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Recording 101: A Primer on Recorded Music -- Part 2

By John F. Sase, Ph.D.

Howard Hertz, Contributing Author

Gerard J. Senick, Contributing Writer and Editor

…without ado, we present “A Primer on Recorded Music” for your reading pleasure.

Producing Recorded Music

In starting, it is good to make a “low-fi” recording at every rehearsal and gig. Often, performers use a pocket digital recorder, the type employed to record lectures and meetings. As the newer digital models can hold six hours or more, one can turn it on and let it be. If the material and its performance sound acceptable under such primitive conditions, the recording passes the 1960s pocket-transistor-radio test. Importantly, any verbal notes about changes to song structure or arrangements will be included for future reference.

A digital video recorder serves well for the same purpose. In the world of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the video recording also provides an excellent scratch track. Being able to watch and follow movement and changes frees musicians, producers, and engineers from the old mechanical-sounding click track and helps to achieve a more natural and expressive feel in the multi-track overdubbing process.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page acted as the band’s producer. He got massive drum sounds from drummer John Bonham by recording him in the hall of Page’s medieval home, Hedley Grange. Forests, beaches, living rooms, practice rooms, bathrooms, and other places provide wonderful places to experiment and develop new musical parts. Generally, the recording studio does not. Even if you have your own studio that allows you to work off of the clock, it is usually best to do the work-up somewhere else, just to maintain perspective. In the early 1950s, guitarist Les Paul invented multi-track, sound-on-sound recording--with the assistance of his friend, crooner Bing Crosby--in Paul’s garage. In an interview, Paul emphatically stated, “I never walk over to that machine until I know what I’m going to do and I never use the machine to find it. I find it and then go to the machine and use it. I never let the machine tell me. I tell the machine what to do.” (Advice from Les Paul for Recording Music, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHa_LlZxqyI&feature=share&list=UUJzp3qY-uZNhCzlUD1MQ-Uw)

Therefore, prepare all of your instrumental and vocal parts in advance and develop a work schedule that includes contingency plans when you enter the studio, which is the final place in which you may be able to maintain creative control. If you need to make last-minute changes, you can keep them to a minimum in order to avoid excessive pressure and confusion during a session.

We can borrow a good parallel of detailed planning from the motion-picture industry, the one that interfaces the most with recorded music. Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock worked as a director in the studio system. He was responsible not only for his own time but for the time of many other professionals working together on the same project. In advance of shooting, “Hitch” storyboarded every shot of a scene before stepping onto the sound stage. For example, in the famous shower scene in the film Psycho starring Janet Leigh, there are fifty-two individual shots in the course of three minutes and ten seconds (Famous Shower Scene from Psycho (1960) Dissected in 52 Shots, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBAMzmQ2SqQ&feature=share&list=UUJzp3qY-uZNhCzlUD1MQ-Uw). The master storyboardist worked out every detail, including chocolate syrup for blood, and framed each shot in advance of rolling the cameras. A major part of Hitchcock’s greatness came from his ability to maintain creative control in exchange for tight management of budget through planning. Planning pays when time is money.

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