Recording, sometimes referred as the necessary evil, isn’t always the most enjoyable experience. Especially when a band records themselves, it can turn out repulsive. If your session is full of uncertainty and arguing, your songs will reflect those emotions in a bad way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of chaos your recording session was an awesome experience? Something that you’d want to experience again and again? Whether you are a musician or recording engineer, these 4 tips will make your recording session a lot more enjoyable experience.
What if instead of chaos your recording session was an awesome experience?
I remember clearly when in 1993 I was 16 and went to a real studio for the very first time to record my songs on tape. That scent of the tape added its flavour to the awesome experience I had with my bandmates. The skilled engineer guided us to deliver the best possible performance. This experience had such a huge impact, that it led me to buy an 8 track tape machine and a small mixing desk. That’s the road I’m still on delivering those same emotions and experiences to the musicians who visit me.
Take a moment to think about your studio experiences. Are they the best ever or something you wouldn’t want to experience again? It’s surprising how many say that recording feels unpleasant and leads to a lot of arguing. Several bands have ended up changing their lineup or even break up during or right after the session. I will now share with you tips on how to improve your recording experience and find the joy of recording again.
1.Focus on the comfortability
13 years ago I made a huge renovation to the accommodation facility and replaced the ragged wallpaper with 140-year-old timber. What surprised me was that you could hear the change in the music recorded at Astia and bands even seemed to play much better. Like Nikke Knatterton I made the conclusion that comfortability affects the sound of the music. Bands and A&Rs who arrive from different continents have stated how cosy and great mood Astia-studio has. You can hear all this in the music recoded here. If you run a studio, I warmly recommend to make the recording rooms and the whole facility as comfortable as possible. That’s a great way to improve how your recording sounds.
Soothing colors on recording room helps the band to get into the mood. Big windows outside can be great, yet direct sunlight can have a negative effect on certain genre session. Metal and sunlight are rarely a perfect match. The first Finnish Idol’s competition winner Ms Hanna Pakarinen became infatuated with the Astia vocal booth. As I explain on Better Vocal Recording blog post, she re-created the Astia-studio vocal booth mood in other studios by covering the big windows with bin bags among few other things.
Read more: Better Vocal Recording pt. 1
Cleanliness brings comfort
Keep your recording facility clean. Along the years stuff tends to gather and be forgotten to the corners and corridor. It’s good to be the hotel inspector every once in a while. Ms Alex Polizzi always pays attention to every detail, so enter your facility like she would and drag all the extra stuff to the storage, recycling center or give them to those who need them more.
If you record at the rehearsal place, you can improve the comfortability with little effort. Rehearsal room recording rarely compares to professional studio starting from the acoustical stand point. Yet, you can compensate a lot by making the room comfortable. Correct lights, cleanliness and the right colors will help you to get into the mood.
It is important that the musician has enough privacy. We all know the eerie feeling, like someone’s watching our back and when we turn, the feeling was right. Everyone can feel the eyes on their back. This is one of the things that can distract you during recording. So you should always give enough privacy to those playing and singing. Guide the people present to concentrate on their mobile phone instead rather than to stare at the musician you are recording.
2.Record as ready sound as possible
This topic is so important that I wrote a whole blog post with clear examples about it. You can read This Is Why Music Sounds Better When You Process The Audio During Recording post here. Let’s go through a couple of things that will help you.
Drums are easy to track at the rehearsal room by connecting a handful of microphones to a sound card. As I have explained and shown on several blog posts and videos, this way a huge amount of nuances are lost. Drums do not only sound lifeless and lame, but also nothing like the drums on any released album.
