World Class Recording in the Highlands of Scotland
A typical recording session


About Us
Equipment List
Pictures of the Studio
A typical recording session
Prices and bookings
How to get to The Byre
Contact Us
Funny Pages: People
Funny Pages: Animals
Tricks of the Trade
Digital v. Analogue
A Career in Audio
Home Recording
Getting Great Sounds
P.A. Systems for Dummies
Technical Glossary
The Music Industry
Success in Music
Download Goodies

The Byre recording studio

The better you are prepared for the session, the more you'll get done!

Be prepared!

Before you decide to book a studio, it is a good idea to plan the recording a carefully as possible. To do this, it is vital that you understand what happens in a recording studio.

Most people who have never been inside a studio, assume that most or all the musicians all play at once and then somehow, we 'fix it in the mix' (whatever that might mean). The truth is that most recordings are done instrument by instrument and track by track. The exceptions are some classical music and jazz, because the musicians need to interact with one another.

But even classical music is very often multitracked. That is to say, most of the orchestra is recorded in one session and then the soloists or a part of the orchestra is recorded separately. We do this because the standards of classical recordings are very high and each and every note on a solo must be just right. Also it means that we are not asking an expensive orchestra to play the same piece over and over again just because the soloist was not at his or her very best on that particular take.

Before a recording can be done, we must know two things. Firstly how long the recording or this part of the recording will be and secondly what the tempo or bpm (beats per minute) will be.

Not all rock/pop/folk/country/etc. is recorded with a click track, but it does help. This can be a drum machine that may even be used in the final mix or just a metronome. In classical music, usually just the conductor hears the click track if one is used. We use a click track because the slightest deviation from the beat by any one part or instrument will show up on the recording like a septic pimple on the face of the Mona Lisa. A click track has to be laid first for the duration of the song plus lead-in time.

If you use a metronome, the clicks should be on each and every downbeat. If the music is in 4:4 time, then each bar will have four clicks. If the music is in 3:4 time, then each and every bar should have three clicks.

The next thing to be recorded is a guide track (sometimes called a ghost track) so that all other musicians who are listening to the recording and the click track know where they are in the song. This guide track can be the writer of the song strumming to a guitar or accompanying him or herself on the piano. Usually this recording does not get used, though often there is a 'feel' to it that can make it useful for all or part of the finished product.

If a musician makes a mistake whilst recording, a drop-in is done. This means that we go back and just retake that section where the mistake was made. Usually this is done on the fly, i.e. the recording is stopped as soon as the fault occurs and the recording restarted a few seconds before the mistake. The musician plays along with the music as before and the engineer hits the record button before the mistake occurred.

There are of course no hard and fast rules about how to record and in what order, but usually one lays the rhythm section (rhythm guitar, drums, bass) next. It is important that the rhythm section is as perfect as possible. In particular, the drummer must be spot-on if the recording is to sound good. If your drummer is not 100% on the beat, you may have to either hire a professional drummer, or start all over again using a drum machine and let the drummer just add breaks and other percussion.

If you are using loops or sequencers, it is best to get those recorded and edited first. The same applies to the new generation of synthesizers such as the Karma and the Triton that can play most parts themselves.

The musician hears himself, the click track and the other tracks and musicians on headphones, or in some cases on the studio monitors. We can only use studio monitors if the instrument being recorded can be fed directly into the mixing desk and does not have to be recorded using a microphone.

The rest of the recording can be done in just about any order, though it is probably easier to put lead instruments on last so that they fit in better with the rhythm section parts and the vocals.

In classical music, such instruments as lead violin and singers and/or choirs are best recorded last, as experience shows that these performances can vary the most. If your musicians vary the most in a different area, these are the ones to record separately and are best recorded last.

Also in classical music, the horn section is often recorded separately as they are so loud and present the most problems in the studio.

As more and more special effects are brought into classical music, sections of the orchestra are sometimes recorded using just a handful of musicians or even just one musician. The illusion of many musicians is created in the mix-down by adding chorus and harmonizer effects. The advantage is that one or two musicians always sound tighter than a whole group.

Given modern technology and 48-track recording, there is very little reason to add any kind of effects or other processing during initial recording and basic track-laying. In the past, we recorded drums on just one or two tracks. Three at the most. Today we seldom work with less than five and eight to twelve is usual. This allows us to process each and every part of the recording separately.

This kind of work is done during the mix-down. The drums are made nice and dry and tight using compression and gating. The vocals can be made to sound breathy by using an Exciter and a harmonizer is used to make single instruments or voices sound like a whole section. There are some specialized effects such as an Autotune that can correct incorrectly sung or played notes and an Aphex Aural Exciter can make a voice sound sharper and more present, without having to make it too loud. Autotuning (also known as pitch correction) is very effective on solo instruments such as violins, trombones and clarinet.

Some effects alter the quality of the sound to simulate old equipment of a bygone age. The muddy effects of old speaker cabinets or the warm distortion of analogue tape can be duplicated without having to suffer the background hiss and crackle that always came with it.

The automation on the desk and within the recording systems are used to predetermine which parts of the recording are brought up or down. The number of changes that can be made during a mix are infinite.

Once the mix-down has been completed, the final finned version is recorded to DAT cassette or to an audio CD and this is sent to the CD plant to be pressed or is recorded to multitrack DVD for either further processing.

