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Practical Handbook for the Working Musician, Part 6: Studio Time -- Part 2
July 19, 2022

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

As a continuation of my last article, this article is geared towards those of you who have little or no studio experience, but want to get a jump on what it's all about before you cut your first recording. Last month I talked about things taking much longer in the studio than you might expect. This time around, we'll begin to break down the process into it's basic components, in order to get a better understanding of where the time goes in the recording studio. And I'll try to offer you some tips along the way that may help save you money. This will give you a better understanding of the process and help you anticipate how much time and money it may take you to record your project.

These first two mentions fall into the 'should be obvious but you'd be suprised' category.

Arrive On Time: Getting to a gig or a rehearsal late, it probably won't cost you more than aggravation. Not so in the studio. With most recording studios, the clock starts ticking (and you start spending money) at the time you're scheduled to begin your session, not the time you happen to mosey in. You can be sure if the engineer is there and ready, he's getting paid. And you are paying him! 'Nough said.

Arrive Prepared: Make sure you bring extra patch cables, strings and drumsticks, drum heads, extra batteries and a tuner. If you break a string during your session and have to go to the store to get one, it will be the most expensive set of strings you ver purchased!

Setup-- Equipment: Setting up the drum kit for recording takes longer than any other instrument. Count on a good 2 hours for drum setup. This includes actually setting up the kit, miking each drum and getting individual and overall levels. Some studios may take more time, some less. It should take a little less time if you use the studio's kit. This is dead time for everyone else, so either get to the studio later or be prepared for a few hours of dead time. I usually use this time to go over some details with the rest of the band. I'll review the order we'll record the tunes, who solos when and for how long, when we'll plan to take a food break, etc.

Setup-- Engineer: The engineer will probably need the better part of an hour to setup for your session. In the control room this includes setting up the patch bay (routing signal paths and effects), the tape machine, basic effects and other things I just don't understand because I'm not an engineer. He'll also have to set up microphones and rooms for guitar, vocals and any other instrumentation you may have.

Are you beginning to see where the time goes? You haven't even played your first tune yet and you're a few hours into the session. Let's continue.

Sound Check for Levels: Finally...Everyone has axe in hand, ready to start making music. Not so fast pal! There's more to do. Before you actually begin to record the tunes, you'll need to get basic levels. The engineer has to get the basic recording evels for each track and the musicians need to get a good mix of levels in their headphones. It is critical that you hear all the music in the headphones that you need to. Different players may want to hear different instruments at varying volumes. Now is the time to get a headphone mix you are comfortable with. Don't hesitate to tell the engineer you need to hear more of this or that instrument. Getting a good headphone mix up front will save you aggravation later and most likely give you a better pe rformance in recording. You can liken this to a live performance situation. If you can't hear yourself or the other musicians clearly on stage, your performance will sound tentative at best and probably not have the groove it does when you hear everyone loud and clear.

For the sound check, the engineer will want you to run through a tune a few times so he can get a good basic level setting for everyone, including himself. Make sure you play the sound check tune with the volume and attack you intend to record it at. I like to use this sound check to play through the song that has the most potential trouble spots. It gives you a quick refresher at the same time you get your levels. [Self-serving plug warning!] When we recorded Blue Law's Gonna Getcha CD, we used the sound check to run through two tunes we wrote the night before. Then they were fresh in our minds for recording and our guitar player, who wasn't at the writing session, got to play through the song so we could record it. Very often, spontaneous takes are the best ones, so don't automatically write-off the sound check tune. You may surprise yourself and get a great take that only needs a few overdubs to clean up. On the other hand, don't hesitate to stop if something is drastically wrong. The main purpose is for levels.

Well, that's it for this month. Maybe we'll do more studio stuff in the future-- especially if I get some feedback (wink, wink) that you want to know more.


Musician Joke:

What is the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?
You only have to punch a drum machine once to get the tempo right!


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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