Frequently Asked Questions
What does the recording process consist of?
Step one: Pre-production.
The engineer will record your songs as they exist at the present. This could be just one instrument and vocals or if you are a band, then with the whole band.
Usually, this recording is a quick process and the intention is for you and the producer to evaluate the songs and discuss/edit the arrangement making careful notes and clear chord charts.
At the end of this process:
You should have a clear idea of how each song would sound when it is recorded.
You should have chord and lyric charts.
You should know what instruments will be played in the songs and by which players.
You should know if you need session players and what they will play in the songs.
A rough version of the backing vocals should also be recorded at this point so that you know whether they are going to work and if appropriate etc. The harmonies should be worked out now too.
You should have a clear idea of which songs are going to be on the album, how long they are and the total running time of the album.
This process is invaluable and speeds up all the other processes when it is done effectively so don't skimp on this one.
Step two: Tracking
By this time your producer and engineer will know how to effectively record your tracks and should present you with a tracking schedule. This might not make sense to you at first but bear in mind that the more efficiently the tracking is done, the more time and money you will save. For example, the engineer might suggest doing all the guitar parts first and then all the drums and then all the bass.
Tracking is the process where separate tracks are made of each instrument, the vocals and the backing vocals. The idea at this point is to record the above as clearly and with the best quality sound as possible.
Many say that bad recordings can be fixed in the editing or mixing process, but this is not true. There is no point in trying to polish poo. So, rather spend more time on your tracking than on editing and mixing.
There are two ways to record. Analogue or digital. Analogue recordings have a warmer richer sound but are more difficult to edit than the digital ones. Possibly the best would be to combine the two methods. For example:
1. Record to Pro Tools through an analogue mixing desk.
2. Edit in Pro Tools but-
3. Mix down on the analogue desk to two track 1/4 inch tape using outboard analogue compressors etc.
4. Record from the tape to a stand alone two track digital recorder through a mastering compressor for the final CD.
This is the preferred method used at The Valve and Wizard and we get a fantastic sound.
Step three: Editing
Editing is the stage where all the little glitches like slight timing errors are fixed.
For example, if the odd bass note is slightly off the kick, the bass note can be moved.
The beginnings and endings of the songs should also be neatened up and cleaned now too.
Now, when you listen to the songs taking shape you might decide to remove a verse or move the middle eight. This is a good time to do that too.
Step four: Mix down.
Each separate track is now sent out to an individual channel on the mixing desk. Here the tracks are EQ'd and the engineer will set up a balance of sound. He will use outboard compressors to beef up the drums and bass. He will also use a compressor to even out the vocal sound so that there are no excessively loud parts or bits that are too soft.
He will pan the instruments to produce a sound stage which should resemble exactly that, your band on stage. For example, the bass, kick drum and lead vocal in the centre. Guitars left and right etc. At the Valve and Wizard we let the mix dictate what goes where and believe that each song has a formula. When we find it, the song springs to life.
When the song is sounding amazing, it will be recorded to the two track tape. The engineer will often ride the faders while this recording is taking place. For instance, raising the guitar level when it plays a lead solo.
Once the song is safely on the tape and the playback sounds like the best thing you have ever heard, the next song is loaded and the process starts all over again.
But before you do...
Ask the engineer to give you a copy of this song's mix on CD and to not change the desk just yet.
Go and listen to it in your car, on your ipod, on your laptop, on the engineer's reference hi-fi system etc and make sure that this mix is right and does indeed sound fantastic.
Listen to the track many times, over and over until you are absolutely certain.
Just remember that if you have to come back to the song later after having done other songs, it would mean starting from the beginning of this song's mixing process once again. Sometimes this does happen, but you can often avoid it by being thorough at this point.
Mixing can take quite long and shouldn't be rushed as you will have to live with the final product. Once again, don't believe that the mastering process will rectify a bad sounding mix. It won't.
Step five: Mastering
When you have your fantastic sounding mix, you might want to take it one step further and send the mix through a mastering compressor to tighten up the bass and to get that “air” sound you hear on some good recordings.
The mastering process is monitored through a hi-fi system and definitely not through studio monitors. Hi-fi amps and speakers have a completely different sound to studio reference systems and this is the time when you want to work on that aspect of the sound.
A good mastering compressor should be used and is normally designed specifically for mastering. Never believe that some PC plug-in or software running off any PC could do the job. Even if the program is called ‘Mastering', something or the other. All that this would ensure is that you introduce enough jitter to ruin your sound besides the fact that the PC's bit crunching process would destroy all warmth and tops.
If you had recorded your whole album through a PC then it probably wouldn't matter that much.
Always retain your mix down and compare the mastered version with the mix down version at the same volume level. The mastered version should sound a lot better. Do this comparison as a test with one song before going ahead with the other tracks. If it doesn't sound better at the same volume then you need to go to another mastering engineer.