Taking the plunge
OK. I've got my band. I've got my 5 top original songs. I want to do a little demo/EP just for kicks & to sell the odd one at gigs (put on myspace/give to radio stations/start a global music phenomenon etc :lol: )...
I'd appreciate advice from you guys who've been there before - apart from knowing the songs backwards, what other preparation should we do before hitting the studio? How do we choose the right studio?
"Who says you can't 'dive bomb' a bigsby?!"
makes sure your gear's in tip t op order. seriously, if you have a tube amp, consider taking it to an amp specialist for a check up. same with your guitar(s) and a trusted luthier. check the drums are tuned and the skins decent. all that techie stuff. and fresh strings, the day before you go in (so they have time to settle). there's no point dropping Xhundred pounds/dollars on studio time but skimping on a 30 pound/dollar guitar check up beforehand.
know the songs inside out. being able to e.g. "take it from the 2nd chorus onwards" can also help, timewise. and no massive parties the night before, especially for the singer, lol.
studios - its a personal thing. you want (read, NEED) a good engineer. if the recording's basically a record of your 'live show' then the producer can be anyone. but YOU NEED a good engineer. they'll hit all the right buttons, know how to set things up so you get your live sound but can make a good mix down of the tracks, know what mics to use, etc, etc. the engineer is your friend, guide, angel from above. I can't stress that enough. seriously, look/ask around if necessary, check out who works at the studios you're considering. the engineer will make/break the recording more than anything else the studio has, imho. don't skimp on getting a good engineer. I've recorded with a fair few different people "twiddling the knobs" and one of them in particular, gawd I wish I could find that dude again. he was the techie at my school for one year and recorded me just jamming, but he made me sound like Hendrix/Jeff Beck/SRV/Kurt Cobain/enter all my guitar gods here. seriously, I've never sounded so good on tape ever. wish I still had that tape, too. :cry: He knew mic placement, how to tweak tone to get the best from the mics we had, how to make sure I was relaxed, and we could talk in short-hand, like "think Clapton on the Bluesbreakers, foot against the wall and superkewl," and we both knew what we meant. that guy was gold-dust for me, and I only realised it too late. also, there's no objvective "best" engineer here - find one who's good at your style of sound, one you can get on with, one who seems to know what he's doing for what you want (not some superwhizz who specializes in orchestral recordings, chances are that guy wont have a clue how to record a live band).
with the rise of digital technology, the room is less important than it was. note, less important. it's still important. partly vibe - if you're recording 'live' as a band, then you want a place you feel relaxed/good in while working. some decent ambience is very useful. most important is space - if you're all gonna record 'live' in one room, getting enough space so you can mic the instruments properly so you get as little spill from one instrument into the mics on another instrument is crucial - this will enable you to get a good mixdown on your work.
also, for vocals, the microphones ARE important. VERY important. now, most decent studios will have some high class mics (it might be worth checking the mic setup - e.g. do they have Neumann U87s?). high class mics tend to be pretty neutral - they capture the sound from source pretty much as is. if you have a great vocalist, that's great. a neutral mic wil make them sound great. for a not-so-great-but-decent singer, a mic with some warmth might make them sound much better on record. if you can find a recording-quality mic that really sutis your singer, consider buying/hiring/selling your soul for it and take it to the studio. seriously. some mics really suit one singer more than another. take your time looking into this.
spend some time thinking about 'your sound.' if you're happy with it, great. but I've heard tons of decent recordings by bands I quite enjoy live, but on record it all sounds a bit flat and uninsteresting. take some time listening to your record collection, note records that really grab you, in terms of production. really like Led Zep's drum sound? make a note of it. really like the space between instruments in The Doors? make a note of it. this might cause you to rethink how you record things to get 'the best' sound. remember, 'the best sound' on record and live can be very different things (just check any live recordings of bands you like for proof). Hendrix was a master of recognising the studio and stage to be two very different beasts, sonically speaking. also, it'll help your engineer. most bands can't go into the studio and start speaking engineer-speak fluently and accurately. but, you go in and say to your nice god-like engineer, "can we go for that Stevie Ray Vaughan style tone and dynamic range?" and chances are he'll have a fairly good idea what you mean. even having a brief pre-recording meeting with the engineer (like a week or more before) to discuss this kind of thing can dramatically reduce studio delays. make a (fairly short, no 3cd epics, he'll hate you, lol) mix cd of tracks where you like the guitar tone, the drums, whatever, with maybe some notes so he can listen to it and prep the studio accordingly prior to you getting there, or working out the order in which you'll record things. a little decent pre-planning can keep tensions to a minimum and save costly, "uh, why don't we try such-and-such next?" discussions on your paying time.