Advice from the Pros:

Change your strings. Have your vision, but be open to letting things turn out the way they turn out. Be open to other people's comments. And wash your hands if you eat greasy food. It's hard to finger that kick ass guitar solo if you have pizza grease all over the fretboard.

Barbara Manning, Producer

Practice, practice, practice. If you are not rehearsed and organized before you enter the recording studio, you will run into trouble. And you will run out of money before you can fix it! You want to be mentally prepared and physically prepared. On the mentally prepared part, you want to practice your songs as well as you can, so you can play them in as few takes as possible. And physically, obviously, don't forget to bring your amps and guitars. A lot of people actually assume that a studio's just going to have everything, but it won't. So everything you want to use, you have to bring.

If you are going to sing, it's best to drink something that is not too cold and not too sugary--both will tighten up your vocal chords. For a long time I drank Classic Coke, as it was known back then. I t's not really very good--I wouldn't recommend it. Whiskey is actually pretty good. When we did the Air Miami record, we drank Jagermeister. Soothes your throat. I'd recommend Jagermeister, its more like candy, as opposed to whiskey, which is like something you want to gag on.

Bring supplies to the studio: instruments, cables, strings, guitar picks, lyric sheets, drum sticks, duct tape, cigarettes and the rest of your band paraphernalia. But don't overlook the snack factor. You should be prepared for long hours of hard work in the studio, and that means you will probably get hungry. You have to budget for snacks as well. Munchies--like goldfish, pretzels, combos, peanuts--are always popular. You can also bring something more substantial to make in the studio, like bagels and cream cheese.

For some people, it's embarrassing to hear themselves -- especially in a recording that picks everything up. Don't be freaked out by that. You should ask your fellow band members if they want you to leave the room while they are performing solo, such as during a vocal overdub. Some people get very self-conscious and it is better to leave them with the engineer to do their thing. Some people really won't want you there when they're belting out their soul, as I know from personal experience.

Mark Robinson, Producer

Take as much care as you can over the recording. Too many musicians take a sloppy attitude to rehearsing and recording. When we go into the studio, only perfect will do, which is one of the reasons our records still sell years after we made them.

Dave Gilmour, guitar player and producer.

Tuning problems can be some of the biggest frustrations in the studio. Buy a tuner and make sure everyone who plays an instrument in the band knows how to use it. This saves a lot of grief when the guitarist goes to do overdubs the next day and his guitar is out of tune.

You should plan to give yourself enough time to do the job right. As a rule of thumb, less is best. If you're going for high quality recording, you should attempt fewer songs than you think you can finish in your allotted time. If you just want to bash out your 16 song live set, that doesn't leave much time in your budget for more careful and complicated overdubs, so you'll get a more raw product at the end. It could take a whole day to get a song really nice, or you could do 18 songs in one day. So think about that. Doing a lot of songs isn't necessarily bad if it's what you are prepared to do. Many bands lay down the basic tracks live, with drums, bass and guitar playing together. This creates a good energetic recording and also saves time! Make sure to allow an equal amount of time to mix your songs as you allow to record them. Even the best performance will sound terrible if you don't take the time to mix it properly.

Don't assume the engineer is going to make you sound the way you want. Take an active role in talking about what kinds of things excite you when you hear them. Otherwise you'll get the generic.

The studio is about getting a good sound on tape. This is very different than a live performance, where acts of extremism, such as jumping around or smashing your guitar, communicate an emotional reaction to the audience. In the studio, those things may not result in the best sound. So concentrate on playing well. Power comes from subtlety and finesse rather than from more loud guitars. Power is in quality tone rather than quantity of guitar tracks. Power is from careful planning, not just loud things. In other words, thumping that bass note extra loud doesn't help you in the studio -- you're just going to have to re-record it.

Don't get reactionary. What worked well in the demo may not now. Listen as you go. Don't expect it to go as planned -- change your plan as you go. Respond to what you're hearing rather than what you think you want to hear.

Rob Christiansen, engineer.

The band usually lays down the basic tracks -- guitar, bass, drums -- first thing in the studio. Often the singer will add her part later. The band should practice the song without vocals so you can play it without the vocal cues. You should spend a lot of time with your instrument and amp before the clock starts ticking in the studio. Make sure you can get the sounds you want out of it and set it up. You should try to play with your band and change the settings, too. You get different sounds when everyone is there than when it's just you in the room. Always schedule extra time -- more than you think you'll need, 'cause you'll need it. Each song is going to take at least three hours. Even if it doesn't, that is probably a good bet.

Ask the engineer questions about what he's doing so you can communicate what you want. Don't be afraid to assert yourself. If you want something done, you have to make it happen. Don't step on toes, but at the same time, it is your record, not the engineer's record. You or the producer really have to assert your ideas, but the engineer is the person who is actually going to make it happen. A good cooperative way to mix your songs is to let the engineer set up a rough mix that he thinks sounds good, and then let everyone comment on that.

Phil Satlof, bass player and producer

Editing and sequencing are hard to explain, because if the job's done right, you won't notice it's there. There are a million tricks to be done during the editing and sequencing process. Some require forethought during the original mixdown. For instance, if you want to have songs crossfade into one another, it is best not to fade them down during the mix. Have someone explain the possibilities of this digital technology before you enter the studio.

Robert Salsbury, ProTools editor

I never sung that line. They've totally retuned me. Bloody technology!

Ozzy Osbourne, singer.