Cigars and Brandy in the War Room – October 2009









Ok, last month we discussed the different kinds of records bands or artists generally make, and I know I promised to talk about the difference between and producer and an engineer, but I think a little digression is justified…

Let’s talk about the process of recording a bit.

Generally speaking, the steps (in order) are:

  • Pre-Production
  • Recording
  • Duplication

Now under each of these labels fall several other things that need to be done, but not every project will be able to, or need to do them all. So I’ll explain the process from the point of view of your average four piece rock band going into the studio to record a full length album.


Everything you do before you walk into the studio is pre-production. This is the most important part of the recording process. Seriously. THE MOST IMPORTANT.  This step encompasses writing the song, REHEARSING THE SONG, and knowing what you want to achieve, which very conveniently refers back to the last article I wrote, so go ahead and check that out if you’re unclear about what you need out of a recording.

As part of the pre-production step, you want to be able to play every song you plan to record in your sleep before you set foot in the studio to record. Having to learn a song in the studio is not only extremely expensive, but also really irritates everyone around, especially the engineer.  And yes, they’re getting paid, but by rehearsing in the studio, you are wasting your time with them, trust me.

If you are fortunate enough to have someone outside the band in the producer role, they really should be familiar with your tunes before the session starts.  I know sometimes that is not entirely possible, in which case the “production” will have to take place in the studio, which is fine, but a little advance notice will make the process that much easier. So if you can, get them out to a few rehearsals before you roll tape.

The reason that pre-production is the most important step in the recording process is because no matter how great the studio, how expensive the guitar, or how much auto tune you use, only people can write great songs. No amount of studio trickery or technological magic can do it for you. Go ahead and read that again because that’s what will be on the test. Only people can write and perform great songs. Songs that people want to sing along to in their cars. Go ahead and roll that around in the old noodle for a bit. Take the time to thoroughly rehearse, and THEN go into the studio.


Once you are there, things get a little more straightforward, because you will have, or SHOULD have, an engineer or producer who will help guide the process. Be wary of engineers who don’t.

In my shop, I generally set up the band live in the room with all the instruments isolated, record everything and plan on re-recording at least the vocals. If the band is rocking, and everyone is happy with the performances on tape, then hell, we might mix it right there. However during this process we are usually just looking to get keeper drum tracks and MAYBE keeper bass.  Since all the instruments are isolated, we can just mute the guitars and bass and they won’t be heard bleeding into the drum mics.  That way, we can go ahead and overdub the guitars, bass, and vocals later on and not have any weird phantom guitar sounds coming through the drum mics. We may or may not use a click track, depending on the band and the song. It’s not a hard and fast rule.

SO we record a few takes and everyone is happy with the drums. We may comp a few of the drum takes together (compiling a take by cutting and pasting the takes that everyone likes best) but we now have the building block for the song. The most efficient way to record is to do one instrument at a time. For instance, if we set up mics for the drums, we should record drums for every song while everyone is fresh, in the mindset and the drums are set up and still in tune.

Breaks are important while the whole band is playing together. I know, you’re probably paying by the hour, but think about it. Taking a 15 minute break to clear your head and nail the next take is a far more effective use of time than playing 30 unusable takes and making everyone, especially the drummer, more and more frustrated, to the point where they need to take a break any way to go out in the hall and cry. Yes, cry. I’ve seen it. It’s sad. Never underestimate the power of a little breather during a long, and/or stressful session.

Once the drums, the foundation of the song, are recorded, then the process gets a little more open. Some bands work better recording guitars first, and some prefer bass. We tend to record guitars first because the bass needs to fill in the space between the guitars and kick drum, both sonically and performance-wise. So guitars generally happen first, but not always, and it is always possible to go BACK to record more guitars after the bass has been laid down.

Ok, so fast forward through the recording and onto mixing. Mixing is the process by which all the separate tracks that were recorded are combined into one stereo track. It’s a somewhat arduous process and much of the time will probably be taken up by the engineer scowling.

That being said, someone from the band needs to attend the mix session, because it’s not the engineer’s record, it’s yours and YOU need to be happy.  So be sure to attend, take breaks, and listen to the mixes in the car.

Once the mixes are done, you will need to do something about mastering the record. Mastering is not really something I do to my own work, but I have been known to master things in a pinch. Maybe someone else on can chime in about mastering. Inquiring minds want to know!


Ok almost forgot about duplication. Duplication is largely dictated by two things One; budget, and Two, the kind of record you intend to put out. If you are getting this cd pressed, in jewel cases with a booklet, bar code, etc, its probably going to cost you about $1.20-1.50 a cd if you order 1000. You want to order 1000. Most of the time, it’s almost as much to just order 500, so save your pennies and just do it. Another good and cheaper option for an EP or Promo Disc is the Direct on Disc Inklet printing in a simple case with a home made or made at Kinkos insert. These can be had for AROUND the same price as the big boy discs (when you order 1000 or more). They don’t look quite as nice, but they are extremely effective, have smaller minimum orders, and a far shorter turnaround time, which means that you can sell a few to pay for a few more, and it can spread the pain of ordering 1500 bucks worth of Cds all at once.

Ok, I’m over my word limit, take care everybody and don’t stop the rock.

Be Well,

Chris Short

Owner/Head Engineer

Alpaca Ranch Recording .com


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