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The Recording Process - Part 1
By Leon & Sheryl Olguin - 02/22/2002 - 10:35 AM EST

Just about every emerging artist thinks about making a recording. When they actually try to get started, they realize that there is more to it than just showing up at a recording studio and singing a bunch of their songs. More and more artists are becoming quite knowledgeable about recording, as many have assembled small studios in their homes to do rough demos, but when it comes time to record a project for release, they are not sure where to start.

Let’s consider the case of an artist who is ready to make his or her first CD. In this series of articles, we’d like to touch upon the basic steps an artist needs to take in producing a professional recording.

Finding the Right Songs:

Most of you reading this write your own songs. When planning a recording project, one obvious early question is: what should I record? If you’ve never done a recording project, or even if you’re a seasoned recording artist, we have a few words of advice:

1. Play live as often as possible, and test your songs on a live audience. We are referring to a real audience (i.e. not the friends and family who will tell you everything you do is great just to avoid hurting your feelings.) There are two main benefits; first, you will find out firsthand what kind of reaction your songs receive. You’ll find out which ones become favorites, and which ones get little reaction. Listen carefully to any comments you receive after your performance. If a particular song is constantly mentioned as being memorable or meaningful, and you are constantly asked if you have a CD out with that song on it, there’s a pretty strong indication that this is a song to record! Secondly, playing live hones your skills as a player and singer. We have found time and again that singers who come in to record songs that they have performed live several times have an easier time “nailing it” than those who come in and try to record a new, untested song. Also, doing a song live gives you a better feel for what type of arrangement it should have. Your song may work better as a country-flavored tune, or in a folk vein. Don’t be afraid to experiment with doing your song in different ways.

2. Be ruthless and objective in your evaluation of your songs, and seek professional feedback. If you haven’t done so, join a songwriting organization in your area. There is a list of songwriting organizations in the appendix of the book, “The Craft of Lyric Writing” by Shiela Davis. You can also check out national and local songwriting organizations at Performing Songwriter Magazine’s website, http://www.performingsongwriter.com/ in their resource center under “Societies for Songwriters.” Songwriting organizations are an excellent place to get your songs evaluated. The point here is to strive to the best of your ability to present only your strongest material. Being songwriters, we realize that your songs are often like your children. It’s hard to say to one of your children, “You’re just not strong enough. I’ll have to work on you some more!” Make sure you do whatever it takes to get your songs in shape. You won’t regret it.

3. Write more songs than you think you’ll need. As hard as it may be to accept, not every song you write will be useable (see “How Not to be a Wanna Be” from issue #1, where we mention “waste basket songs.”). Some artists who use outside material will go through more than 1000 songs or more to find 12 good ones! Now, you don’t need to write 1000 songs before you record, but you may want to consider writing 20 or more songs to come up with the right 10 or 12 for your CD.

4. If you are a developing writer and you find it difficult to come up with enough good songs, consider doing some cover tunes (It certainly didn’t hurt the Beatles!).

Finding a Good Local Studio

If you’ve been an active musician in your area for a while, chances are you already know about the recording studios in town. Maybe you’ve actually done some singing or playing on some other projects, so you know what some of the studios are like. If you’ve never been in a studio before, and don’t know where they are, a good place to start your search for a studio would be your local music store. Usually some of the workers there are musicians, and might know of some local studios. You can check the studio listings in the MIX magazine directories for your area. A good on-line resource is http://www.studiofinder.com, which includes listings of over 5000 studios (including ours!) Talk to any professional musicians you might know and ask for their recommendations. You can even look in the yellow pages under recording studios.

Once you get the names and numbers of some local studios, you should visit the facilities in person. If your budget is limited, check out the modestly priced studios that can turn out professional sounding recordings. The studio should have a reputation for producing good sounds and for working with musicians with your recording experience.

Call the studios first and let them know about your project and that you are shopping for a studio. Make an appointment to come in and visit, see if you can find a time when you can meet the engineers and listen to some of their work on one of their monitor systems. Bring a tape or CD of your own to play over their system; you can use it for comparison in other studios. Also ask to check out the headphone system.

Other things to keep in mind when contacting and visiting studios:

1. Is the staff friendly? Were my phone messages returned promptly? Does the studio seem to genuinely want my business?

2. Is the studio kept clean and dust-free? Is the equipment in good shape?

3. Are temperature and humidity regulated?

4. Is the studio environment free of external distractions or interruptions?

5. Is the engineer knowledgeable about his equipment?

6. Is good food readily accessible? (Some studios provide catered food services, and if your sessions are six hours long, you will need to eat something healthy!)

7. Is there a place to relax and take a break?

8. Is the “atmosphere” of the studio conducive to performing?

The bottom line in choosing a studio: After you’ve taken everything into consideration, how do you feel? A truly good studio will make you want to work there, and will do the best they can for you, the valued client.

Perhaps you are thinking: why can’t I just build my own recording studio? We’ll deal with that in our next column!

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