After years of recording with artists we began to notice a trend. Musicians were booking sessions and showing up to record without fully understanding that recording is about more than going in the booth, pushing play and record then just reciting the words to your song.
Yes, artists go into the recording booth, the engineer pushes play, record and words are recited but…there is much more involved in the process. So let’s discuss, for a moment, how words and sounds are put together in a studio to make a hit song.
Now, we aren’t able to give you EVERY detail about studio sessions in this space because a great deal of work is involved and honestly, much is learned through experience. But, we are going to address some of the “bad habits” we’ve noticed and answer a few of the most common questions we’ve been asked to give you guys a better understanding of the basics of studio recording. Let’s begin…
Now this can be said of ALL professions but, THE MOST IMPORTANT step toward making sure you have a successful studio session is being ON TIME. When you start late, you’re losing not only time but money. Studio sessions are charged by the hour. Hours consist of minutes. Being just five minutes late means you’ve paid for but not been able to take advantage of a full 60 minutes of recording. Because studio sessions are booked by the hour, it is unrealistic and unfair for you to assume the engineer will give you the time you lost at the end of a session to make up for you being late. It is quite likely another session is booked after yours…a session with artists and musicians who are on time and want to get the most for their money.
Being ON TIME is also important to the VIBE of the session. Being late alters the mindset and VIBE of both YOU and THE ENGINEER. The engineer is now pressured to deliver quality work in a shorter time frame and you are now rushing to get things done. Ever heard the saying “haste makes waste”? Well…it’s true. Especially in the studio. Making good music has A LOT to do with the VIBE. If the VIBE is good, the music is good. If the VIBE is wrong, so is the sound. You will only get out of your studio experience and environment what you put into it so…start off on the good foot and BE ON TIME!
This could be counted as part of etiquette but GOOD COMMUNICATION in the studio between artist and engineer is VITAL. GOOD COMMUNICATION is the key to any great relationship and, for as long as you are in the studio, you and your engineer are BFF.
While it’s true any engineer worth their weight in chart topping hits should know what to do to make a song sound good, it is not the engineer’s song or album. IT’S YOURS!! When you sat down with pen in hand or stood with iphone recording and composing this great work of musical art, you had a vision. A vision of the words that were coming out of your mouth someday being heard by billions of music lovers across the world. With each line and rhyme and rhythm, you could hear how the hi-hats and bass line hit. You could feel the chorus vibrating through the very fibers of your being as you imagined tens of thousands of fans singing them aloud with you at Madison Square Garden. You see the colors and shapes of your sound. AMAZING! Now…in order for your dream to come true, you have to be able to put those visions in your head into words and COMMUNICATE WHAT YOU WANT YOUR MUSIC TO SOUND LIKE to your engineer. The same way you communicated with your producer to get the right elements and instruments in the track, is the same way you need to COMMUNICATE with your engineer to get your song to sound the way it does in your head.
Your engineer needs to know the direction you are going with the song. How many verses are there? How many hooks and where are they in the track? What should the song FEEL like? These are all things you need to COMMUNICATE to your engineer.
Remember, the song you wrote and are certain will win you a Grammy someday is BRAND NEW and unfamiliar to the engineer in the studio. So, COMMUNICATE your vision, goals and plan then…EXECUTE!!
Bringing Your Music to the Studio
When bringing your music into the studio for recording, there are several formats you can use. You may have your music on CD, on your phone or even on an MP3 player. The overall BEST way format to use in the studio is a USB FLASH DRIVE.
USB FLASH DRIVES are compatible with ALL SYSTEMS and guarantees your files will transfer to the studio’s system EXACTLY THE WAY YOU SAVED THEM AT HOME. This isn’t to say that CD’s, iPhones and MP3 are bad but…CD’s get scratched and sometimes don’t burn properly. With iPhone and/or Droids and MP3 players, there is no guarantee your device will be fully compatible with the studio’s PC or that they will have the proper cables to transfer your files from your device to their systems. Yes…all these formats work but…the SAFEST and SUREST WAY is to use a USB FLASH DRIVE. Also when you leave the session, the studio can supply you with, not just a CD to listen to in the car but, the same high quality transfer of your files uploaded right onto your USB FLASH DRIVE to keep and cherish ‘til delete do you part.
So be SAFE and SMART with your music files and USE USB FLASH DRIVES. 256MB, 1GB, 8,GB, 16GB…doesn’t matter. JUST GET ONE!!
