Help us be as efficient as possible in the studio

January 3, 2011 2:58 PM

Heading into the studio this weekend and would like some tips, comments and experience on being as productive as possible.

Dear Hive mind, my band is recording in a studio this weekend (interestingly enough called the Hive) and I would like your tips on workflow suggestions.

We have two 10 hour working days. The clock stops when we go for lunch. We are going to attempt to record 7 songs in that time. We are going to record pretty much from the floor with a few overdubs. They've got isolation booths for the amps.

I was hoping to be able to do all 7 instrumental bed tracks in the first day and then spend the next day on overdubs and vocals. This means that if we don't get anything on the second day, we can do the rest ad hoc where necessary. Do you think this is reasonable? We are about as tight as we are going to get (which I think is pretty tight actually) and in our practices we've been playing flawlessly.

I've also thought about a "batch" approach, where we record 3 bed tracks, then do the vocals and overdubs, then do a few more. The problem I have with this approach is that we might miss a batch and find ourselves 2 songs short or something.

I like the idea of being able to review what we've done the first day so that we can fix mistakes while we're still there, so doing vocals on day one is appealing.

I've already sent the song list as well as all of the instruments and overdubs for each so that the studio can be prepared as they're going to be.

Any advice would be appreciated!
posted by dobie (17 comments total)

I've recorded with my band on a weekend timeframe a few times and we have always done all the music tracks day one including any overdubs or punch ins. Our singer does a scratch vocal track the first day, but her final takes, my back ups, and mixing all happen on day two. We did seven songs our last session and it worked, but I wish we'd had more time to work on mixing and mastering.

I think you'll be less efficient if you keep going back and forth between vocals and music, but as long as you're not breaking down and setting up equipment all the time it probably doesn't matter too much if that helps you keep things fresh. But don't do anything that wates time, you have very little to spare.

The next time my band does this I'd like to add an additional day of mixing/mastering a couple weeks or more after the recording session. I always seem to find that what sounds fantastic that weekend could use some improvements once the recording high wears off.
posted by InfidelZombie at 6:55 PM on January 3, 2011

Agreed with InfidelZombie.

1) Practice, practice, practice. Since you're paying several hundred bucks a day for this, get your performance down before showing up. Doing a ton of takes because you're not really ready is a recipe for wasting a lot of money.

2) Lay down all the instrumental tracks before working on real/final vocals. Scratch tracks for vocals are OK if you need any vocal cues, but if you have done #1 adequately, you won't need them.

3) Do what you can to get into vocal work on Day 1. You will definitely need time for mixing on day 2. A decent (not awesome) mix for 5 tracks takes several hours.

Did I mention practice? If each person can't practically play the entire song to nothing more than a metronome, you're risking a waste of time. And time isn't cheap at a buck a minute.
posted by chimaera at 7:05 PM on January 3, 2011

Thanks guys, we're actually going to do the mixing and mastering at a later date so we have the full two days to just record. I'm going to try as much as possible to get scratch vocals by the first day. Might be a slog though!
posted by dobie at 10:45 PM on January 3, 2011

Try to give yourself breaks so that you're not exhausting yourself. If you don't have to be in the booth or on the floor while someone else is doing overdubs, go somewhere quiet where you can be found quickly and read the paper or take a nap or something.

Is this your first time in the studio? Work hard and have fun with it!
posted by Maaik at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2011

7 songs in two days is a lot. Definitely take time to get everything set up right in the beginning and have your drum sounds locked in and play through all of the tracks a couple of times to make sure that you have a great drum take. And if bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals, whatevers from those takes work, keep 'em. Two 10 hour days is not a lot of time to record 7 songs -- even if the songs are short, everything in the studio takes longer than you expect.
posted by andrewraff at 1:47 PM on January 4, 2011

Have a pretty good idea what it is you are gonna do with each song. Everyone needs to have their parts down cold. I'd schedule an extra rehearsal or two if possible.

nthing taking breaks.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:06 PM on January 4, 2011

Maaik, I've been in studios when I was younger. I've done a lot of home/friend recording over the years and have gotten to the point where I appreciate the idea of having someone else worry about the details

The studio has couches and chill out areas so I think we should be able to take breaks. I have a feeling I'm going to
posted by dobie at 4:13 PM on January 4, 2011

I've recorded 8-10 track albums in two days, twice. You have to treat it like a military operation. A few key ideas:

-- You need your arrangements totally down and finalized. There is no room for arguing. Everyone needs to sign off before you go into the studio.

-- You need to be completely on top of your playing. Anything you have a hard time with needs to have a simplified version you can nail in three takes. It sounds like you have this down.

-- If you have the opportunity, do a dry run of the whole process with Garageband or something. It doesn't need to sound good. But you should demo the whole arrangement you have in mind, not just the parts you can play live.

-- Record as much as you can live, with the whole band playing.

-- Do not let the anal retentive member of the band suck up all the time trying to fix something that doesn't need fixing.

-- figure out what can be fixed with a half day session later on. The main thing is to get the backbone down.

