Working in the recording studio - for academic musicians

Studio work is hard both for musicians and engineer. The workflow can be made much easier if the musician is well prepared, this helps save time and money. Let's see how one can make studio session easier.

  • Rehearsals. The more you rehearse before the recording, the better. If the music is not well-rehearsed, you will end up with a pile of small takes, and during editing session there will be a nightmare (besides, the result will be non-musical). Organize several rehearsals before recording, especially if you are planning to record with new musicians.
  • Score. Always have a spare full score for the engineer (and another one for the producer, if s/he is present during the recording). When I say "score" I mean just that. Don't bring individual parts (vocal line or first violin part). It should be the full score that includes all instruments. The engineer will make some notes in his copy (that's why it's essential that he has his copy of the score). These notes will serve as a base for further editing sessions. Editing without recording score will cost much more money because the engineer will have to listen to all takes before editing.
  • Be punctual. In most cases, the price of the session includes the so called technical hour. This is an hour before the actual session, and it is used for setting up microphones, positioning musicians on stage, tuning the piano etc. With smaller ensembles it is quite possible to evaluate different microphone techniques and choose the most suitable sound. It is very important that musicians arrive in time for the technical hour. Besides, in most studios there is a rule that booked studio time should be paid irrespectively of when musicians arrive. In some studios musicians are not allowed to enter the recording room before the payment is made. 
  • Know what you want. Going to the studio, you should know precisely how you want your recording to sound like. I mean not musical performance, but rather the sound of the recording itself. Do you want all the instruments to be more dry and "in your face", or do you prefer the sound to be more "glued together". Listen to different recordings and choose those that you like more. Discuss these recordings with you engineer or producer before going to the recording session.
  • Show interest and be willing to work. Often the engineer will ask you to listen to the first take (if that's not the case, ask that yourself). Be attentive and evaluate both your performance and the overall sound of the recording: the balance between the instruments, spaciousness, amount of reverb, timbres. Think about this take like it is the final product. Remember that during recording you have the real (and only) chance to change everything. Later it would be impossible to make radical changes to the overall sound. Discuss things that you did not like with the engineer and producer, work with them to achieve the sound you want. Play the recordings you like to the engineer (if you haven't done so already) - this will help the engineer to understand what sound are you after. Don't begin the recording until you're completely satisfied with the sound.
  • Be realistic. It is known that during one recording session (4 hours) it's possible to record approximately 20 minutes of music. This means that to make a recording for a full CD you will need 3-4 sessions. Is it possible to record more material during the session? Yes, it is possible. But be prepared that the session will be more like a race for time, and musicians will feel themselves very uncomfortable. Keep in mind that if the music is not rehearsed (that is, you are not ready for the recording session), you may end up recording only 10 or even 5 minutes of music. That's why it is so important to rehearse before the recording session.
  • Do not save on the recording studio. If you want to have a beautiful, natural sounding recording, you have to go to the special room with good natural reverberation. Don't believe people that try to convince you that you can record everything in a dead room and recreate the acoustics during the mix. This is pure nonsense. You will never (and I mean NEVER) be able to achieve that big beautiful sound if you record in the small and dry room. And be ready to pay handsomely for mix sessions. Don't rely on the miracle - the end result will not be very impressive. That's why I make academic recordings only in the studios and halls that are suited for this demanding task.
  • Take a rest when you need one. Always ask for a brake when you feel tired. It's better to spend 5-10 minutes for a brake and record another take with renewed strength, than trying to "get it" for 30 minutes and be completely exhausted. This is especially true for singers.

I hope that this advice will make your studio work easier and help you achieve your goals.