For a very long time I have recorded as ready sound as possible and without exception every band loves this approach. First they wonder how I have the guts to do heavy processing especially on drums during recording. And what if during mixing you’d like to choose another reverb for guitar or a different tone for the snare? It’s baffling how musicians have turned out to be sissies. Most are afraid to do any decision as they fear the almighty mixing engineer. Oh the lamentation of the ultimate ruler who combines the tracks if his holiness is not allowed to choose the guitar reverb and has to settle to what is already recorded! It would be horrible as the mix might be ready much sooner and the band might actually be satisfied not to the 11th but already to the 1st mix version. So horrible indeed!
As I mix everything I record, I can be sure that the mixing engineer won’t get angry about the decisions made during recording. He actually is happy and the mixing is done fast with super high quality.
Faster mixing with better sound
The more ready the sound you record, the more enjoyable the recording session. And it also makes the mixing a lot faster. When you record as ready sound as possible you know exactly how the mix will turn out and minimise the possibility for disappointment. This will definitely confuse the mixing engineer as now their task goes back to basics; adjust the balance and don’t do anything else. I would let the mixing engineer do all the decisions if it was his music. Always remember whose music and career is at stake. I can give a hint; it should not be the one who mixes the tracks…
Another great advantage of this method is that it improves the sound itself. A simple A/B comparison proves that recording drums using hardware eq and compressors before the A/D conversion improves the sound. If you record without processing and process only during mixing, the sound is much more lame. Even when using the exactly same settings. Recording as ready sound as possible will not only make your recording experience more pleasant, but also improve the sound of your music. This way you’ll avoid the unpleasant surprise when listening the first mix version.
Which drum sound version would you rather listen thru-out the recording session? Watch and choose what you like the most.
3.The importance of the mood and atmosphere
Hold on, how did you say it was… music is about robot-like executing of patterns? No wait, the opposite! Music at best is an art where the emotion leads you. Even though I have spent 25 years learning how sound behaves and how much acoustics, microphones and hardware affects it, that’s only 5%. The other 95% is psychology. A great recording engineer can create a relaxed atmosphere where you don’t only feel comfortable, but you also feel safe. It’s about minimising the distraction factors.
I don’t think you will appreciate the engineer laughing at the musician who plays wrong notes. I’ve been told how an engineer yelled to a vocalist who had a bad singing moment in vocal booth: “Get the f*ck out of there!”. This can lead to negative feedback among bands and most don’t ever want to work with such engineer again.
A supportive atmosphere leads to awesome recording
Yet, you always must be genuine and speak only the truth. If your support isn’t honest a sensitive musician will sense it and you do not want to hang out or make music with a liar. Art and artist is about sensitivity. The recording engineer is someone that the band has to be able to trust 110%. If the band doesn’t trust the engineer, it’s better to forget about recording and go home.
Positive feedback works the best and a successful take should always be complimented. If you record yourself and manage to capture a great take, tap yourself on the shoulder. Everyone wants to receive positive feedback so give it always when you can and when it is needed.
On each session we’ll adjust the lights and I’ll personally go through the headphone balance of each musician. This way I will minimise the distractions. My opinion is that one of the most important task for a recording engineer is to create an atmosphere where musician feels the most comfortable. If during recording your attention is drawn to anything else than your instrument or your voice, you cannot deliver the best performance ever. This is also one of the reasons why I do not recommend you to record yourself. Concentrate on one thing only and you will get much more rewarding results. On all areas of life.
4.Record with a professional
Not many albums that are called the classics are made by the band without the help of the professionals. Sure there are those rare succeedings, but if you ask the band the amount of work is so huge that not many want to even try to do it again. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of checking the levels, adjusting the headphone balance and choosing the takes you could for once put your full concentration on playing and singing only?
Even after 10 successful albums I do not recommend you to record and/or produce your music yourself. Have a person who has done hundreds or thousands of albums do it for you. We’ll understand it better when it’s put into the context of live shows. After 10 live shows you might think you know everything there is about playing live. Yet, a musician who has done 1.000 live shows knows for a fact that after 10 shows you have no idea about what live shows are about. Swap the live show to an album session and you’ll start to understand the importance of a professional.