-- do NOT mix between recording various instruments. It's a pain in the ass for the engineer. It is far, far easier to work on one instrument at a time so s/he doesn't have to keep reconfguring the desk, trying to match mic positions etc.
posted by unSane at 6:58 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, no alcohol or other drugs until the recording day is over.
posted by unSane at 6:59 PM on January 4, 2011

Good tips unSane. Basically a lot of the tracks I've posted here have been those GarageBand demos you've mentioned. I think I might be the anal retentive one so I'll try to keep myself in check.

The desk is 96 tracks, a refurbished artifact of the early 80s that they can pretty much set and forget with our configuration. We have very few instrument switches so we should be good there. That's a good tip about laying down overdubbed instruments. We'll do all the grand piano at once, all the acoustic guitar at once, all the vocals at once.

Plus I just found out our drummer's uncle and is going to help us tune the drum sound in the studio first thing. He played drums on "Summer of 69".

(btw, the Unsane album with "action man" was my soundtrack to grade 8)

Keep them coming everybody!
posted by dobie at 8:21 PM on January 4, 2011

Couple of other things to add to the useful comments of unSane and others:
- Ask yourselves why you're going into the studio and what you're spending your cash on. What are you going to do with these shiny recordings? I really don't want to be a party-pooper - but ask yourselves "are we just on a rock star trip here or is there a real business case for this?"
- record your most popular songs - even the ones you think suck but your fans or partners like;
- do the "commercial" ones first and leave the muso, look-at-me-Mom stuff till last;
- think about whether an EP of 4 or 5 tracks is better than 7. I mean 7 track isn't an EP or and LP....... Would it be better to have 4 well recorded tracks, or 7 that are rushed and you're all a bit unhappy with for various reasons?;
- if you can get someone to produce it - fantastic. This is building on unSane's very good point about nit-picking. You really do need someone who is in charge of this project and who will say "no" or "yes" or "shut up, that's a take, next track"and you all shut the fuck up and go with the decision.
have you heard any output from this studio? Or from the engineer you're going to be working with? If you play pastoral folk and he likes thrash metal, you may have a slight problemette....

I've done quite a lot of "proper" studio work down the years and the main thing I think in terms of the time you've allocated is to focus on maybe 3 or 4 tracks and get them sounding the way you want, maybe with some time for alternate mixes etc. And, above all, put someone in charge. Please. That clock will run down fast......
posted by MajorDundee at 3:12 AM on January 5, 2011

Should have added to that - don't expect the engineer to take charge of the session. He or she won't give a flying fuck whether you spend two days on one track or record 20 tracks in one day and stand around scratching your arses the second.

Oh and ask about the multitracks - do you get to keep them or what? That's probably less of a problem now than in my heyday (it was 2" tape then), but if you can walk away with the multitrack you can mix to stereo to your heart's content.........and that could save a lot of actual studio time. That raises another set of issues around what exactly are you paying for here - the room sound?, or the hardware they have?, or the software?? or the technical nous??). If you analyse it right down, you might only really need a good room an decent mics - you can do a lot of the mixing yourseles. But...enough already.....:-))
posted by MajorDundee at 3:31 AM on January 5, 2011

don't expect the engineer to take charge of the session

nthing this!

If you are lucky the engineer will have some producing/arranging skills but don't count on it and certainly don't count on them knocking your heads together, should they need knocking.
posted by unSane at 9:10 AM on January 5, 2011

Major, I appreciate your concerns about making the best use of time. We've talked about 4 hours of setup the first day, which would leave 16 hours total for 7 tracks. I feel confident that we could do the bed tracking for all 7 in about 5 or 6 hours. We already have 2 tracks in the can so we were thinking that 7+2 = album. It is a good point about prioritizing tracks to work on, I can think of only one that could potentially give us trouble when we get there (mostly because it is very precise in terms of tone and performance).
posted by dobie at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2011

We just decided that I am the "producer". Should be all good. I'm going to draw up an agenda for the two days so that we have a schedule going in.
posted by dobie at 11:33 AM on January 5, 2011

Great! The agenda is an excellent idea. One final piece of advice that's worth heeding is that all good project managers ensure that there's some contingency built in. Projects always overrun - either in time or in budget (often both!). So I'd identify and agree with the band a sacrificial track that you'll drop if time gets tight. Leave that one to last in the schedule, obviously.

And - the very best of luck to you dobie and the rest of the band!! We'll all be cheering you on to the creative heights! You must post the results so we can all have a listen! Makes me go all misty eyed remembering my first time in a studio (1980, Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, England, an E.P. for a short-lived indie label called Neo Records, distributed by CBS (Columbia now) which we tended to emphasise rather more than the obscure indie thing, sank without a fucking trace!).
posted by MajorDundee at 12:44 PM on January 5, 2011

So, we survived the weekend.

It was in some ways faster, some ways slower than expected. We got all of the bed tracks done the first day, including pro tools edits. Did instrument overdubs the second morning, got all the lead vocals done and some of the backing vocals as well as a rough mix.

We are going back on the 23rd for a few hours to finish up vocals and then we'll be done.

It sounds better than anything I have ever done before. I'm stoked.
posted by dobie at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

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