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Tips
Here are few little tips that we felt would help you choose the right studio and get the most for your money.

Before You Start Looking

1. Timing is an essential element of music. Practice with a metronome. In a band, all members should follow the drums, if the drummer is following the guitars, you’ve got a problem. Fluctuations in tempos and missed beats will make you sound unpolished and your recording will suffer.

2. In order to get good tone you need to have good tone. Many musicians expect the engineer to be like Scotty was with the Enterprise. Rarely are engineers miracle workers. A guitar rig that sounds bad in the studio will sound bad on tape.

3. Think about overdub, vocal, percussion, guitar and harmony parts before going into the studio. Recording only the parts you are able to play live may not necessarily give you the album sound you want. Guitar and vocal doubling, harmonizing and other production tools give you a more produced sound and may set your album or demo apart from others.

4. What sounds good at practice may not sound good on tape. That growl coming out of your guitar rig that rattles pictures off the walls, won’t necessarily do so on tape. Make sure it SOUNDS as good as it feels.

Budgeting Time and Money

5. Figure on four hours per song minimum, 20 per song for album quality, and the time you’ll spend, a compromise somewhere in between. Things come together in the mixing and mastering, be sure to allot adequate time for them.

6. Remember the mix down. Most bands and solo musicians have a limited amount of funds. Be sure not to allot all of your money for tracking. Leave yourselves with enough money to spend two hours mixing the first song and an hour to mix every song thereafter. It usually takes an engineer a minimum of an hour to dial drums in and get a rough mix happening for the first song. This must happen before you can start making the changes you want. Other factors can increase these rough estimates of time, these figures do however give you an idea of what to plan for.

Choosing the Right Studio

7. Know what you are looking for, mics, media, automation, analog gear, midi gear etc. In other words, although an SM57 may capture your guitar rig well, it won’t give you a good vocal take. Ever wonder what the AAD on the back of a CD means? It means that that particular musical work was tracked using Analog Tape, mixed to Analog tape and mastered for and replicated on Compact Disc (Analog, analog, digital). The pro’s are still using analog media formats, ask your engineer to explain the analog vs. digital pros and cons to you. What is automation? Well, automation acts as extra sets of hands for the engineer. After all, there are usually quite a few more faders than hands during a mix. Automation remembers fader moves and other functions and performs them for you. It allows you to fine tune your mix. Do you have a keyboard player? Midi gear allows you to save audio tracks for things that must be recorded to tape, while allowing you to write a rather unlimited number of keyboard parts. Midi can provide you with drum triggers for use with sampled drum sounds or simply provide you with a click track for better timing. Ever heard a demo that sounds lousy, like someone has covered the speaker with a blanket? Only the right gear will capture "the sound" you want.

8. Don’t be a bottom feeder. Anyone who has ever answered the phone at a studio has heard the typical phone shopper call and ask "How many tracks do you have and what do you charge per hour?" Price shoppers invariably find that there is much more to a studio than that. There are garbage projects that are recorded in 64 track studios and masterpieces recorded in 4 track studios, so find out more before hanging up.

9. Don’t be fooled by lots of tracks, it’s not the size of your track sheet, it’s how you lay the tracks. A three piece band doesn’t need 64 tracks, that is, unless they want to play their parts multiple ways and choose the one they like best, and have a ton of money to spend on the time it takes to do so.

10. By all means, tour the studio first. Many bands find out that their first recording experience will be in a chicken coupe only after they’ve started loading their precious equipment onto a dirt floor. Check the studio out first, make sure the facility is in good condition and the engineer won’t be loaded during your session.

11. Talk to the engineer you’ll be working with. What is his/her personality like? Can you work with him/her? While a well mannered, personable engineer can be a Godsend, an ill-mannered one can be just the opposite.

In the Studio - Tracking

12. Make sure you are all playing the right notes. Tune your instruments between songs and takes. Replace skins and tune drums before going in to the studio. If you are tuning down, make sure your guitar is intonated to do so.

13. Never, never, never record a song you wrote the day before, that is, unless you want to make the studio a lot more money than you expected to. Record the songs you’ve played a hundred times and can hammer out quickly. This will give you the best results.

14. Stay in your own frequency. Ever wonder how it is that you can hear every single lick that a signed bass player plays, or why a guitar never gets buried? Part of it is writing, another part is the way tone knobs are set. What do you have when the bass player has deep tone and the guitar rig’s bass knob is maxed? MUD!!! Enough said?

15. Bring moral support. If family and significant others want to come in and cheer you on, and they’ll be more of a support than a distraction, why not?

16. Just as drummers should replace their heads, guitarists should replace their strings and woodwinds their reeds. Vocalists shouldn’t smoke or drink for a day or so before coming into the studio. They should also stay away from caffeine as it tends to stiffen vocal chords.

Mixing

17. Sometimes, people will spend hours mixing a song and find that when they get it home it sounds completely different. The problem is that they weren’t familiar with the monitors in the studio. Often, studio monitors are an expensive compliment to the tuned listening environment many control rooms provide. What then is the problem? If you are not accustomed to the way a particular room or set of speakers sound, they will lie to you. An easy way to "final check" your mix before laying it down to your two track master is to listen to it in your car.

18. Reverb and delay don’t fix performance mistakes. Never fix performance mistakes with production ideas.

19. Make more than one mix of all your tunes, try some drastic changes, much more or less of the rhythm section, soaring vocals, buried vocals, no effects, drastic effects, be as creative in your mixing as you were in your writing.

20. Often, band members describe changes they would like made by using ambiguous words like "FATTER" or "BIGGER" or "WARMER." This presents an obvious problem, these terms may mean something totally different to you than what they mean to the engineer. Bringing a reference CD with an example of the sound you want will ensure that everyone is on the same page and you get the sound you want.

21. Have an open mind. Your engineer has recorded a lot more projects than you have. If he/she has a suggestion, be willing to try it. For example, when kick drum tone just isn’t happening, try taking the outer head off, you may be surprised with the result.

22. Never worry that you’re hassling the engineer, after all, it isn’t his project, it’s yours. Many feel like they are imposing on the engineer by asking for "too many changes." Some engineers may seem put off by you making changes to "their mix." This is purely unethical. You’re paying for it, so ask for what you want.

23. Never mix on same day you finish tracking, give your poor ears a day’s rest. Ear fatigue is your biggest enemy when you are mixing.

24. Avoid instrument ego, usually the most domineering band member will have his or her parts loudest in the mix. Avoid having one instrument or section be the loudest part of each and every one of your songs.

We hope these suggestions have helped you. If you have any questions about these tips or you would like to talk to us about them, please call us at (925) 449-9820.

Audio Voyage Recording
2111 Research Dr., Ste. 2, Livermore, CA 94550
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