Heading into the studio to cut an album is a big step for every artist or band. There are a million things to worry about, not least of which is the fact that you are paying a significant amount of money to be there, and you have a limited time to make something that will represent you to the general public. So it had better be good.
There are things to think about before, during and after your time in the studio, and once again we’ve enlisted the help of Doug Organ of Edmontone Studios to give his insights on how to get the job done effectively. Organ has produced work for artists such as Ann Vriend, Christian Hansen, Joël Lavoie and his own band Red Ram, among many others.
BEFORE HITTING THE STUDIO
The most important thing to figure out before hitting the studio is, of course, what songs you want to record. Though you may have written 50, a normal album will have much fewer than that—remember, there are only so many songs a person can comfortably sit through. To that end, you should think about demoing the songs and deciding which ones are the best, and which ones can be dropped. Then, you need to practice. A lot.
“Rehearsal almost goes without saying, but sometimes it’s surprising how it didn’t go without saying,” laughs Organ. “Home recording can also be a crucial part of the preproduction stage—just because you’re rehearsing you might not actually hear what the other guy is playing unless you record a demo, and hearing it then is better than hearing it once you get into the studio.”
You should also use a metronome to map out the tempos you’ll want to use in the studio, so that you don’t have to waste time when you start paying to record. These tempos should probably be set a little above what you rehearse the songs at to more closely match a live performance, Organ explains, as the adrenaline rush of performing live often speeds up the tempos.
Next, you should decide on a budget, but don’t cheap out—this is the document that announces who you are to the world, so you should make sure you get the most out of it.
“Having an album is almost a necessity in my opinion—more so than the merch and the website,” opines Organ. “To me there’s gigs and there’s recording and everything else is gravy, so I would hope that an artist or band would gig a whole bunch and save up their money, apply for grants and solicit private funding and put a whole bunch of money into making an album.”
Finally, before you hit the studio, you need to decide where and with whom you’re going to record. This decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, as producers have a very significant effect on the outcome of your session. To find a good producer, the easiest way is to pick some albums by local or nearly local artists that you like and that are congruent with your style and find out who produced them.
“If I was a hip-hop artist in town I would be asking my friends who’ve recorded hip-hop albums where they went and if they had a good time, and I would listen to their albums and decide if that was the sound I was going for and probably not go to the studio that specializes in classical instrumentation recordings,” says Organ.
IN THE STUDIO
Once you get into the studio, having sufficiently prepared beforehand, you should be ready to get down to work immediately. Plunge in right away and get going, because this is costing you money. A lot.
There are a few problems that seem to creep up at one time or another and it can be beneficial to develop a plan to avoid these from the get go.
“I don’t have a real policy about this, but I try to keep an eye on drinking,” Organ says. “There’s definitely a fine line—some performers after a beer or two become a little looser and they forget about the clock and they have a good time, but maybe if they’re not paying attention it might turn into six or eight or 12 beers, and that’s a good way to ruin a session. And I think [not doing] drugs goes without saying, or it should.
“I think the studio is also not a great place to sort out your interpersonal band stuff, so if you’ve got a real problem with someone in the band or something they’re playing or a song they’ve written, then that’s a pre-production thing. Or therapy,” he laughs.
“The occasional visit from friends or girlfriends or boyfriends or hangers-on can be a morale booster,” he continues, “but a party-type atmosphere probably won’t be the most productive atmosphere, so you might have to know when to ask your friends to leave.”
And one more thing—you have to remember you’re not the producer. That guy or gal has tons of experience doing what they do and should generally be considered the boss in the studio. And forget about giving yourself a producer credit; not a lot of artists have the objectivity to actually execute the role of producer or co-producer. Just because you told him or her to turn your guitar up in the mix doesn’t mean anything—everybody wants to hear themselves louder, and your producer probably didn’t do it anyways.
ONCE YOU’RE DONE
Some artists take the raw tapes to someone else to be mixed in order to get fresh ears on it, and while that can be beneficial to some, Organ thinks it’s generally not a good idea and prefers to see a project from start to finish.
“When you hit record for the first time there’s a vision that hopefully you can extend to the end of mixing. So I kind of think mixing is part of the process,” he says.
Where you do need a fresh pair of ears, however, is in the mastering process. This is your opportunity to make sure the album functions as a cohesive whole and that the ballad isn’t 10X louder than your rockers. It will also bring the album up to commercial standards so that it can be played on the radio or by a DJ and they won’t have to make huge adjustments. Your producer can probably suggest a good masterer.
If you are unhappy with your end result don’t just stay quiet about it, speak up. If you were happy with how the parts sounded before mixing it’s possible that some lines of communication got crossed in the mixing process, or that it just needs a little tweak.
“If they were happy before it got mixed and unhappy after it got mixed it’s easy to see what the culprit is, so a partial or full remix might be in order,” explains Organ. “Also, it’s happened where a client wasn’t 100 per cent happy with the mixes and I had just moved into a new control room so I wasn’t sure how the mix would translate and I listened to them in the car and the artist was totally right. So I adjusted the mixes and they were 100 per cent happy. So I would say take it to the producer and be clear about what your complaints are.” V