Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So You Want to Make a Record Part 2: Recording

The single biggest barrier young bands face to making a record is money.  Studio time is expensive, period.  In Ames, the cheapest you will find is $15/hr. but that is exceptionally low.  Rates from $50 to $100/hr. are not unusual.  And time in the studio absolutely flies.  Unless you are very well prepared you will struggle to get enough takes to produce a satisfying result.  And don't forget that tracking is just the first step.  The studio will also charge you for editing and mixing.  The minimum time needed for an experienced audio engineer to edit and mix a typical four-piece track is ten hours.  If you are doing it yourself double or triple that.  Unless your record is incredibly successful you won't sell enough copies to cover the studio cost.

The single most important goal in the recording process is to capture good performances.  Without good performances, you won't be happy with the track.  That's why I encourage young bands to build a simple studio themselves rather than pay for pricey studio time.  You will have to compromise on the sound quality and production but being able to keep going until you get it right is priceless.

AT2020 USB mic
Technology has made semi-professional sounding recordings possible on a very reasonable budget.  If you have a computer with at least 2 GB of RAM you won't need to buy another box for recording.  If you can afford it, buy ProTools, it's the industry standard.  If you can't, download Reaper for free, I highly recommend it (thank you, Caleb Kuennen!).  Add a click-track to your project and you are ready to begin.

Line6 POD 2.0 Amp Modeler
If you are tracking vocals, you will need to buy/borrow a decent large-diaphragm condensing microphone.  We borrowed (thank you, Paul Mungons!) an Audio Technical AT2020 USB mic that lists for about $150.  Jenny and I were pleased with the fidelity with which it captured our voices.  It was also really quiet.  While tracking vocals in your home office may not be ideal we made it work.  Try to find a room without a lot of natural reverb unless that's what you are going for.  I recorded the electric guitars (a white Charvel and a gorgeous natural-finish Alvarez Dana Scoop) direct from my Line6 POD 2.0 via the USB port.  While I did have some noise issues with this approach, it saved me a lot of time micing amps.  All the guitars needed major EQ work in Reaper to achieve a good tone.  Reaper includes a number of excellent filters that I used as a starting point for EQing drums and vocals as well.

While the tracking phase was long and painstaking, the editing and mixing stage was the most challenging as I didn't have a lot of audio engineering experience prior to making the record.  Despite a number of helpful articles online the learning curve was steep.  I made a number of big mistakes that cost me time, but it was worth it in the end.  The most important thing is to listen.  Listen to each instrument.  Listen to groups of instruments.  Listen to the whole track.  See how the record sounds on a number of different sound systems (headphones, car stereos, etc.) before the release.  Be sure to let your collaborators hear the mix in progress.  Be prepared to compromise.  The record isn't finished until the whole band is happy.

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