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Recording an Album

by Bill Brennan

Recording an album is a very exciting experience. You put many hours into the creation of your music, and you want to share it with others. You also want your music to sound the way you hear it. There are many steps in this process of recording. The most important are taken before stepping through the studio door.

1. Make sure you are committed to the recording, and if you are a band, make sure each of you is committed to the group. You are going to spend a fair chunk of change to record, market and possibly tour this recording. You have to respect one another. You have to play well together. You have to have chemistry. You have to be able to stay together.

2. Be well rehearsed! Making a record can be expensive. The more prepared you are, the more money you will save and the better your product will be. Any inconsistencies become extremely apparent in the recording process. Take the time to make sure everyone knows his or her parts. Everyone should be able to sing and play his or her parts on their own.

3. Prior to going into the studio, make sure you are comfortable with playing and singing with headphones. Make sure you are comfortable singing vocal parts without playing your instrument. Make sure you can sing and play your parts without variation (this may come in very handy when punching in or overdubbing). If you are planning on recording to a click track, then practice playing with a click track. In essence, try and realise what the recording atmosphere will be like and make sure you have that experience so that there are no surprises. Record your rehearsals; listen back and be critical and analytical.

4. You may want to consider having a producer. This person should be someone you totally respect, as well as someone who is very familiar with you and your music. Assuming this person is a professional producer, he or she will have advice on (and should have reasons for) where the record should be recorded, who the engineer should be, how it should be recorded, the "sound" and "vibe" of the recording. The producer should have a recording schedule, and an absolute understanding of your budget.

5. If you are a solo artist (or even a band) and will be using studio musicians for your album there are many things you and your producer should consider.

Prior to going into the studio, ensure your music is arranged and organized. For example, the music and lyrics should be complete. Do your homework with regard to hiring the musicians you feel will best accompany and support you and your songs. Map out your arrangements. Think about what instruments you want, how many vocal parts, what instruments play all the time, what instruments will be used for colour, for solos, and for fills.

With regard to music charts for your musicians, the parts should be notated properly so that the studio musicians can read the music with ease. You need to be able to explain to them what their role is in each song. Even better, indicate this in their charts.

Brass, woodwinds and strings typically require notated parts.

Keyboards, guitar and bass often require a chord chart or lead sheet (a chart with the melody and chords changes). However specific parts may need notation.

Drums and percussion typically require a form chart (a chart which shows the musical composition in sections, often with rhythmic indicators). Once again, specific patterns or fills should be notated.

Background vocalists generally require a lyric sheet and possibly a notated part. All of these steps will save time and money!

Some musicians do not read music. In this case, make rehearsal CDs for them so that they can do their homework without charts.

6. Create a budget. Sit down and figure out all costs. Here are some possible expenses to consider:

Studio rental rates, Engineer's rates, Producer's fees, Possible equipment rental (mikes, pre-amps, etc.), Material costs: hard disc, digital or analog tape? Studio mixing rates, Mixing engineer's rates, Mastering costs, Miscellaneous (courier, food, taxis, etc.), Artwork costs, Photography costs, Manufacturing costs, Marketing costs, Pension Contributions and Work Dues (if you plan to file a CFM Recording contract to generate Sound Recording Special Payments.)

7. Choosing an engineer and studio - Choose an engineer who you feel will understand and capture your sound. A certain engineer may be experienced with recording rock bands but may not be the right person for your jazz combo. Have potential engineers (and studios) play you some of the recordings they have made for other ensembles that are similar to your style of music. This can give you an idea if you and the studio/engineer will be a good fit.

Visit the potential studios. It is so important to feel comfortable with the space. See what equipment they have - choice of studio often depends on the tools they have at their disposal and the reliability and competency of their engineer. You should talk to former clients of the studio and engineer and ask about their experience.

8. Before you step through the studio door make sure you have everything you need: enough recording tape, hard drive space, CDs for rough mixes, etc. Make sure that your instrument and equipment is sounding the best that it can. Bring spare strings, drumheads, and picks; bring your tuner, your water. Make sure the studio has enough track sheets, and collect them after the recording along with the drives/recording tapes. Store everything safely - you may want to remix later.

Be careful of having friends, partners, spouses come to the recording sessions. They can be disruptive.

Look to your producer at moments of frustration. He or she is there to help. For instance, if someone is having difficulty with a part, you should trust your producer to say "let's leave it for today" or "let's get so and so to play that tricky part" or "it isn't crucial to the song" or "it's crucial to the song, but we can simplify it."

In essence, be well prepared to make music in an environment that will cost you money, and then hire a professional engineer and producer who have proven track records.

I can't tell you how many horror stories I have heard from musicians who have tried to do things on the cheap. There are many people out there who have good gear/computer systems but don't know how to use them. If you are professional in your thinking, you will do just fine.