Friday, August 3, 2012

Planning a formal recording session

A recording session doesn't casually fall together, unless you own every single last item to accomplish everything that the project demands in terms of instruments and electronics. I happen to be running around at the last minute trying to set up every last detail so I can prepare in advance and record when the time comes. I hate to even plan an event and struggle with the fine points right up until the "red light goes on".

The best laid plans always get screwed around by unforseen trouble, or gremlins in the works, so short of that we can tie down some details without fail. First of all, unless you're using a drum sampler or some other other rhythm machine/source, a drumset, sticks, cymbals and stands, and a full complement of dynamic and condenser mics are essential to applying the spit and polish that comes from choosing to use a real drumkit as opposed to plonking buttons for rhythmic emphasis on a song. I much prefer the sound of real drums on a recording, they are undisputably the go-to choice for my kind of music. For deep reggae or hip hop you might purposely go more electronic, but for my recording dollar the real drums are my ticket to ride.

Next, there must be a quality multitrack recorder, whether analog or digital, to capture the raw tracks to be blended and combined correctly and without introducing noise to the system. Ever since the digital revolution some engineers have preferred digital over analog recording gear, while others still use the large 2" reel recorders to great effect, and wouldn't switch to digital if they were given the gear. Others recognize the sheer ease in which the most modern digital gear responds to the demands of the studio, in the heat of the session, cutting down wasted time and clutter. It really is half and half, those having a specific preference know digital excels at silent, distortion-free capture of tracks with little or no crosstalk as the tracks are separated and combined. There are countless ways to combine the two processes so as to get the best of both worlds as the session progresses.

Having the right effects is essential if your tracking session is magically going to transition into a mixing session. Having easy-to-use, high-qualty effects puts the wonderland of enhancers and additives at your fingertips, and the easier they are laid out the more of that precious time can be saved as the sweetening process takes place.

I usually try to have one serious vintage guitar to be my go-to instrument in a rock and roll/singer/songwriter-type session, which comprise the majority of my recording efforts. Sometimes when I sit down to demo some ideas, songwrite or just noodle to see what combinations are going to permeate my songs, I like to play a vintage guitar that's well-set-up and in tune. I have a number of others, one for each major need but I prefer to use a timeless, iconic axe. It can be particularly inspiring to the process.

Finally, vocals need serious attention as they get recorded, as the instrument has a human (read imperfect) connection to the creative process. The voice must be maintained over the space of a long hurry-up-and-wait session full of fits and starts, and it's as sensitive as the latest processors (and maybe more). Proper maintenance and common sense care of the pipes is a big element of finishing a project with just the right amount of vocal flair, regardless of style. The overall success of the entire project hinges on the proper synergy of all these variables, and more.

I'm in the songwriting phase now, as all the gear procurement has taken place, at least what I can afford at the time! Long, arduous and expensive are these undertakings, and they get more planned and complicated as time goes on. People can record an album in a home recording studio, where 20 years ago, this would have been impossible. Put more variables in their hands, at their disposal, and the details can mount to a staggering level if not kept in check. That's why it's good to have a third party to do the engineering of the session, and even a fourth to try to take most of the logistical strain off the talent. Not always possible, as desireable as it may seem!

More tomorrow on the continuing progress. Keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

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