Michigan Minstrel Music LLC

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Recording 101: A Primer on Recorded Music -- Part 3

By John F. Sase, Ph.D.

Howard Hertz, Contributing Author

Gerard J. Senick, Contributing Writer and Editor

Producing Recorded Music (Part B)

Let’s return to the recording studio. It is a good idea to have more material prepared than you intend to record. Life happens. Sometimes, with a bit of good fortune, you move through the tracking faster than expected. At other times, a piece does not come together satisfactorily. When this happens, the piece needs to be shelved until it can be reworked. Given the time and physical cost of preparation, travel, and coordinating the schedules of the producer, recording engineer, musicians, and other participants in a session, contingency plans constitute a valuable asset. On this point, the Time-Is-Money factor spills over to the matter of equipment by having spare cables, batteries, and fuses available on short notice. One of Murphy’s Laws states that such items have the notoriety to fail at critical times.

When it comes to recording, experience remains one of the best teachers. Practicing against previously recorded tracks that one will hear during the actual recording session is often the most economical way to prepare for a take. Usually, sound-on-sound projects will gel best when they are built upon percussion that is recorded against a scratch and/or click track. Then, the track is followed upward through the spectrum of pitch (lowest to highest frequency) with the addition of bass, keyboards, guitars, background vocals, and other instruments before the lead instrument or vocal is tracked. Offering an instrumentalist or vocalist a copy of the best mix to date without the scratch or click tracks (i.e., the one that s/he will record against), saves confusion, frustration, and time. This work mix allows the musician to develop parts creatively and to get acclimated to nuances of tempo, rhythm, and volume before the session. Usually, this results in more productive takes and fewer of them. The additional cost to the project for this preparation is the minor cost of burning a CD or making an MP3 copy of the mix. The benefit of time saved for all involved far outweighs this cost.

Whether or not you are paying out of pocket for studio time, you are making an investment of your own time as well as the time of other musicians, producers, engineers, and techies working together on the project. Therefore, everyone should show up, should arrive on time, and, if possible, should get there a bit early. The studio is a professional work environment. Please give the other music professionals the same respect and courtesy that you would give to your attorney, medical doctor, or dentist. If you must delay, postpone, or cancel, please do so in a timely manner. Professional time for postponements or cancellations is usually twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Equal to the importance of showing up and starting on time is to know when to stop work on individual tracks as well as on the session as a whole. Tiredness is a vague and relative term. However, sensing the point at which the marginal net benefit of tracking an additional take reaches zero is a professional trait worth developing.

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