Crash Course: Recording

The South By Southwest Music Festival session I attended yesterday was "Crash Course: Recording," which, according to the session guide, would answer such burning questions as:

Do recording studios and their proprietors still offer value to their customers?

Can a studio and its proprietor enhance an artistis strengths?

Is a "real" studio always the best choice?

It also claimed that audience questions would be answered with practical advice.

Iim pleased to report that it did all that and more. The panel of two consisted of Mark Hallman, owner/operator/producer of Congress House Studio in Austin, TX, and Craig Schumacher, owner/operator/producer of WaveLab Studio in Tuscon, AZ, and producer of the annual TapeOpCon conference. Both guys offer complete analog and digital production and post-production services to artists and were exceptionally knowledgeable about all phases of the recording process.

The first half of the session dealt primarily with the big question: Do todayis artists need professional recording studios and producers anymore given the preponderance, affordability, and quality of computer-based "home" recording gear?

The answer, as you probably guessed, is "probably, but it depends." The artist has to consider numerous factors such as: What is the budget? What is the format of the final product? A home-burned demo CD, a professionally-mastered indie CD, and a major label CD release destined for FM radio play have very different requirements. Other considerations include whether the artist has sufficient recording and production expertise, and if the proposed home studio gear is good enough for desired results.

The conclusion, at least in my mind, was that unless the artist truly understands the recording process he or she should probably enlist a producer and studio to achieve the best results. Most artists shouldnit have to worry about the recording process. Rather, they should be free to focus on delivering the best possible performances and leaving decisions about which microphone to use or where to place that mic to a trained professional.

The second half of the session dealt mostly with questions from the audience, many of which will be useful to me as I continue to dabble in home recording. For example, in response to a question about getting a good drum sound at home, Mark recommended setting up a single microphone a few feet in front of the drum set and listening for a bit. Then (and only then), after you determine what else the drum sound needs, you can add it. So then, if the kick drum needs to be more present, or the snare isnit crackly enough, you can add a mic for that and listen again. Overall, both presenters agreed that youire usually better off using as few microphones as possible to achieve the drum sound you desire.

There was a lengthy discussion of the importance of phase relationship, concluding that the more "live" your room is, the more attention you should pay to keeping channels in phase.

Other useful advice included changing the microphone type or model and/or its placement to achieve different results. Experiment. Try different mics for vocals, guitars, drums, and try different positions for those mics as well. Use your ears to figure out what works (for you) and what doesnit.

Both panelists stressed the importance of listening to what you record on a variety of different stereo systems before making any decisions. And finally, both agreed that if you hire a professional producer, you should allow that producer to mix your tracks without interference or interruption. In other words, no matter how much you want to sit in on the mixing session, youill only slow down the process, irritate the producer, and probably frustrate yourself as well. Go away and let the producer produce a rough mix. When he or she is ready for you to hear it, listen with a critical ear and make suggestions if necessary. Then go away again while he/she implements your suggestions. Listen, suggest, go away again, and repeat until satisfaction is achieved.

Later on as I mulled over what I had heard, I decided that while Iim not a real recording artist, and although I fancy myself as a capable home audio producer, Iid hire either of these guys in a heartbeat if I needed to produce some "real" audio. I donit think I could pay them a higher compliment for their very informative session.