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Practical Handbook for the Working Musician, Part 5: Studio Time -- Part 1
June 12, 2022

by Mike Mindel. This article was originally published on HVmusic around the year 2000.

Here are some of the many things to consider before you go into the studio and spend your hard-earned money to record your tunes. The more clearly you have your project laid out in your mind, the more efficient you'll be in the studio and the less money you'll waste needlessly. The first and most important question to ask yourself is this: What do I intend to do with this recording? If you are making it to impress your girlfriend/boyfriend, save your money and use a 4-track cassette recorder. It will still sound pretty damn good compared to setting up a boom box up in the middle of the room. If you are making a demo to solicit record companies, a little better quality is needed, but you still don't necessarily have to go top-line. If you are self-producing a recording to be sold at gigs on CD, think about going digital.

The recording medium: Nowadays, there are quite a variety of mediums to record your tracks to. In the analog department, there is, in order from lowest to highest quality, 4 track cassette, 8 track cassette, 8 track reel to reel, 24 track reel to reel. As a general rule, the wider the tape is, the higher the fidelity will be. In the digital world, there is DAT tape (2 track), 4 and 8 track mini-disk, ADAT or 8mm compact tapes (8,24,32 tracks or more), and hard disk recording. DAT stands for digital audio tape. In layman's terms, digital means CD quality recordings. Most studios have more than one choice of recording mediums and often charge different hourly rates for each, the better ones being more expensive per hour.

The end product: In this category, the common choices are cassette tape, DAT tape or CD. Cassettes are good because most people can hear your recording in the most places. The car, the house or anywhere a boom box goes. They are also the least expensive to mass duplicate. DAT tapes are more common for commercial projects. With most of the music I do for radio, TV or video, the client wants a DAT tape as their end product. DAT tape is also an excellent medium to have your mixed master on, as are recordable CD's. CD' s are becoming commonplace now as an end product, even for local bands selling their recordings. Many area studios can now make 'CD one-off's'. Using a recordable CD player, they can give you your mastered project on a CD, which should be suitable to send to a duplicating company to mass-produce CD's or tapes. One-offs typically cost between $40 and $70 each. You wouldn't use this method to mass-produce CD's, but you can take home a finished mix of your tunes and listen to what they sound like on your home stereo before you commit to a final mix. I highly recommend you do this. The $50 bucks or so you spend on it is relatively small compared to the total studio bill, but it is the best way to get an accurate idea of what your mix sounds like before it's too late to change it.

Saving Time: If you haven't spent time recording in a studio before, be prepared for a new experience with the passing of time. Things take time in the studio. MUCH more time than you might expect. If you are looking for near perfection, plan on a few takes of each song. Then there are the countless overdubs to fix all the anomalies the studio setting reveals. Bad timing, a missed drum hit, a flat note in the vocals. You may also want to overdub extra vocal, keyboard, percussion or guitar tracks. Know before you get on studio time if you will be doing overdubs for extra parts. Play and rehearse them in advance to make sure the parts works and the players have them down. Remember that a studio charges you for their time. Once you start, the clock is ticking whether you are recording tracks, setting up the drum kit, getting the guitar sound you want, going to the bathroom, arguing with a musician over how to play a part, eating lunch, making a beer run, or anything else that may happen in the normal course of a day at the studio. Unless you have an unlimited budget to record, I highly recommend that you sit down with all the musicians involved in the recording and impress upon them the value of time and keeping focused on the task at hand. You'd be suprised how much time is needlessly wasted, all of which falls under the category of lack of focus of the business at hand. The studio is a very expensive place to socialize and tell tall tales. Save it for your next gig.

Keeping Time: Speaking of time, how about keeping time. In the studio you can play to a 'click track'. This is a click you hear in your headphones as you record, to keep the tempo from rushing or slowing down. If you are going to use a click track in the studio, make sure the players are accustomed to playing to it in advance. Spend a few rehearsals playing the tunes you are going to record in the studio to a click track. You can do this with an electronic metronome or if the keyboard player has an onboard sequenc er, use that click. Most important, record yourself and listen back to find out where the timing problems lie. Correct them before you get in the studio.

Next month we'll continue with more stuff you should know before you go into the studio.


Musician Joke:

Those of you who have spent studio time with a record producer or producer-engineer will appreciate this one. Those of you who haven't will have to wait until next month for a joke you can tell your musician friends and claim credit for.

How many producers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
I don't know, what do YOU think?
(I told you)


Mike Mindel has been a professional musician for over 40 years and is currently a member of The Bills Toupee Band.

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