Recording and Releasing Your Own CD
(03 Oct 05)
In the Studio Before you Actually Start Recording
Equipment - This is what happens when you get in the studio to record your CD: You get there and bring your equipment in. Generally decent studios will already have various amps and at least one quality drum set but you may still want to bring your own if that is what you are used to.
I always bring my own amp because I can dial up my sound right away but also because I have a good professional relationship with the most of the companies that offer me special deals on my equipment. For that reason I want to use their stuff on my recordings as promotion for them. If the studio has an amp that is better than yours, you can always use it instead of your own anyways.
Mikes - Next the engineer will be getting everything miked up and getting the sound together. This will take a little time. He will be placing a mike right on the speaker of your cabinet and most likely an ambient mike a few meters away. Open back combos like Fender amps generally get a mike in back also. Two or three mikes for one guitar amp. The producer may suggest specific mikes for your amp.
I personally like a cheapo Shure 57 on a Marshall and Sennheiser for an ambient mike. I sometimes like to use two amps and pan them somewhat right and left, this will make some engineers crazy and other like this kind of thing. I like the subtle differences in each respective speaker. Some engineers don't like the sound of the mike too close to the speaker, some like a 57 stuck an inch away. The sound is different but both get good results depending on who is doing the engineering.
Headphones - Recording is a very unnatural way to make music. How you hear yourself and each other will make or break the session. There are different ways to record. You can record everything separately but the disadvantage to this method is time and it also makes it pretty difficult to end songs and it also makes musical interplay an impossibility. Recording everything separately also takes a lot of time. If the tracks for type of music that you create are best recorded separately, you might want to consider going for the "do it yourself at home" method discussed earlier.
The type of music that I mostly write requires, at least everything but the vocal track, to be recorded simultaneously. I used to like to be in the room with my amp and watch the other guys through the window but lately I have been playing in the same room with the bassist and drummer and run a line to my amp in a separate location. To make up for the lack of sustain I crank up the amp really loud and I seem to be able the get the tone I want.
The next step is getting the mix right in your headphones. If you screw this up, you will be miserable throughout the session so it is best to get this straight right away. There are some engineers who know exactly how to send your sound back to you in your headphones and others that you will have to spell it out a thousand different ways in order to get it sounding right.
I have the engineer mix a little delay or reverb on my guitar so I can play things easier. The reverb or delay on your guitar is a temporary thing only for your monitor so don't worry if it is a little to long or short or mixed in a way that you don't think appropriate for your music, you will be able to change it later when you mix the recording. Now you are ready to record.
Play - Now you can start recording. When the engineer or producer give the okay you can play through the tune. The first time is pretty much a rehearsal, now your ready to go.
If you have it together, three or four takes may be enough. You then will go back to where the engineer and producer are and listen back to each take through the studio monitors and you can decide with the producer which take is the best.
You can also punch-in anything that may not have worked out the way you wanted. Remember this: anything that bugs you a little will bug you a lot after you burn a thousand CDs. So if you hear something that you don't like, punch-in the individual part again or do another take with the band.
When you listen back to the take in the mixing room don't let it bother you if your guitar volume is too low or the kick drum is too loud, that will all get fixed during the mixdown. If you are using Pro-Tools the producer may have the engineer fix some timing or pitch problems on the spot. Modern technology has done wonders for the recording process.
Vocals - When I record my own music, I generally record the music first and do the vocal tracks later on. But be careful not to get stuck doing every vocal track on the last day. If you figure that you will sing every song five times and record ten songs, you'll have to sing fifty takes. Sing a couple of songs a day and don't risk injury. As I mentioned before, the producer will pick different sections or each vocal take and edit them together to get one perfect vocal track for each song. He also may fix any pitch or timing problems using the computer. Make sure you have copies of your lyrics for the engineer and producer if you are using one, as I mentioned, they will be marking which individual phrases to glue together to make the final track.
The Mixdown - After the tunes are recorded the engineer and producer start to mix everything. He will add reverb and delay on various parts and EQ things. The producer and engineer might fight about certain things here, if that happens leave for a while and come back later. You are paying the cash so you will give the final okay. Usually getting the first tune mixed down takes a ton of time, maybe three or four hours. After that the next tune will go faster. Every engineer is different. I have seen guys mix a whole CD in several hours and make it sound great and other guys spend a week mixing and have the recording end up sounding like crap. We spent about twenty-four hours mixing "Big Bad Sun."