The recording process

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The Song

There are two obvious routes here, use a cover version of a previously recorded song, or write your own. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of songwriting here, but it's always a good idea to live with a song for a couple of weeks before you record it, just to make sure you have the flow of the tune and lyrics just perfect, otherwise this becomes pretty tricky to change later on since it is so fundamental. There is no problem recording a cover version of a song, you only need to apply for legal permission when you intend to release it. more...

The Backing Music

Creating the backing track for the song is crucial. The tempo and key must be decided on and they really cant be changed later without quite a lot of reworking, so we need to always get this right. A great idea is for the client to bring along two or three 'reference' tracks, to set the scene for the kind of treatment that they want the arrrangement to have. We are not talking about copying anything, simply giving some marker points so that everyone involved has a clear idea of the style and direction the piece will take. Exactly how the backing track is built up depends on the style of music, but as a rule of thumb, a dance track will be built up from drum and bass parts up wards, and a more song orientated arrangement will progress from an initial piano/guitar chordal part building parts around it to allow the vocal to sit. I don't try to put too much in at this point, really just ensure that the vocalist has the right support around him/her to enable the correct performance. The clever/fancy/twiddly bits come later, so as not to throw the singer off. more...

The Vocals

No doubt about it, this is the single most important part of any recording session. Get this right and everything else falls into place with ease, get it wrong and no amount of mixing, effects or trickery will sort it.
I usually get the vocalist to perform the song all the way through 2 or 3 times, to get him/her comfortable, getting used to the sound in the headphones and working with the backing track, making any necessary level or even arrangement adjustments to get the best vocal we can. Then depending on the song and singer I would either record several takes all the way through or do it in sections. After each take we have a quick discussion to work out what worked well about that take and how we could approach the vocal performance differently for the next take.
Hopefully after a couple of hours (including breaks to chat) we have 3 or 4 basically ideal takes, which we then go through and select the best bits from. Always ensuring that the flow of the complied take is not tampered with. The compiling process can take anything from 15 minutes to 2 hours, really just depends how many takes we are listening to and how tight the edits have to be. All in all though, we should be left with a lovely sweet sounding lead vocal track. more...

Filling In the Blanks

This is where the real time can be spent, creating all the detail that sets apart a good recording from a great recording. Now that the vocals are in place the instrumentation can be shaped and added to, thereby augmenting the vocals in the best possible way. Lots of little parts that make all the difference are things like drum fills, effects, keyboard/guitar tunes that wrk off the vocals, harmonic additions to other main parts, parts that build up throughout sections to create tension and dynamics, and possibly lengthening or shortening the song as needed. All the time adjusting the mix to hear the track in a 'finished' context throughout.

Mixdown

Generally I don't think of the mixdown as a separate process, since I am 'mixing as I go' throughout the entire session. Having said that, allocating a period of time once all the parts are in place, so that adjustments to the volume levels, tone and effects for each part, as well as removing the odd section of instrumentation to create space in the arrangement, or adding small additional parts to fill in holes. Then the fairly short process of 'bouncing' the mix to disk as a stereo file which can be made into a CD. If the client requires it, then I would bounce down an instrumental version which can be used for various purposes in the future. more...