.)  “What are you doing?”

   This is the stage at which you give your engineer and any other studio personnel a good, mental picture of what you’ll be doing at your session.  What is the instrumentation (How many players and how many are recording at once)?  Who needs to sit next to whom, and who will be attending the session besides the musicians?  Is this an initial, tracking session or an overdub session?  Or is it a mix session?  It is also definitely okay to provide your engineer with any of your band’s stage plots and/or technical riders, should he/she not already be familiar with them.

   3.) “What are you leaving with?”

   When your work is done at the end of the day or days that you’ll be in the studio, how are you planning on taking your master tracks home?  What is your end goal on a product?  Are you planning to leave with your multi-track on a drive or tape, along with a couple of CD’s of some rough mixes, or are you leaving with final mixes?  Or are you just needing mp3’s for reference, only to return to the studio after you’ve had some time to rehearse and write your other parts to overdub?

   If you and your engineer are taking the project to another facility to add things (such as to your grandma’s house to put some of her incredible organ skills down on your songs), this is the stage where you determine what your engineer and other studios need in order to continue the work on your project.

   The more I think about it, this process might seem a little anxiety-inducing to a fledgling musician or film-maker, so I offer you this:  You're more than welcome to give me a call if you'd like any clarification or assistance.  To be fair, any engineer or studio worth their salt will be very understanding and diplomatic when it comes to conversing with you and extracting the information they'll need to make sure the session goes as smoothly for you as possible.

   .....but you're welcome to contact me if you'd like some practice. 

   Once you’ve booked your session, it’s time to get your supplies and gear ready!  Stay tuned for the next article:  Your checklist!


    **A note: Readers of the old blog will find that I have removed the sidebar entitled "Reference Material: Don't Record with a Stranger."  Stay tuned for a more bite-sized, separate article on compiling a list of listening material for you and your engineer to analyze and appreciate.

   Thanks again for reading!  Happy Recording! 


 - JW 

Other articles you may find helpful:
Recording Preparation for Bands Part One: Rehearsal
Recording Preparation for Bands Part Three: The List

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A [Not-So] Modest Proposal for -14dBfs


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