Before the first session begins, a host of decisions have to be made that range from the mundane to the important. Here’s an overview of the many production considerations a producer is confronted with in a typical project before a tracking session begins. This is an excerpt from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook.
1. Who is the engineer (or engineers)? Your choice of who engineers the project is critical, and, like many other aspects of production, this is not an element to cheap out on. A great engineer is your safety blanket. He’ll make things sound great even with gear that’s not up to snuff and provide useful technical advice, audio expertise, and even production suggestions when you need another opinion.
Many producers will use a top engineer for basics and mixing, then use a less expensive one, or engineer the overdubs themselves for overdubs in order to save some money. While this can work, the continuity of having the same engineer all the way through a project will keep the quality uniformly high and actually save time and money, since there’s the possibility for confusion when projects are handed off between engineers.
2. Is any rental gear required? Even the most well-equipped studio in the world probably still won’t have something that you’ll want or need for the session, be it an esoteric piece of audio or musical gear, or just something that’s essential for you to get your desired sound. Make sure you plan ahead for when you’ll need the rental, and then schedule around that. An example of this could be the rental of a grand piano or a Hammond organ. You’ll want to use it as soon as it arrives, instead of paying rental time for it to just sit around.
3. What’s the best time of day to record? This question can actually be a loaded one. While most bands would rather start early in the day to stay fresh, many singers don’t feel as though their throats open up until later in the day. While you might need only a guide vocal from the singer when the basics are being recorded, you certainly don’t want the singer to be harmed or feel abused, and herein lies the dilemma. You don’t want to start recording too late in the day, since you’ll end up having everyone burn out early and you might lose the advantage of a few hours of the studio’s daily rate that you’ve paid for. While starting the session at 10 a.m. might not work, try to start no later than noon if possible. Many musicians want or need to get home at a reasonable hour to be with their families, and working too far into the night can upset your body clock if you’re not used to it.
4. Are there any additional musicians required? Once again, it’s best to plan as far in advance as you can so you can schedule the other players as needed. The more players you need to have together at one time (like a string or horn section), the more time in advance you’ll need in order to schedule them.
5. What format and sampling rate will you use? While it’s possible that you might still want to break out an analog tape machine to record your basics, chances are that at some point in the project you’ll return to the comfort and flexibility of a DAW (most likely Pro Tools). Your choice of bit depth and sampling rate can be critical to the amount of hassle that you’ll encounter down the road. Here’s a chart that can help you make your choice.
Once again, the name of the game is efficiency and trying not to overlook anything before you start your tracking session and begin paying for a studio and/or musicians.
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.