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Recording Your First Demo CD

Date: Saturday, October 23, 2004 12:02:46 PM

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Being a professional musician is a job like any other. Although, this risky career does offer a few bonuses: Fame, fortune (sometimes) and fans aren’t the only extras. The recording studio is often called home by the best of musicians, and to us, it is a great substitute to the boring corporate office.

You play in a band, you’ve written songs and you’re ready to record. Now comes the big step: Deciding on a studio to record in. (This article will not cover the legal aspects of recording. I will include these aspects in another article)

Before you make your booking:

It is essential to decide what your band needs. In other words: What you will be recording. Studios often charge per hour or per day. A day rate does not only differ in price from studio to studio, but also in the amount of hours included in a “per day” package.
Decide how many songs are going to be recorded and practice these to perfection.
Remember that time is money, and the longer you record the more it is going to cost.

Checking out the studio:

Listen to a previous recording made by the studio that falls into your music genre. This “demo” will play an important role when you select a producer to work with.

Check to see what microphones the studio has available. One general rule applies: the more, the merrier. A studio with a limited amount of mic’s can’t offer you the same quality that a studio with a large boutique mic collection can.

Some studios offer vintage and modern guitar-amps, custom drum-sets and rare guitars to hire. This could be an added bonus if your gear isn’t up to scratch.

What monitors speakers are they using? This is an extremely important issue. The speakers in a studio are the only link between your music and the producer’s ears and if they sound bad, so will you. A mix done on headphones or on bad speakers will also translate very badly onto other system. In other words: The CD will only sound good in that studio. Ask the producer directly if he has full-range and near-field monitors.

Recorder. Find out how the tracking system works. Tracking is the term for recording more than one channel of audio at the same time. A typical budget studio should be able to track 4 or 8 channels simultaneously. A semi professional studio that uses a DAT usually track about 16 channels where a modern professional studio can usually track about 64 channels at once. I’ve seen ADAT’s capable of tracking 256 channels at once, but these usually cost more than a five bedroom house with a swimming pool.

Most modern budget studios are software based. This makes the studio extremely flexible and these systems can usually track 8 channels.

Mixers and outboard gear: The mixer (also revered to as a “desk” if the main mix runs through it) is also important. Although, in a digital studio the mixer will only be used during recording to provide the musicians with a headphone mix and the control room with a “control room mix”, thus it plays no roll during mixdown (combining all the recorded tracks and leveling their volumes to one track.) I’ve been so privileged to have worked with a 256 channel desk which retails for about R4million. (See photo) I have to admit nothing beats the feel of a desk that is as long as the room. These come at a very high price so be warned: These studios are for the pro’s only.
Outboard gear are all the modules not included in the desk. These include Mic-preamps, compressors, reverb’s, equalizers etc. Most studios will offer at least a good quality mic-preamp.

Acoustics also plays a very big role during recording. If the room is too dampened your recordings will sound lifeless and dull. If the room is too bright (too many reflection), The recording will become messy and unclear, losing punch. Be on the lookout for over-treated studios and avoid recording there. The key is the room should sound natural without a big RT60 (RT60 is the measure of a sounds decay time, If you clap your hand in a hall, the RT60 is very big). Novice studios also make the big mistake of treating their walls with thick carpet. A carpeted wall is excellent in absorbing high frequencies but doesn’t absorb any low frequencies. This will result in a very muddy, bassy sound without clarity. A carpeted wall does however work well in vocal booths, since your voice doesn’t have much low frequencies.

Avoid splitting the band into different rooms. (Except drums and vocals) A good performance is achieved much easier when the band can play “with” each other.

This little guide should have given you a slight bit of insight into what is happening inside a recording studio. I hope you will enjoy your first recording session. Nothing fills you with more satisfaction than sitting in the control room and listening to your first CD.

-Wicus Labuschagne

*Be sure to read my article on studio etiquette! I will be discussing what you should be touching at a studio and what not.

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