Michigan Minstrel Music LLC

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Recording 101: A Primer on Recorded Music -- Part 4

By John F. Sase, Ph.D.

Howard Hertz, Contributing Author

Gerard J. Senick, Contributing Writer and Editor

Producing Recorded Music (Part C)

If you are not acting as your own producer and/or engineer, make the time with this person(s) to share your vision, needs, and concerns in advance. Use this time to go over production notes, equipment requirements, and other mundane items before the session commences. Everyone involved should understand the depth and scope of their responsibilities before the session begins. Delays eat up time for all and… Time Is Money. Therefore, make sure that you are on the same page with your producer and engineer.

Furthermore, note the limitations of the studio and its equipment. It is wise to know the kind and amount of tracks, microphones, signal processors, and other essentials. If you plan to use any unfamiliar equipment, make the time to research it. If possible, work with this equipment beforehand. A recording session is no place for unpleasant surprises. For optimal planning, you should know of any limitations in case you need to simplify your planned mix.

When the red recording light goes on, it is important to be technically precise in performance in order to remain within budget. However, bear in mind that we are making art. Playing with feeling and emotion from the heart is of paramount importance. Producing art commercially requires walking a fine line between the pragmatic and the ethereal. As a result, the genius in producing music is 99% perspiration.

Work with the technology, not against it. Generally, it is best to keep playing through a flop rather than to stop and start over. Part of the art of recorded music is “punching in” a short section of retake or digitally copying and molding a few notes into the track in a seamless manner. As long as most of the take has the necessary artistic integrity, the pragmatism of “time is money” works out.

In shaping the sound, remain focused on the lead line that prevails at the time. Usually, the vocal takes the lead except during intros, outros, and solos. Developing the accompaniment against a preliminary take of the lead line is a way to achieve a fluent and natural sound. Also, such an accompaniment provides a solid understructure that gives flexibility and independence to the musician who is rerecording the final takes of the lead lines. This being said, it remains most economical to achieve a desired sound during the original tracking. Usually, it is more costly to return to a mix in order to rebuild or repair parts of it before the final mix-down to stereo. It is better to record clean and then to add effects and other “sweetening” afterwards.

Treat the production of recorded music with the same regard with which any other successful professional or business entrepreneur would treat their concerns. As in many competitive markets, the revenue per downloaded track or CD collection remains relatively constant across the span of all artists. The album Born This Way by Lady Gaga, one of the top-ten sellers of the year, hit the market at an equivalent retail price as the album MDNA by Madonna, one of the bottom ten. As a result, the economic task of controlling the profit per unit falls fully on the cost side of the equation. Since music production is mostly about time cost, any action that can safely shave cost without destroying the integrity and quality of the product should be considered seriously. Note: these actions include keeping guests out of the session, making backup copies of takes frequently, and keeping thoroughly written notes throughout the course of the project.

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