The Recording Process

Mobile audio recording, editing, mixing, and mastering services for the San Francisco Bay Area

The Recording Process

Live concert recording

Live concert recording is a fairly simple process. Since our equipment is so simple, the only real decision that needs to be made when doing a recording is the placement of the equipment and microphones. The setup provides results that are extremely lifelike and close to what an audience member would hear if sitting where the microphones are placed. To provide the most detailed result, that usually means being very close to the front of the audience, in the center. Unfortunately, that means the microphone stand and mics will obstruct the view of audience members slightly, but the mics are usually situated high in the air over the heads of everyone who's seated, and the microphones themselves aren't too big, so it isn't much of a problem. It's best if there's a power outlet somewhere near the front of the space to avoid having to do long cable runs. In any event, we always tape down cables to keep audience members from tripping over them.

It usually isn't necessary for us to check out a performance space before doing a recording; we can come into an unfamiliar hall and with minimal setup achieve a good result.

We usually like to arrive an hour or so before the concert begins to have time to find the best place to set up, and to be finished with that setup before any audience members are seated.

After the concert, we will edit the recording by cropping out much of the dead time between pieces, setting the overall volume and sweetening the sound, and placing all the track points on the CD. The process isn't too difficult, and you should receive a finished copy of the CD by mail within a few weeks of the concert. If you wish, we can give you an unedited master copy of the recording (there is no actual "master tape" since we record straight to computer flash memory), but this probably isn't of interest to you unless you want to do your own audio editing on it.

Multi-take "studio" recording

If you're recording a demo or a CD for sale, then you're probably more interested in a "studio" process where you can record multiple takes of each song and edit them together to produce a more perfect result.  We don't have a studio that you can come to and record in, so you'll need to find a suitable venue.  If you have one or two performers, then we can place an individual microphone on each recorder and bypass the acoustics of the room, meaning we can record almost anywhere that's quiet.  A good example of this is a vocal demo with piano accompaniment; we place a microphone at the soundboard of the piano and a microphone directly in front of the singer, and the recording location is usually the accompanist's house.  The two sources are mixed together in post-production and artificial reverb added to make it sound like the music was recorded in a medium-sized concert hall.

Since we have only two microphones, if you have more than two performers, we need to use a different approach.  In that case, the acoustics of the space are more important, because the performers are spaced as if giving a live performance, and the microphones are set up nearby to record stereo ambient sound.  Artificial reverb can be added afterward, so room acoustics are less important than they would be for a live performance, but it's important that the space be quiet; traffic and other urban noises can be quite distracting.

The real advantage to this process is that you can perform multiple takes of each song, and you can choose the best bits from each take to splice together a seamless result.  It's not necessary to have one take that's perfect all the way through, but you can choose edits to work around problems in any individual take.  There's usually great flexibility to match different takes together, provided that the general tone and pitch match at the edit point.

In fact, it's best to have at least two takes of everything, even if you think you nailed it the first time, in case there's an unwanted extraneous noise in the take, or there's a performance problem you didn't spot during the session.

Extraneous noises can be very distracting in the end recording, so we do our best to try to work around them in editing.  One of the biggest problems is page turns in music, since the sound tends to be very crisp and really stand out in the mix, and also since the sound originates so close to the microphones; if possible, try to be off-book for the session to avoid the problem.

How does the recording and editing process work?

The recording engineer will arrive half an hour to an hour before you plan to begin, to give time to examine the space where we will record, set up, and get ready.  During the session, the engineer will remain unobtrusive, monitoring the recording over headphones, but mostly letting the performers do their thing.  The engineer is listening more for noises and recording problems than performance or interpretation, so it's mostly up to you to determine whether a take is good enough, or if there are spots where you need to go back and re-record.  The engineer can make suggestions as needed, but isn't a trained musician.

Subsequent editing is a multi-step process than can happen entirely through E-mail and postal mail.  Shortly after the recording session is finished, you'll receive CDs with raw, unedited tracks of all the takes in the session.  It'll be up to you to listen to the material and identify what takes to use for each part of each song.  You then communicate that back (sending a copy of the score is really helpful so you can talk in terms of notes and measures), and the engineer will edit together the desired takes, work around any additional noises or problems as necessary, and then mix the result down, adding reverb and doing other audio sweetening to produce a polished result.  You'll then receive a CD of the result of this process.  If you're happy, then the CD is the final master; if you'd like to make additional changes, then you can communicate those back, and we can go through multiple rounds of candidate masters until the process is finished.

You do your own duplication of the finished CD, or we can do simple copies for a nominal fee.

How many sessions do you need?

For a controlled-environment recording, you should budget session time of 6-8 times the length of the finished product.  It sounds like a lot, but after performing multiple takes of all the material, plus rehearsals, discussion, and the occasional break, it adds up.  It's probably best to plan on sessions of 2-3 hours or less; it's too hard to maintain the amount of energy and concentration needed to do good recording longer than that, since it's such an intensive process.  If you have more than 4 or so songs to record, it's probably best to budget more than one session; if the sessions are spaced far enough apart in time, we can get you the raw material from the first session before we record the second, so if you hear anything in the playback that you'd like to redo, you'll have the opportunity.

Should you get a producer?

Having a musically trained person who's familiar with the material present at the session would be a great help.  The recording engineer has experience and opinions, but probably doesn't know the material, doesn't know what you're shooting for, and doesn't have formal music training.  The performers themselves can do a fair job of judging their performance and identifying things to re-do, but a separate person is less distracted and can take notes.  If you work with a teacher or music director, that person would make an ideal producer.