The Recording Process

What Happens during the recording process?

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

Hopefully we 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 we 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, we 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 it is very unclear as to where the beat lands on a strummed guitar chord. 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. If other instruments stack on top of a track where the beat is unclear, then you will likely end up with a recording that isn’t as tight.

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 you might want to use a scratch track.

A scratch track is generally a simple recording of the song with few instruments to act as a temporary guide for the recording. It often consists of a guitar and a vocal playing to a click track. Because it will not be included in the final recording, there is no need for the scratch track to be high quality. However, it is important that the track is tight 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.

Once the scratch track is ready to go. The first person records to the scratch track and then their recording is carefully time corrected to be accurate, yet maintain the feel. After this process, the scratch track is no longer used. 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 moves 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. The next instruments could be piano,guitar or bass. However, we highly recommend saving the vocals for the very end.

Vocals

Once the music tracks are in place, then you can move on to vocals. The reason why it is best to wait to do vocals at the end is because the final arrangement will effect the way that the singer chooses to sings. You want to have everything in place so that the singer’s emotion will appropriately match the music.

The method for recording vocals probably differs the most between vocalists. However, in most cases, we have found that getting at least 3 solid takes all the way through the song is best. This can be done by singing all of the way through the song in one take, or you can work on smaller sections at a time. Both methods have their advantages and the approach varies from singer to singer. It is wise to get enough initial takes, but you don’t want to do too many as it is easy to burn out a vocalist.

After the initial takes are recorded, we sort through the takes and put the best of these takes together (known as comping vocals). Sometimes there is still a need to get a few more takes of certain sections. After we are happy with the comped vocal track, we carefully go through the track and do any detailed pitch correction with Melodyne. We are careful to keep the nuances of the vocal performance and only correct the pieces that need correction. For most genres, we are careful to make sure the pitch correction sounds as natural as possible.

After the Lead vocal is done, then any vocal doubles, harmony tracks, group vocals etc. are recorded.

Final Production, Mixing and Mastering

After the vocals are done and all 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 song and we figure out what we could add to make it better. This is also the time to add any ear candy effects. All of these extra production tweaks can help pull the song together.

After the final production ideas are put together, then the song goes into final mixing and mastering. In many cases, we 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, panning, etc. 

We will give the mix back to you for review. It is common that there are still some tweaks needed. It is smart to gather all notes together in one place so that there are not conflicting notes. At this point, we will get together and make these changes. 

Once everyone is happy with the mix, you will want to determine whether you want me to finish the mastering, or if you would like to send off the mix to a mastering engineer. Mastering is essential to making sure your mix sounds commercial and great on different playback systems. We master most of the mixes that come through our studio. In most cases, the mixes you have from us will have some degree of mastering on them so that you will be able to make sure you like how the mix will sound when it is mastered. If you like how everything sounds, you can move ahead with our master. If you would like to take it to a mastering facility, you can request an unmastered version and we can provide that for you. Also, if you are planning duplicating/replicating CD’s, then there is a required mastering phase where we match levels of the songs to each other, program song spacing and add CD programming such as CD text and ISRC codes. 

Estimated Time

We 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, here are some averages that we typically see. We have done our best to be as accurate as possible, but considering every situation is different, we 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 times 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) – We charge for this set-up time, but we don’t charge for clean-up time after the session.
  • 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.
  • 1.5-3 hours for Vocal Production. This depends on how many vocal layers your song requires.
  • 1.5 hours Mixing and Mastering. 
  • .5 hours final mix and production tweeks. A band generally wants a few final changes after they get their first mix back.

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 for a medium to large sized production. 5-8 hours

  • 30 minutes recording some basic tracks to work with
  • 30 – 45 minutes percussion and rhythm tracks
  • 2-3 hours for other instruments (bass, keys, leads, pads, etc)
  • 1.5 -3 hours vocal production. This depends on how many vocal layers your song requires.
  • 1 hour for 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). 2.5-4 hours.

  • 15 minutes setting up session, tuning, setting up microphones, etc.
  • 45 minutes recording acoustic guitar. You will often want to double your guitar part.
  • 1.5-3 hours vocals. This depends on how many vocal layers your song requires.
  • 30 minutes mixing and mastering

Karaoke Recording (pre-recorded track, lead vocal and harmony). 2–2.5 hours.

  • 15 minutes setting up session, microphone, levels and etc.
  • 1.5 -2 hours vocals. This depends on how many vocal layers your song requires.
  • 15 minutes mixing and mastering