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Looking for information on running a recording session, recording an album

Discussion in 'Recording' started by took-the-red-pill, Jun 27, 2011.

  1. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member


    Ive been recording for a number of years, but it's just been me in a room with a guitar, a voice, a few gizmos, and Reason for Bass/drums/pianos, etc. At home it doesn't matter if I take forever to get a part right or do things in an inefficient manner.

    I'm going to be recording a CD with the youth from church and would like to find a book or other information on all the best practices, and organized steps required in professionally creating an entire recording, from first meeting to finished product. (Before anyone gets their back up, no I will not attempt to master it.)

    I want to be able to properly organize and run the sessions, and edit and mix the project reasonably efficiently. It would also be good to be able to read up on some of those tips and tricks that people who've spent hours and hours in recording studios have learned to make things run smoothly.

    So? Is there a book or something that covers this type of real world situation?

  2. Ripeart

    Ripeart Active Member

    Bad post, sorry
  3. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    There may be a book of some type regarding organizational duties to a session, but most of the time you get a feel for the personalities involved from a meeting or two as well as perhaps going to a performance in this case. Watching them play will give you tons of information as far as who is going to be better prepared for a recording.

    At a meeting, size up the leadership pecking order (there will be one, even in a youth group run by parental guidance) and keep notes. Determine how many songs they will be attempting. If you have heard them play then you'll also need to rely on notes as to their abilities to get through an arrangement cleanly and where some of the problems might be.

    In a young group with developing talents there will always be one or two with the minimum daily requirements. Not to be harsh but these will be ones who can stagnate a recording session in a hurry. The good players will get bored and the struggling ones will press and make it harder than it needs to be.

    Determine how many tracks you are going to want to play at once or how many you are capable of dealing with in your studio space. If you're going track by track and have a metronome or click to play to, then its going to involve people playing to something they're probably not used to which can seriously daunt progress quickly. Be sure of your abilities to produce good headphone levels for a number yet to be determined.

    At some point, this will not just be about what they bring but what you are capable of doing. When you determine that and stick to that as a plan, most other things will fall in order.

    If you are tracking individuals over a basic beat and guide track, then take the better players first. Always provide a solid foundation for the others who arent quite up to speed. This is the main reason you go hear the group perform.

    When you have determined the amount of tracking at one time that you can handle, then be sure of your skills as an engineer. The piece or instrument you are about to record or add to the mix should be properly mic'd and a basic sound already captured. Run through the arrangement few times. Ask the player to play ONLY the song you are about to attempt a take on. Dont over rehearse it....staying fresh it paramount to a good performance. Two things.....it allows you to adjust your settings and it gives them time to acclimate to the phones and the feeling of playing in that environment.

    IF you are recording everything all at once and this is going to be the sessions, then this a whole 'nother style of capture. You are really going to have to know your space for this. Where to gobo or barrier, what patterns all your mics have, what is going to be best for a certain sound. What instruments to play in proximity with each other will make a huge difference in the clarity. Multitracking a live recording is about bringing the best out of a din of noise.
  4. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    Thanks for that comprehensive post, Dave. I have read it and will take into account the things that apply to this particular situation.

    It looks like I'm not going to be able to just dial up Amazon and get the "How to Run a Recording Session 1.0" Manual, so maybe we can walk through some of it on this thread. Below is my intended tack. Please let me know all the red flags you see.

    Some notes:

    -There are 6 of them, so they won't all fit in my studio at once. The church is big enough, but:

    -because they're not exactly session musicians, I don't expect all 6 to be able to nail it 'live,' with good pitch, good timing, and no mistakes. I will record those sessions though in case the magic happens.

    -I was intending on multi tracking each musician separately, or two at the most. There is no rush on the project, and they're okay with it taking 5-6 months as we work around everyone's schedules. If it's multi tracked, then a few people aren't waiting around while we work on the weaker members' tracks. Also it makes it easier for me to edit later if there is no bleed.

    -Yes, I too have found that the best way court disaster is to strap a set of cans on the head of a young person, feed a click track into their brain, and say, "okay, now play it perfectly." I will experiment with using studio monitors with gobos, headphones or whatever means to get the job done.

    This is what I was intending to be my modus operandi:

    1-Meet with the band. Find out where they want to go with the project, end result, etc. Get them to bring a song or two they like so we can all get an idea of what they like and how they'd like to sound. No instruments.

    2-Meet at the church. Have them do each song once or twice the way they're used to doing them. I won't expect miracles, but I'll set up mics and gobos in case they do. The rest of the tracks will be recorded in my studio.

    3-Listen to the tracks to determine the arrangements, which are the strongest songs, etc.

    4-After we've determined which songs we're doing, I will use Reason and create a simple drum and bass track according to the arrangement the song will have. I may throw down a simple acoustic guitar track as well.

