Some Thoughts on Recording Sessions

I had a great time putting this together – it’s good to be combining the role of performer, producer and engineer!

I thought I’d share some ideas on recording that crossed my mind while preparing and putting this little example together:

First thing first, preparation!!  I wasted my own recording time with some poor execution in the recording.  It was another reminder that preparation on behalf of the performer is a most (the most, IMHO) crucial element to a productive session.  

Secondly, it’s important that the performer(s) and producer have a concept of how and where they want every element to sound in the mix.  What do I mean by that?  In classical music, we’re used to hearing a recording that sounds like the stage looks – violins on the left, basses on the right, etc.  Also, what does the perfect violin sound like in your head?  Sometimes we need to move the player and/or the microphone to achieve that sonic goal.

In a studio recording, many times with musicians isolated from one another, or perhaps recording at separate times (overdubbing), there is much more freedom to place the sound wherever the performer(s)/producer desires.

Did you know that in the 1940s recording engineers wore lab coats?  Performers rarely went back to the control room to hear their recording results until they were finished.  There was a separation between scientists (acoustics) and artists (music).  The Beatles were the change agent in this process. They would sit in the control room and listen back to their recordings and bring their artistry into the mix.  Listen to “Yellow Sumbarine” and observe where all the different recorded tracks are placed in the mix (vocals, instruments, sound effects).

Lots of what you hear is achieved by panning the sound signal.  In a mono track (ex. voice recorded with one mic) you can only pan in one direction, but in a stereo track you can pan the left and right channel separately.Panning PictureYou can paint a very wide and assorted sonic picture through playing with these techniques.  This is where your listening equipment comes into play.  If you’re listening on headphones, a single Bluetooth speaker or stereo speakers your perception of these images’ panning width will vary greatly.

So back to point #2 – know what you want your recording to sound like!

Here’s an example: A great friend and colleague of mine is going to be recording Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” with a brass band, and the arrangement splits the band in two.  Brian asked if on the recording we could achieve an antiphonal image…the answer is ‘of course!’  Knowing that ahead of time is great so that the engineer and I can plan the microphone and monitor setup.  That’s a perfect example of the performer knowing what they want their recording to sound like

When it comes to recording, have a predetermined plan of how much time you have and what you want to accomplish in that time.  I’ve seen far too many people (typically amateurs) walk into a recording session without much of a plan.  Here’s a great tip – for every minute of recorded music, plan on 12-15 minutes of recording time.  Obviously that’s a general guideline, but I learned it from a great mentor, Colonel Larry H. Lang, and it’s helped me plan effectively for the sessions I’ve produced.

I could say lots more, but after re-reading what I wrote I think the word ‘preparation‘ sums up my recommendations for anyone planning to record.  Good luck and feel free to post questions/ideas below!

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