Zen of Recording

Wisdom Doesn’t Expire

Part of being a record producer is answering questions. A lot of them. Not just of the in-session variety like, “How was that?” or “Should I stand farther back?”, but
those with regard to philosophical and methodical concerns, like the examples listed below…

> Should I go digital or analog?

Traditionally, the differences between analog and digital have been sound, feel, speed, and track count.

Sound-wise, analog used to be a consistent “blind taste test” winner over digital, due to the characteristic things that each format can impart to the signal. Magnetic tape can smear transients and slightly compress things, resulting in a smoother, silkier sound. With digital, the ideal is that it reproduces things exactly as they went in, but there are a lot of variables; things like analog-to-digital conversion hardware, sample rate, bit depth, etc. At this point, technological advances have made the sonic differences somewhat negligible, but one more thing to keep in mind is the repeatability of your mix. In the computer environment, every time you open a song you’ve been working on in your program, all of your settings will be exactly the way you they were when you last saved them.

The speed of one’s workflow as well as the feel are sort of inter-related. If you’re tracking to tape with a band, a difficult punch-in may force you to keep re-tracking the entire performance as opposed to the infinitely more edit-friendly digital domain. This can really drag a session out, resulting in a loss of vibe. One might also find that they like an earlier take a lot more than the twentieth, but at that point you may have already erased over it.

Digital editing is a powerful weapon in the modern recording era, but many people feel that they’re somehow “cheating” if they compile multiple takes into one brilliant performance. Purist views aside, it isn’t cheating if your record kicks ass in the end.

Conversely, it is easy to over-correct things to the point that they don’t feel as good as a “live” take, especially in the rock and folk genres. This is where a person’s experience and musicality come into play: knowing when not to touch something is equally as important as any other editing skills someone may possess.

Track count comes into play when you have a lot of different little parts to add in. Conventionally speaking, having more than 40 parts with only(!) 24 tracks to commit them to meant doing a great deal of sub-mixing, even if many of them weren’t going simultaneously. Now, you can give each part independent EQ and effects and they’ll remain editable. The flipside is a problem known as “option-it is,” where you hold off on making decisions on which takes and tracks to use until the mix stage, at which point you have potentially thousands of little decisions to make, which can bring a project to a crawl.

> How can I most effectively use my studio time?

Be prepared. Know every chord, every lyric, and every melodic inflection in your songs. If you know what you’re looking for in a take and you don’t feel you got it, don’t listen to the play back yet. Just do it again. You can listen to the different takes all at one sitting.

Playing to a click while recording can also be helpful, provided you can groove with it, and your tempos don’t vary with the structure. This can make compiling multiple takes much easier, which in turn saves valuable time.

Band meetings and/or infighting are not things one should do in the studio, nor is this a good time to start writing the bridge or engaging in a total lyrical rewrite. These are things that can be addressed in pre-production.

> What is your philosophy on using pitch correction for instruments and/or voice?

I always say, “It’s not the plow, it’s the farmer.” All the plug-ins and effects currently available to us are just tools. If you rely on them to make music for you, it’s going to sound like it. If you always remember that you’re making music and you apply these tools judiciously in service of that, then whatever helps you to attain the most musical result is the right thing.

> What single most important piece of advice would you give a recording artist with regard to production and choice of studio?

Pick someone you trust. Nothing speaks more about a producer’s ability to fulfill your needs than the work they’ve done and whether you feel comfortable with them.

Talk with some of their past clients. How was their experience? Why?

Meet with the producer and listen to their work. Listen to a lot of things they’ve done, not just the stuff that’s closest to your genre or their most recent recordings. Does it all sound the same? Maybe that’s what you want. If you hear that they’ve recorded everything from jazz to country, is there an overall musicality evident? How many recordings have they done? What does their studio smell like? Are they a good communicator? What is the price and why? What does their price include? How long will it take? If it’s very affordable but will take four months or more, is that worth the savings? If it’s more expensive,  is that extra cost justifiable?

Recording music can sometimes be an extremely confusing process. There are no bad questions and, hopefully, I’ve provided at least a few good answers here. If you have other queries or concerns, please send them this way. I’d love to help!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer who provides recording, mixing, and mastering services through his company, Kitsch & Sync Production (www.kaspro.com).

One Comment

  1. Posted October, 2014 at 10:24 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for some sound advice! ( pun intended)

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