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Recording Session Advice…And All That Jazz

December 4, 2012

I recently decided that I wanted to record a demo with my jazz band. We have been performing and booking gigs for a little while now, and we started to feel like maybe we could expand our horizons if we had a professional demo to give to prospective employers. I have only professionally recorded one song before, and it was in a friend’s studio. I never realized just how much goes into recording a demo until I was planning it myself. I thought this might be helpful, not only for those of you who are singers, but also for those of you who are writing your own shows/material and are planning to independently record your show’s soundtrack. Here was my strategy.

WHERE: 

My first task was to figure out where we were going to record. The guitarist I worked with gave me a few recommendations, which helped a lot. After calling these recommended studios, I learned something that surprised me. A lot of recording studios are privately owned, and will not give you their exact location until you have booked with them. Personally, I didn’t love this idea. I understand client confidentiality, but I have to know whether my musicians can easily get to the studio! I had one musician coming from Manhattan and two from Brooklyn. One could drive to the studio, whereas the other two were relying on public transportation. If I don’t know the location of the recording studio, I have no idea whether a train/bus/other form of public transportation even runs close. After researching more studios, I finally settled on one which was not privately owned. They displayed their address on their website, and also offered a free consultation. I really liked this idea, because I knew it would help to actually see the studio and speak with the audio engineer before the session. So I called in and scheduled a free consultation for the guitarist and me to come take a look. We were very pleased with the studio, audio engineer, and price of their services (which is also very important). I contacted the other musicians after the consultation and discussed a date. We all settled on a date, and I contacted the studio to book the space.

WHEN:

When booking a recording studio, you should always ask what deals they are offering. Most times, they offer some sort of package deal (e.g.: 2 hours + 1 hour free). We were told that if we booked the studio from 10am-noon, we would get a third hour free. We were also informed to ask for one hour of cushioning afterwards, just in case we needed it. That way, the studio wouldn’t book a band immediately after our session.

REHEARSAL: 

We scheduled a rehearsal prior to the recording session. That way we could go through the songs we planned to record and make sure we were on the same track. It would save time the day of the recording. Time is money, after all. We took notes and made sure we had a few extra tunes, just in case we needed them. The guitarist would also be supplying charts for the other musicians.

BURNING THE TRACKS:

Since I have never professionally recorded before, I was not aware that you needed an external hard drive to copy the tracks onto after your session. I assumed the audio engineer would simply burn the finished tracks onto a CD, and that would be it! However, during the free consultation, we were informed that you should bring an external hard drive. That way they can copy each individual instrument track onto the drive, and if you ever want to go back and fix anything, you can. If it’s all just burned onto a CD, there is no way of editing the tracks. I asked if I could use a thumb drive. The audio engineer said you could, but it would take an extra 20+ minutes, and he recommended an external hard drive.

I don’t own an external hard drive. So, I had to go about purchasing one. I called the recording studio to see if they had any suggestions as far as a brand, GB size, etc. They gave me a few brand suggestions and said anything around 60-100 GBs would do. When it comes to the space size on the hard drive, it all depends on how many songs you are recording. We were planning to record 6 or 7 songs. I looked online and finally settled on the Seagate Expansion 500 GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive. I am a Mac user, so I definitely had to make sure the drive was Mac compatible. Also, the computer used at the recording studio was a Mac. So that was very important. The external drive arrived a few days prior to the recording session, and I was able to try it out on my computer. Apparently, the hard drive I chose is not automatically compatible with Mac. After going into the Time Machine application on my computer, erasing the documents on the drive, and rebooting it to be compatible with Mac – it was all set. Don’t worry, it sounds a lot harder than it is. It was just a matter of clicking a few buttons, and my computer guided me through all the steps.

THE SESSION:

The day of the session, I tried to be as prepared as possible. I drank hot tea, sucked on lozenges, vocalized in the shower, etc. I got to the studio early, but waited outside for the other musicians, since the studio had a policy about your session beginning as soon as you enter. Once the musicians arrived, we were isolated in different booths for the best sound quality. There was a camera in each booth and a big monitor screen so we could see each other. I could also see the guitarist in the next booth, since there was only a sliding glass door in between our booths. I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible for the recording. I brought a bottle of water, asked for a stool, and wore my fluffy scarf. The session went really well, and everyone did a great job! We recorded for 2 hours, and then the bassist left, leaving the guitarist and me to work with the audio engineer. There was just one song that I decided to go back in and dub over, because I wanted to sing it differently. Everything went smoothly, and the tracks were all transferred onto the external hard drive. The audio engineer also burned a CD for us so we had a hardcopy.

TROUBLESHOOTING: 

When you are working on any project, you have to be prepared for things to go wrong. When things do go wrong, don’t stress out. Take a deep breath and figure out the best way to solve the problem. Although everything went very smoothly, there was one big problem that occurred at the beginning of our session. We were supposed to have 4 instruments recording – vocals, guitar, bass, and trumpet. However, the trumpet player didn’t show. At first, I didn’t know what to do. I spoke with the guitarist, and we agreed to simply record the songs as planned, leaving space for the trumpet to be dubbed in at a later time. Sadly, I will now have to find another trumpet player and book the studio again. I don’t know how I would avoid this problem reoccurring in the future, since I did confirm with both the bass and trumpet player prior to the recording session. They had all the information they needed, including the address, time, etc. These things happen. I am definitely glad we have the tracks on the external hard drive now, because we will need them in order to dub in the trumpet.

I hope this post was helpful. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them! Also, if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them. Good luck!

“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.” – Henry Van Dyke

The Growing Artist Signature

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2012 8:58 am

    Very helpful, thank you.

    • The Growing Artist permalink
      December 29, 2012 11:47 pm

      Thank you very much for commenting! I’m glad you found this post helpful. Have a great new year!

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