Tech Tip:- Creating Your CD, Part I: Recording

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

By Dennis Kambury

Are you ready to create your masterpiece? It takes more than writing and performing your songs - it takes planning, dedication, and lots of work. In this series, we'll look at the three phases of the production process: recording, mixing, and mastering. This week we'll look at the recording process, what it entails, and how to prepare for it.

In the studio

The recording process is where the raw materials are created that will eventually become your masterpiece. The main purpose of the recording session is to get your music onto tape (or hard disk) with the highest possible quality. Inside the studio, the engineer will take great care to capture the sound of your instrument or voice as cleanly and accurately as possible. If you're operating on a smaller scale, the engineer may also help you by coaxing out a better performance, suggesting alternate takes, or even performing some of the instrumental parts or contributing to the arrangement. For larger-scale productions, you may have session musicians, arrangers, and producers filling these roles. Whatever your scope, your job is to perform to the best of your abilities. Come to the studio with parts prepared and instruments (including yourself!) in top shape. Be well rehearsed - in the studio, time is money, and botched takes or on-the-fly arranging can add significantly to your bill. Have your ego somewhat in check, too. You may need it for a great performance, but engineers and producers are a nit-picky bunch, and will point out flaws that might have a negative impact on the song.

Unless you're shooting for a totally "live" sound, it's likely that your songs will be recorded in pieces, with each part added as an overdub. Often, the basic rhythm section - drums, bass, and rhythm guitar - will be recorded together so a real groove can be maintained. This also gives the singers and soloists a real foundation for laying down their overdubbed parts. When it's your turn to step up to the mic, give it your all. You may fluff a note or two, and it may require a few takes to get it nailed, but a good engineer will be able to fix bad notes and cobble together a "perfect" track out of several not-quite-perfect takes.

Watching the clock

You may be surprised at how long it can take to record a three-minute song. Even with a live recording, it can take several takes to nail the groove, with time between takes to listen, assess, tune, and try again. When you're assembling a piece with basic tracks and overdubs, this process is compounded - it can easily take an hour of recording time for each minute of a finished song! If you're well rehearsed, this time can be kept to a minimum, but if you try to break speed records during the recording process you may actually end up taking longer as you continuously stop and clean up mistakes!

What's next?

After the meat-and-potatoes recording sessions are complete, it'll be time to
get creative! Our next article will look at the mixing process, where raw material is blended and prepared into a sumptuous sonic feast!