If you are coming to the studio, more then likely you are bringing some sort of music or instrumentation to accompany your vocals (unless you’ve purchased a HITT OF MCM TRACK, in which case, it’s pre-loaded and waiting for your arrival). Most people bring a 2-track 16bit 44.1khz .WAV…the most common format for burning and playing audio on CDs. In order to get the BEST QUALITY possible, you MUST bring your song TRACKED OUT. Having your song TRACKED OUT gives your engineer COMPLETE ACCESS to all the elements in your song to edit and mix individually for greatest overall sound quality.
But wait, MCM STUDIOS, what does TRACKED OUT mean? So glad you asked. Having your beat TRACKED OUT means each individual element that makes up your beat; the hi-hat, bass drum, melody, etc.; will be on its own TRACK.
Still not getting it?
OK…play your favorite song in your head. We’ll wait a few seconds while you load…. Now, listen closely. The way that bass drum hits, the crispy clear feel of the strings and the “ting ting” of the hi-hat…they sound great together right? Well, they sound great together because the engineer was able to fine tune each individual sound on its own track; one at a time; so that they create one cohesive sound when played together.
TRACKED OUT, the engineer has the flexibility to add drops, change the volume of one instrument without affecting the others, adjust the pitch of the hi-hat without changing the bass and add or remove elements from key points in the song to give it the feel you want.
If you are a PRODUCER and aren’t already, start TRACKING OUT your music for your clients. They will love you all the more when they experience how much easier and more fulfilling you’ve made their session at MCM STUDIOS.
Whether you are a SINGER or LYRICIST/MC, the quality and clarity of your vocals are just as important as the words you use. Do you want your vocals to have a warm intimate feel? Then you’ll want to stand closer to the MIC and project your voice directly forward. Would you prefer your vocals have a cooler more open performance like sound? Then it is best if you stand back a bit from the MIC and project your voice outward and upward. Whether warm or cool, intimate or open, your MIC AWARENESS will determine how your vocals come across in your song.
Good MIC AWARENESS means you are not screaming to be heard, not bobbing your head up and down or swaying in and out from in front of the MIC while recording your vocals. YOU MUST have the awareness to keep your MOUTH in the direction of the MIC and know how to project your voice forward to attain the tone and clarity of sound you want.
MIXING is just that. The engineer takes all the .WAV sounds you had the producer TRACK OUT and put on your USB FLASH DRIVE and MIXES them together to make one complete song. It is MIXING together your instruments, vocals, samples, effects, etc. to make one complete song. MIXING doesn’t just happen with the click of a button; at least not in a studio worth your time and money. Every song is different and has its own recipe. This is, again, why COMMUNICATION is so important. Telling the engineer how you expect your song to sound becomes the blueprint for them to build your track the way it was designed.
MIXING involves Equalizing and Compressing sounds, adding Special EFX and countless other procedures like Chopping and Rearranging, Muting and Isolating tracks, Sequencing and…we could go on and on. A good engineer will already have a sense of the basic formula for getting a good initial MIX of your song. We say initial MIX because not all songs are going to be complete the first time through. You may take the song home and hear a sound you don’t like in a certain place or perhaps want the bass a little thicker. You may listen to your song with a fresh set of ears the morning after your session and be inspired to go in a whole other direction with its sound.
Most great songs were mixed for weeks to get them to sound they way they do. Some sound great after just a few hours. The amount of time put into MIXING a song depends on when YOU feel it sounds just how you imagined it should.
In short, MASTERING is the final step to prepare your MIX for THE WORLD!! A lot of pressure, I know but…with the right engineer, your MASTERED version could make or break your song or album.
MASTERING gives your project a particular color, if you will. It adds punch and clarity. MASTERING is the part of the recording process where fade ins and outs are added and the hi, low and mid ranged frequencies are balanced. MASTERING is the step in music recording that is most often overlooked because it is not commercially known to many artists. However, know that EVERY final project you hear on MTV, BET and VH1 and on all your favorite major radio stations has been MASTERED.
These are the VERY BRIEF and BASIC points of knowledge we wanted to share with you in hopes of making your recording sessions at MCM STUDIOS that much more productive and enjoyable. Music and song recording, like most things in life, is something you get better at with time. The more you know about the studio and song recording processes, the better your experiences and projects will become.
So start writing and creating new music and when you are ready and serious about learning, expanding and pursuing your musical interests, MCM STUDIOS will be more then happy to assist you.