There is a huge amount of those who claim to be professional sound engineer/producers as all you need is a laptop to become a “studio owner”. You should choose the engineer/producer with care. Don’t let the big promises fool you. Just check out the work quality and that will tell you all you need to know. Then it’s good to ask around about the personality of the engineer/producer as we all want to have a great captain to steer our ship.
Why go to an expensive studio when you can record for free at the rehearsal room?
If you are disappointed with rehearsal room recording you should consider going to a real studio. In a professional recording studio the acoustics make a huge difference. Especially the drum room has to be spacious and great sounding. The drum room affects the sound much more than you’d imagine and you cannot create a huge world-class drum sound in a small sound isolated closet.
A professional engineer can guide both the beginners and professional musicians as he has done on hundreds of sessions and knows how to whip the be(a)st out of you. A professional sound engineer lifts your music and performance to a whole new level. Sometimes it is about how tight you play, sometimes about unique sound and sometimes about capturing the mood and atmosphere.
Unfortunately today it’s not common for any band to sound unique as most music sounds boring and generic. Dare to be different and dare to stand out!
Stand out from the masses
Two years ago after countless comparisons I quit computer recording after noticing how much information was lost compared to tape recording. I took a lot of time to consider weather I dare to be so radically different and offer no-editing, no-vocal-tuning and no-drum-samples. Then again, I know it as a fact that when working with tape none of the above is needed as even a rookie band captured on tape sounds solid, tight and in tune.
Take a moment to think about how much editing and tuning your music needs. Or does it need it after all? What if the reason for such need is in the recording platform in which tuning and editing are always needed. I’ve got awesome news for you: there is a great and honest option available!
Recording on tape is a great way to stand out from the masses. It’s definitely not about having the same result as with computer but on an old and limited platform. The difference between computer and tape recording is so huge that if you’d hear it with your own ears, you neither would want to have your music recorded on computer.
Be brave and stand out! Don’t cut corners and try to get away with the least amount of effort. Do everything with great ambition and be real. Classic albums are not given birth by editing and re-amping. They are delivered using real instruments and real performances in “music delivery room” called a professional recording studio!
Let’s recap my tips for more pleasant recording experience:
- Focus on the comfortability – improved comfortability = improved recording quality
- Record as ready sound as possible – along with the improved sound you’ll enjoy recording a lot more and minimise the disappointment when listening to the first mix version
- The importance of the mood and atmosphere – a fraction is captured on computer and a lot lot more on tape
- Record with a professional – if you choose a real dentist over your experimental friend when it comes to tooth-ache, you should also consider working with a professional when it comes to recording
Enjoyable recording experience
If you are disappointed not only with the recording quality but also your recording experience, I highly recommend recording on tape with a professional. My tips will improve your recording experience wherever and with whomever you record regardless of the recording platform. So you can make a difference even when recording yourself at the rehearsal room.
You are warmly welcome to Astia-studio to capture your music on tape with me. Tape session is something completely different compared to computer recording. Tape captures your amp as it sounds when you play next to it. You don’t only hear your drums as they sound in the drum room, but all the small nuances are there unlike on computer recording. As a vocalist it’s strange how much more alive and expressive your singing sounds. You can hear the difference even on a poor quality mp3.
Our studio B is a great stepping stone towards tape session. You can record your music on computer in a highly professional acoustical environment using awesome-sounding analogue hardware. The acoustics and analogue hardware will improve the sound quality even if you record on computer.
Get more sound tips
A sincere thank you for letting me share tips about how to improve your recording experience. From the bottom of my heart I hope that no matter where you record, you can concentrate on one thing at a time in an inspiring atmosphere with inspiring people and capture moments worth capturing. Leave an amazing musical legacy and dare to be different! Stay away from the same drum samples that everyone else uses. As a matter of fact don’t use drum samples of any kind. Be original and genuine. Stand out from the masses and do what nobody else does!
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Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.