    5-Using these backing tracks, record a scratch vocal for all to follow

    6-Rent a decent drum set, set it up, mic it, and leave it in my studio for a few weeks until the drum tracks are recorded. Thank God the drummer is the strongest member of the band. That makes everything a lot easier.

    Due to click track issues, I'll be prepared to feed the backing tracks, including the Reason drum/bass into the mix so he can follow actual music instead of just a click track. We'll try a few things and see what works.

    7-Record bass tracks

    8-Make a simple mix with the now recorded drums and bass so if we need to do the song with studio monitors, and there is bleed, it's easier to hide because it's the actual tracks we're using.

    9-Record pianos, guitars, organs, etc.

    10-Record lead and backing vocals. I'll be prepared to try a few things. Headphones, monitors with gobos set up, etc. (One thing I have had success with a novice was to have the vocalist wear a set of old 80's walkman headphones. They sit outside the ear so that as well as the music, and monitor from the microphone, she could hear a lot of herself in the room. that natural feedback seemed to do the trick)

    11-Mix each song and listen to them on my ipod, in the car, etc. for a few weeks.

    12-Send it out for mastering.


    Does this order make sense?

    Are there any other tips for getting people who aren't used to click tracks and headphones to 'put out?'

    Would it make sense to put the backing tracks onto an MP3 so they could listen for a week or two, get used to the sound of singing/playing along with them? I figure if it's not so 'foreign' to them, they might perform better.

    Any other tips would be appreciated, even little ones that don't seem significant but make a session(s) go much more smoothly.

  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    If you are portable enough, record the bass and drums live together in the church. Stir until it works like it should.

    I will comment on the rest later.
  6. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Your MO seems reasonable and supremely logical.

    However, I've worked with a number of young groups and have always had better results tracking them as much as a group as possible - minus vocals and solos. Then you can go back and put in solos and replace the scratch vocal without as much pressure on them. If they're new to recording, I think it gives them the best chance for the best possible groove with minimum pressure. You can always punch in a bass part, drums are another issue. They're less likely to get 'red-light-fever' if they've got their own support group. I think it's essential to at least get a good take of bass and drums tracked simultaneously - if you can get clean takes on the rhythm guitars and keyboards at the same time ... bonus.

    [although the young band I recorded over the weekend is in-between bass players, so we got drums, 2 guitars, and keys recorded simultaneously and had to overdub the bass last] Coincidentally recorded at a church as well (modern black-box theater design). With careful placement and a few gobos - there's very little bleed, although it's less of an issue with them all playing together.

    Also, it's my feeling that click tracks are likely to detract from the "feel" with a novice band. As has been discussed around here in some other thread, drummers who can naturally lock up with a pre-recorded track are a special breed. Drummers who need a click the most tend to make a lerching awkward mess of it. If your drummer is the 'strongest member' I'd let him try it without the metronome first. I'd rather have good "feel" and a little bit of bleed, than no bleed and no groove.

    If you've truly got 5-6 months I'd make them spend 5 months wood-shedding the songs until they can play them in their sleep, forward and backwards. Then dedicate a week to tracking, plus however long it takes after that for overdubs and mixing.

    Making a rough copy that they can live with and study is a very good idea, as long as they don't fall in love with that rough pre-production version.

    The biggest problem with Walkman headphones is they will bleed into the vocal mic. Closed-back phones and a good headphone mix would be my preference as engineer or singer. But if you've had success with Walkman phones, go with what works.

    You've certainly got your work cut out for you, but it should be a great experience for the kids. You're a good and patient man to take it on.
  7. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    Thanks Dave, and Hawk,

    It sounds like I would do well to try to take those live 'scratch' recordings a lot more seriously than I was intending. I will endeavour to make sure if they nail it that I'm ready to capture it. I guess I was sort of expecting them to stumble and flub, which is not uncommon for 6 young people who don't yet have their 10,000 hours in...

    Another factor is that I had intended only on using those rough recordings as a starting point so I can work with them to expand their horizons a bit and get them thinking about doing some new and different arrangements of the songs. Right now everything they do kinda sounds like 90's Worship Band, which is really 80's U2. It might be an uphill battle to convince them that even U2 has moved on, but I'm going to try...

    I agree about them knowing it in their sleep. I will impress upon them that they should practice until it's as natural as breathing. But my hope was to work with them on the arrangements and then have them practice the *new* version for the recording. They can still do Bono and The Edge when they do them live.

    It's true that by taking the more clinical multi tracking approach, it may lessen the passion, groove, and spontaneity of the final result, but it will get them to experience what's involved in making a record, and we'll be able to create a listenable product. And hey, whatever they do can't be any more dull or lifeless than the rest of the Christian music industry...whoops. That was my outside voice wasn't it?

    By the way, I expected the walkman headphones to bleed like mad, but there was nothing. She wanted it fairly quiet so she could hear a lot of her natural self in the room. Go figure.

    Thanks for the help. Any other words of wisdom? Keep 'em coming folks.


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