Resources, Tips, and much more!
RECORDING SESSION GUIDE
So, I've put together a collection of tips that will hopefully make the process much easier and productive so you can hopefully produce a recording that you can be proud of. I've divided them into two different categories: the recording process and the editing process (they usually happen on different days).
The Recording Process
- 1. It's all about the preparation
- 2. Book as much time as you need and then some
- 3. Use a take sheet (download the PDF at the bottom)
- 4. Use the +/- system for grading takes.
- 5. Slate takes out loud.
- 6. Have another set of ears at your sessions.
- 7. Relax!
Prepare for everything involved in the recording process from having pencils to take sheets, water bottles, etc. Most importantly, make all of your musical decisions ahead of time. Rehearse with your pianist the amount of time you need to play your best. Work out everything with them ahead of time so you don't waste time rehearsing instead of recording. If you're not prepared musically and physically, don't record.
The last thing you want to have happen is you run out of time during a session, causing you to rush and not get the best out of your session. Book more time than you think you need. You'd be surprised at how picky you can get when you get in the thick of a session. You want to make sure you have time to be picky.
General rule of thumb is to book an hour for every 2 minutes of music you plan to record. For a 6 minute piece, book 3 hours. Some producers would say book more, but I feel like if you're recording just you and piano and you need more than that, you're either doing too many takes or you're not prepared enough ahead of time.
You'd be surprised at how many students I've recorded who had no take sheet or any form of note taking at their recording session. Imagine the amount of time they wasted listening to takes afterward with no clear strategy. Take copious notes throughout the session. Don't just trust that you'll remember. When you do 100 takes in a session, you loose track very quickly which ones are good and which ones were unusable.
It's a very simple concept that keeps things organized and easy to find the good takes when you go back and listen to takes. You can quickly eliminate the unusable takes and find the keepers. Simply put a + by a take that is usable and - by the ones that aren't. Just add + signs to the ones that are your best takes. In other words, a +++ take would be a must use take. The other takes with + signs would just be other options. This is the quickest way to grade takes when you're strapped for time in the actual session.
You can also be more specific by putting + and - signs followed by either measure numbers or whole sections. In other words + 42 through 45 would mean you have a great take of measures 42 through 45. It's all about the short hand to keep things moving.
Always slate takes out loud to make sure there's no confusion between what's on your take sheet and what you actually recorded. Make sure you say what take it is followed by the section that you're recording just to make sure there's as much quality control as possible. It will save you so much time later if you're very proactive about this.
It's not an easy task to play at a high level during a recording session all the while keeping track of good and bad takes in real time. It's always good to have another set of ears that you trust to follow along in the score and make separate notes during the session. They can also give you comments and suggestions in real time making sure that you've covered everything in the piece. Just make sure their notes are similarly organized. Have them use the same type of take sheet you use and have them use the same +/- system.
Try to relax as much as you possibly can during the session. If you begin to get frustrated and run into a wall on a particular take, just take a break. Come back fresh and take a deep breath. The more relaxed you are, the more you'll get the best out of the session. There's always a certain sense of stress during a session, but the more you do to prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about during the session, leaving you to just relax and record at your best.
The Editing Process
#1 Using the +/- and the notes, eliminate the unusable takes quickly. If you took good enough notes, this will not be very hard.
#2 Have the engineer cut up all of the takes for you and put them on a CD
#3 Listen to them carefully and map out when and where you want to splice (if you are planning on splicing) and with exactly what takes. Try to be as specific as possible so as not to cause confusion when you meet with the engineer.
#4 Bring the sheet to your engineer and edit it with him. Keep in mind not every splice may work perfectly. However, if you follow the tips for splicing I layed out above, you shouldn't have any problems.
#5 Make sure you listen to the final product on different speakers. It will sound very different on your car speakers compared to the ones in the studio. Speakers are actually just microphones backwards. They all have different sonic qualities. The key is to try and mix your recordings so that you have as much transferability as possible - in other words the difference in sound from one speaker to the next is minimal.