The Studio Experience

This week Alex will bring us a Wayward Alex on our experience in the studio this week. Time is limited in a vlog, so I thought a quick overview of our preferred style of recording would be entertaining for those who have never experienced the process.

Of course, it goes without saying that all of this comes after hours of work to prepare the music. Songs written, then arranged to see who plays what when, figuring out harmonies, deciding how to kick it off and end together, and putting it all together. Only after that is well established can you start recording.

Step One: Microphones set up with isolated sound.

  • Panels are set up and rooms used to separate the instruments. This way, if one person has to do something over again, the flaw does not “leak” into the instruments of the other performers, making it possible to simply repair the problem instrument track. This may be due to a wrong chord, or it may be something else the requires an instrument to have a “do over”. For example, Alex had a different capo on for one song and it wasn’t until we listened to it closely that we realized the capo was making the guitar buzz. The rest of the instruments already laid down a good track, so we simply had Alex dub over the guitar part with a different capo. Because sound was isolated, we didn’t have her old buzzy guitar suck in the bass track, requiring the bass to play the song again.
  • Microphones are chosen for the instruments and placed in a way to best capture the acoustic sound. This is a bit more tricky with instruments when you do not have internal pick-ups installed. We don’t at this time, so exterior microphones had to be placed by all instruments.

Step Two: Scratch Vocals

  • The first recording is one that will be thrown out. The point of it is to simply record a vocal track in a raw form that everyone can then play along with. Because we all have to sing and play, we have to also isolate the instrument from the vocal track, for similar reasons described above. This way the vocalist can later have the scratch vocals thrown out and have a clean instrument track later in which to sing along to.
  • A click track is used so we are basically playing along to a metronome in our ear. This makes it easier to move one track to another if some clean-up is required, keeps everyone together on the vocal scratch track when the singer is not singing, and also helps make sure the tempo stays consistent.

Step Three: Instrument Track

  • After the scratch vocals, we toss out the old instrument track and put on our focus hats to try to play each song perfectly to the click and the vocals. After we get a good recording, we go and listen to see if anything needs to be fixed. Once in awhile we’ll have a violin string squeak, or a muffled chord. We can go dub over only that one section, or if it’s been repeated before, we can “borrow” the chord from another place in the song and place it where it needs to be. The magic of digital recording!

Step Four: Vocal Track

  • After the instrument track is complete it’s time to play karaoke diva! Free of this web your guitar or other instrument, you can focus only on how you want your singing to sound for the recording.

Step Four: Mixing

  • This is when all of the different tracks are put together in a musical way. You decide how much guitar you want to hear, when to bring out the fiddle to better hear the break, how loud the vocals should sound against the instrument accompaniment, and add appropriate reverb, so you sound more like a “live” recording, providing the natural echo you would get in a room, which is often lacking when coming directly through a microphone and into headphones.

Step Five: Mastering

  • This step gives a album a unified, consistent volume and sound. This is why when you have many songs on your iPod, some are not much louder than others and they all have a similar sound quality.

Step Six: Replication

  • The artwork and the final CD is sent to a manufacturer for replication, and in a few weeks you get your packaged wholesale product, ready for resale!

There are many ways to put down an album, but we’ve found this model to work well for us.

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