10 Things: Be Laser Focused

Be Laser Focused:  10 Things that can add to the overall cost of your studio project

By Devlin Miles

  1. Inflating the bill-
    • Extra tuning hours when you can’t hear a difference from the original,
    • Taking several takes of something that isn’t working, be mindful of when something is not working as the clock is ticking. Consider attacking it with a new approach the next session.
    • Working with a musician that doesn’t have the right skill set. If after many different directorial notes, the musician isn’t able to give you what you want on a song, move on to the next one and find someone who can. People can misrepresent their skill sets often because they need the money. Don’t sacrifice the integrity of your song because of a bad drummer, who drops the beat or a pianist who can’t play the organ too.
  2. Listen backs – listen backs are important, so be sure you know what you are listening for – you might need to focus on the bass line at this moment or hear how the vocals are EQ’d In this moment, make a note if a drum track is too loud or the guitarist hit a wrong chord, but stay on point with what you are listening for and then when it is addressed add your other correction. This is very important for bands, all band members are going to innately listen for their parts, so make a note if your part needs to be fixed, but know when it is productive to bring it up. Many different inputs about different items that the producer/engineer is not focusing on at the moment can waste time. It’s like someone interrupting your train of thought, stay focused with your listening!
  3. Kitchen sink – this is not the time to try out every instrument on your tune. Of course it would be cool to hear your song on an obo or perhaps add a piccolo solo, but if it is not a main instrument in your tunes and you don’t know a piccolo or obo player, don’t go out of your way to bring one in, keep the budget in mind, if you really hear a specific instrument on only one tune, then see if you can send it out electronically to get it recorded and fly it in to the track. Remember everything you add will add to the overall mixing time in the editing.
  4. Quality – when you receive your reference mixes, if you are concerned about the quality, speak right up to the engineer/producer. It shows you are really listening and that you expect higher quality right from the beginning (See Also 10 Things Producers/Engineers should know in working with Indie Artists) They should take pride in their work at every step of the way and know that their reference mixes are their calling card too.
  5. Organized – I tend to harp on organization, but when you are dealing with electronic files nowadays, you need someone that knows how to organize their folders, so they can easily find things and access them. Note if you are working with analogue recording because you like the warmth and are crossing with the digital world too, know that it can be time consuming to “fly” in tracks from other studios or to find previous takes to pull snippets, so be sure that you know up front how well this producer/engineer can move from analogue to digital. Yes, recording analogue is warm and lovely, but if the producer/engineer is working with analogue because they themselves haven’t tried the digital age, that can be very telling about how pliable they will be with ideas and flexibility. (Note this is not something, someone will readily admit to being disorganized, so look for red flags)
    • How organized is their studio or home if they have a studio in their home?
    • Is their equipment organized?
    • How has your communication been with this person? Prompt?
  6. Work ethic? – This is hard to tell until you deal with someone, but you can find out some information about a producer/engineer by contacting other people the person has recorded with. I would contact 3 other bands/artists if possible and have this be one of your questions. Also ask the referral – “Did you feel working with John (producer/engineer) that he is fair and honest?
  7. Convenience – how convenient is it going to be to get people to the studio. Yes, I too loved the idea of recording in the woods somewhere where we could focus only on music for days, well, it was all great being 3 hours away from NYC until I wanted to incorporate working with some of my local musicians for overdubbing piano or background vocals and got very complicated and costly to get them their, so I had to compromise. I also personally found it taxing to have to travel 3+ hours every weekend for 6-8 weeks.
  8. Gear – when you are working with a producer/engineer chances are they are going to have tons of gear and it is all going to look very impressive when you walk in, but don’t forget to ask the questions that matter to your band. “My voice needs a dynamic microphone with a pear shape, so that my high voice doesn’t get too tinny”. Also if you see a Hammond B3, Rhodes, Grand Piano make sure to ask if it is in operation and if it will be tuned and ready for use? If they are using their gear to sell their studio to you, it should be in working condition. Yes, this happens a lot! Beware!~
  9. Vocals – it is a good idea to have 1 other person there besides the engineer/producer in the studio when you are recording vocals. Unfortunately, it can be an intimate thing when you do vocals, however if the producer/engineer is having technical problems and are addressing/adjusting levels they may not be as focused on the actual vocal performance. Yes, I made this mistake and had to re-record leads to half an album because I wasn’t happy with my overall performance. It happens and it gets costly. Preferably have another singer there, one who knows how to coach a singer- not necessarily even someone from the band, but someone who understands vocal phrasing, another indie artist would also be great and might be able to lend some background vocals as well. Note: if you pick someone who doesn’t know how to coach you, for example if they critique you more than coach you, then you will probably get pissed off, which will in turn show up in your voice, so choose wisely and maybe have a rehearsal with them. There are also vocal arrangers for hire too. See also Raise The Spirits: 10 Things to do when you are recording vocals
  10. Crispness – when listening back in studio on recording day, solo out every instrument
    • bass – can you hear the quality of the bass or amp?
    • drums- check that every instrument in the kit is being heard for each song and is mic’d appropriately (overdubbing nightmare, if not and costly)
    • acoustic guitar- sounding crisp, good muted sound and open strumming?

NOTE:  It is wise to address concerns here if you are not hearing things as they should be. Yes EQ-ing comes later when the musicians aren’t in the studio, but if you have a heavy tom song and they are only mic’d with one overhead it will sound muddy and might have to be recorded again. If you have a lot of toms or cymbal work on a tune, pay close attention that all instruments are mic’d individually. You are paying for crispness. Anyone can record with room mics – this is the producers/engineers time to shine. It also gives them a chance to make sure nothing is recorded too hot. (can’t really be fixed later in EQing, if something is recorded at too high a level it is like trying to save an overexposed picture- you will lose a lot of instrument detail and the sound will be distorted)

10 Things- Be Laser Focused PDF