The Recording Process

What happens during the recording process?

I often get email messages asking us about the recording process. What should be expected? How long should it take?

Hopefully I will be able to answer a lot of your questions here. However, it is first important to realize that every project can be a little different and there aren’t set standards to how it has to be done. However, after recording hundreds of groups, these are some of the methods that I use and have found to work best.

Should We Record Together or Separately?

Unless you are a studio musician with years of experience recording in the studio. Or unless your band has been playing for over 2 years and everyone’s playing and timing is rock solid, I recommend that you record separately. Read this link to see why.

Where to Start.

You should start with recording the most percussive instrument in your arrangement. In most cases, this will be drums or percussion. This is because percussive instruments are very definite and clear on their timing. So when other instruments start stacking on top of the first instrument, they are able to tell exactly where they need to match up. Rhythm guitars are usually not good to start with. This is because a strum of a chord is very indecisive as to where exactly the timing is. Is the beat the initial part of the strum? Is it half-way through the strum? Or is the beat the tail end of the strum? It varies in context and therefore blurs the exact timing. So if other instruments stack on blurred timing, then the end result is a not so tight recording.

In most cases, the drummer or percussionist may not know the song well enough to be able to play without other instruments because they may not know the exact song form. This is the exact reason that there is often a need for a scratch track.

A scratch track is generally a simple recording of the song with as few instruments as possible to act as a temporary guide for the recording. Often it consists of a guitar and vocals playing to a click track. Because it will not end up in the final recording, there is no need for the scratch track to be high quality. However, it is important that the track is as solid as possible with the timing to the click track(metronome). To save costs, many bands record their own scratch tracks at home with Garage Band or some simple recording program and bring the WAV/mp3 version to the studio with the click track tempo noted. Creating a scratch track previous to the studio can also be helpful to the drummer because he can practice to it before he comes into the studio. In some cases, bands will create the scratch track in the studio.

So now that the scratch track is ready to go. The first person records to the scratch track and then their recording is carefully time corrected to maintain the feel, yet be rock solid. After this process, the scratch track is tucked away and only used for reference if needed. That way everybody can concentrate on lining up to the first instrumentalist and have something to lock into.

The initial steps usually take a good chunk of time, but after these steps are done properly, the rest of the recording process up to the vocals glides along quickly and effectively.

The Rest of the Band.

The next step varies depending on the song, but isn’t as crucial as the first step. Often the next choice is based on whoever plays the “meat” of the song. Often this could be piano or guitar and sometimes it might even be bass. However, we highly recommend saving the vocals for the very end.

Vocals.

Once the music tracks are in place, it is time for the vocals. The reason why vocals are best at the end is because the final arrangement will effect the way that the singer sings. You want to have everything in place so that the singer’s emotion will respond appropriately to the different parts of the music.

The method for recording vocals probably differs the most between vocalists. However, in most cases, I have found that doing at least 3 solid takes all the way through the song is best. In many cases, the third take is the magic take and successive takes start to diminish.

After the three or so takes are finished, we finalize the lead vocal track. We sort through the takes and put the best of the three takes together. Then we import that track into pitch correction software and make sure the pitch is solid throughout the track.

After the Lead vocal is done, then any vocal doubles, harmony tracks and etc. are recorded. Sometimes we will stack vocals many times to create choir effects and etc.

Final Production, Mixing and Mastering.

After the vocals are done and all planned tracks are recorded, it is a great idea to take a step back and see how the song is paying off. Sometimes it is obvious that something is still missing in the chorus or the bridge and etc. This is also the time to add any really cool ear candy effects. All of these extra production tweaks can really help pull the song together.

After the final production ideas are all put together, then the song goes into final mixing and mastering. I prefer doing the primary mixing without the band being present. This allows me to go through and adjust the EQ’s, Compressors, balance between tracks, placement of tracks and etc. Unless you plan to send your song to a mastering facility, I will go ahead and master the track as well.

I will then give the mix to the band for review. It is common that there are still some tweaks that the band will want to the song. At this point, we will get together and make these changes until everyone is happy.

Estimated Time.

I get lots of people asking about how much time it takes to record a song. It is a difficult question to answer because it varies considerably between artist and band. However, I have listed some of the average times as well as the breakdown on these sessions.  I have done my best to be as accurate as possible, but considering every situation is different, I can not guarantee these times will be the same in every situation.  Many artists and bands think they are way faster than these times and later realize that these are actually pretty accurate.

Proficient Band with average size arrangement and live drums. 7 hours. (6 hours for each additional song when drums are recorded back to back)

  • 1 hour drum set-up/tuning, microphone placement, setting levels, setting up session and etc. (This hour is irrelevant on subsequent songs when you are recording drums for additional songs back to back)
  • 30 minutes recording about 3 takes for the drums
  • 30 minutes editing and correcting any timing issues – Critical step for creating a solid foundation for the rest of the recording.
  • 1.5 hours guitar, piano, bass overdubs and any production ideas.  Includes doubling many guitar tracks, editing mistakes and errors, finding great tones, set-up of guitar rigs, finding keyboard patches, recording solos etc.  Basically recording the meat of the arrangement.
  • 1.5 hours vocals.  Includes recording about 3 vocal takes, choosing the best takes and splicing them together, and doing pitch correction.  Also includes recording some simple harmonies and pitching them properly.  It may take longer on songs with many vocal harmonies and tracks.
  • 1.5 hours Mixing and Mastering.  Usually done after the band goes home.  Includes adjusting EQ’s, compressors, Effects and getting the mix to gel together as well as express emotion and be well balanced.  Mastering includes the final touches of the overall sound of the mix.  Mastering is essential to making sure your mix sounds commercial and great on different playback systems.
  • .5 hours final mix and production tweeks.  A band generally wants a few final changes after they get back a first mix of their project.

Proficient Band with average size arrangment and V-Drums. 6 hours.

  • Same as above minus the first 1 hour drum set-up/tuning step.

Individual artists that are mainly using virtual instruments. 4-5 hours

  • 30 minutes recording some basic tracks to work with
  • 45 minutes percussion and rhythm tracks
  • 1 hour 45 minutes fleshing out other arrangement ideas
  • 1.5 hours vocals.  Same as explained above for bands.
  • 30 minutes final mixing and mastering (same as above, but less time needed for virtual instruments)

Acoustic Recording (shakers, 1-2 acoustic guitars, lead vocal and harmony). 3 hours.

  • 15 minutes setting up session, tuning creating shaker rhythm tracks/metronome tracks and etc. for a foundation for the tracks.
  • 45 minutes recording acoustic guitar.  You will often want to double your guitar part.
  • 1.5 hours vocals.  Same as explained above for full bands.
  • 30 minutes mixing and mastering (same as explained in band section, but less time needed for smaller arrangements)

Karaoke Recording (pre-recorded track, lead vocal and harmony). 1 – 2 hours.

  • 15 minutes setting up session, microphone, levels and etc.
  • 1.5 hours vocals. Same as explained above for bands.
  • 15 minutes mixing and mastering (same as explained in band section, but less time needed for small session)