mixing down. again, personal taste, but I like to leave a day (or more) between recording and mixing. lets you listen with fresh ears and uninfluenced by the relief of having executed all your tracks in the limited time available.if your engineer is good he'll likely be able to mix things for/with you, but you might want to consider getting someone else to do this step. again, fresh ears and all that. also, some guys are just brilliant at mixing, and others more so at the tweaking buttons during recording thing. make sure the mix gets done in a good acoustically neutral room with decent monitors (speakers). make sure you listen to the first "rough mix" on as many different systems as possible and make notes for further tweaking.
sorry if this sound like a rant, but I've tried to stress the things that, imho, will make the biggest difference. hope it helps.
That's great - and a lot to take in, thanks for giving such a detailed answer. We've done one sudio recording before in a different band that none of us were happy with the mix at the end...wasted money :evil:
So we've been looking at the cost of sudio hire versus buying a good quality 4 / 8 track digital recorder (Fostex MR-8HD/CD actually)and having a chop ourselves...at least the time doesn't cost us anything & we can do it again & again over a number of weeks if we don't like the initial cut...
but I can see the emphasis you put on a good engineer, so now I don't know what to do........this is a pickle.
I'll start by getting the amp serviced.....
"Who says you can't 'dive bomb' a bigsby?!"
home recording's great, and a great low-cost (or ongoing cost, rather than huge one-off payout) thng if you wanna record a lot. I've been horribly lax recently, mainly due to rubbish like not having an amp I can record guitar with, and trying to get my computer running optimally, but I do some soundtrack stuff and write a lot even when I'm not in a band, so having a setup at home is useful for me. also, I have an interest and, it seems, an okay ear for a lot of the production stuff (although more arranging and mixing right now than engineer work, I just lack the knwoledge those guys have). if you're that way inclined, it might be worth looking into. if you have a computer, getting a mixer (maybe even one you can use for both live and recording work) and using that might be better than getting a 4/8 track. that said, computers (dpepending on what you have, of course) can be less portable and not without other problems. long term, the computer-route is the way to go (over a dedicated 4/8 track machine) imho, although others may argue differently. if you dogo this route, getting a good mag, like Sound on Sound every month can help you learn how to work in small chunks. ime, SoS is the best mag I've come across for this - most books are out-of-date by the time they go to print, so bear that in mind in the learning process. you could always do both (e.g. studio time, plus a small interface and free recording software for home use while you learn the ropes for future).
yup, a good engineer truly is gold dust. a lot of top producers will work with the same stable of engineers and ,really, those guys should be getting more credit in record production than they do. Douglass, Timbaland's main engineer is amazing, and really dislikes how modern recording has changed the writing/creative process. I'd love to work with him one day.
if you can befriend some good engineers, that's always a boon. :wink:
weigh it up. if the whole band is contributing to buying recording time/gear - how often will it be used, how good are your band members at doing this sort of thing (being a good live sound engineer can be a litmus test for being a good studio engineer, but the two are different, with a whole load of different things to bear in mind, so don't expect miracles, but be grateful if they happen), what is the likely return (i.e. home recording can be great if you're always writing, not selling vast amounts of cd's for your level of playing/working, etc, but if you e.g. wanna shop it to record companies or want to sell a good product, and its a one-off, studio time might be better). that sort of stuff. also, if you're planning to sell a lot of records, think about having the cds professionally mastered - this'll be a better investment (generally) if you've booked studio time and it's gone well, than if you've recorded at home. think about it like you would a business. if the band might break up in the next couple of years, you don't want to all be chipping on on recording gear you then have to sell and split the proceeds of 6 months later, y'know what I mean.
if you do find good people for any stage of the process, keep on good terms with them and keep in contact with them. I learned that one the hard way, lol. I'm a big tube amp fan, and that guy I mentioned recorded me on a solid state amp, but made it sound soooo fat and warm.....I've truly never sounded better recorded than when I worked with him. there are a few others guy who, if chance had it I got the opportunity to hit Abbey Road tomorrow with an unlimited budget, they'd be on my call-list, because they do their jobs well adn we get on so well the process goes more smoothly and quickly. same goes for amp and guitar techies and not just for recording.
and remember, whichever way you go about it, to have fun. and tell your friends "sorry guys, I can't hang out then, I'm in the studio" (even if its a home studio, and preferably say this while wearing sunglasses, even if youre indoors, nay, especially if youre indoors, lol). its a better way to spend money (and your weekend) than getting wasted, imho.
oh, yeah, I meant to say.........
don't be afraid to ask (or check websites) about the studio gear when looking for a studio. they expect this from serious/experienced customers. asking "what mics do you have available?" is like going to a restaurant and asking "do you have a vegetarian option?" it's a standard question, so they wont be put out or offended. if they can't immediately rattle off a list (someone who knows what they're doing that is, not some random receptionist, although they should have a spec-list for these calls anyway), have some doubts. you can always post the list here and people will comment. most websites for studios list gear noadays, too. the main things to ask about (again, imho) are the mics and the desk (and whether its digital, analog, or mix of both that they use to record with). make sure the quote you get includes using the good gear (IIRC some studios will list their top-end gear, but they'll charge a higher price for using it than the standard few-day-band-rates they do).
engineers (and mixers, perhaps more so) do tend to have 'favourite studios' (or sometimes just one. that's why looking for what engineers are tied to a place is important. and don't be afraid to ask what engineers they have, if there are different prices for different guys (there often is, depending on their skills), and even an email of their resumes (or brief run-down of major work). again, that's considered a pretty standard and understandable request. if you can listen to the work they've done, great. and don't be put off by the acts they've worked with. Parr St studios in Liverpool does a lot of pop music work, the engineers there have worked with 'bands' (i.e. girl groups and the like) which I hate, like Atomic Kitten. But the records will have some strong guitar sounds, or other sounds, and they've often worked their backsides off getting the vocals to sound good. finding someone who knows your genre is good, but most enineers have eclectic tastes and even more eclectic resumes, so listen to the 'mechanics' of their recorded work, not how good the riff is.
again, I've probably stated some obvious things, and/or in a bit of a rantish way, but I'd rather convey as much key info as possible and risk offending slightly than miss out on potentially useulf (and money-saving) stuff, so I hope you understand the lax tone of this is just me focussing more on completing my mental-checklist than trying to write civilly, lol.
Now, I will qualify this opinion the statement that I am no expert but I have played around in a decent studio, I've recorded myself, and I've recorded in a home studio that was of excellent quality.
IMHO, if you have the money to do it right then I think that building a good quality home set up is best. Many of the reasons are obvious: re-recording something to your hearts content, flexible schedule. The thing is that the cost of equipment has come down so much that you can put together something very nice for much less than you used to. Will it be professional studio quality? Maybe, probably not. But will it be good enough to sell and hand out as a demo? It very well could be if you put care into it.
I didnt like studio recording. I felt rushed and I felt very disconnected from the engineer and from the studio itself. Of course, I was very much a newb, I was young, and I wasnt (still am not) very good. Me recording myself at home works pretty good but the quality really isnt there. But my buddy's home studio is awsome. I'd love to build something like that some day.
“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn” - David Russell (Scottish classical Guitarist. b.1942)
I guess I'm seeing the home-studio as a long term thing, where we can blow the same amount in a couple of days in the studio & maybe still not be happy? I'm reseaching studios too, by picking local ones of CD's of local bands I like, so I'll see how that goes. Last time was not good. Red House came out sounding like country & western (yup, it's possible - I didn't think it was) so we 'aint going back to that guy!! I guess the other attraction of home is the atmosphere, the time & the control.
the disc is reall just to record some of our own sounding stuff, hopefully sell a few at gigs (basically for cost, to get ourselves out there) & flip a few to the local community radio stations & see what happens.
Oh yeah, & the core members have been playing together in various outfits for ten years, so I don't think we'll split anytime soon :wink:
(Plus one of them is my old man) Don't care what anyone says, it's tre cool to play in a blues band with your dad. 8)
"Who says you can't 'dive bomb' a bigsby?!"