Often during recording sessions, audio engineers have their technical jacket on and can periodically overlook some of the psychological aspects of engineering a record. The psychology doesn’t only make a record, it also can transform the way an artist or band feels about the record in the end.
It is important to remember that there are certain realities in the studio that can discourage artists when making modern records.
Most modern music production nowadays consists of recording and rendering audio files and moving them around in some kind of DAW session. For example, you may want to move a percussion fill from the end of your first verse to the last verse. However, after this simple rearrangement, the percussion fill doesn’t lock to the groove of the drums and bass guitar the same way that it did at the end of the first verse.
Correcting this problem between the relationship of the percussion, drums, and bass might require a few simple adjustments on one or more of the tracks in question. As technicians in the studio, often times we don’t take this concept to heart as much as we should. Musicians and artists will often become self-aware the longer they are in the studio. The psychological affect this can have over time in the studio can kill inspiration and motivation.
The truth is, it’s not that the percussion is out of time or the drum and bass tracks were performed poorly. Slight feel shifts happen all the time during performances, especially when two or more musicians are playing live together.
One way to avoid this psychological hiccup from having an affect in your recording session is to make sure the artist and/or musicians take a periodic break from time to time while recording. Send them outside for a walk around the block to clear up their heads. It’s always a good idea to have your client’s take a short break after they’ve just recorded a bunch of takes anyway. The brief separation can lend objectivity to the overall project, keep emotions balanced, and ears fresh. This objectivity can help the artist or musicians hear their song from an outside listeners perspective as opposed to an inside perspective
Between a Rock & a Hard Place
As sure as the sun rises in the east, it’s quite likely that at some point in your audio engineering career you’ll have to edit a song or performance way more than you either wanted or planned to. This can be due to a few things in your control as well as a number of factors that aren’t.
Most of the time in the studio, you’re stuck with the band or musicians you are recording on a project. And most of the time in the studio, its not going to be possible to replace a musician or band member that isn’t carrying his or her own weight in the recording process. It’s just something that has to be dealt with, which means that you’re probably going to be doing a lot of editing and or secretly replacing.
The best thing to do is to get the band or musicians you are working with to leave for the day or wait until the end of the session when they leave before starting editing. You’re going to be doing major surgery, which can become quite a long and tedious job. Time and patience are required, which is something that doesn’t always sit well with an artist or band that is not familiar with the process. And if any of them are sensitive or thin skinned, watching you fix their performances could potentially make an artist or band member tune out and not focus their attention on the creative aspects
2. Getting Punchy
Generally during most recording sessions, punch-ins need to be made. It is definitely a time saver. Sure it’s nice to massage your client’s ego and do numerous takes until they nail the whole track in one take. But most times, doing this takes and wastes a lot of time in the studio. Clients who are booking time in the studio now usually don’t have the kind of recording budgets that people had 20 years ago. Time is definitely a factor when recording, which means punching in a performance has become an even more important step in the recording process than before.
If it’s one note or one phrase that you don’t like, just punch it in. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds though, however with computers taking over much of the recording and editing process, you don’t need to have the fastest fingers in the west anymore to do a good job. Always record a little more than what you need so you have space to edit what you are punching in cleanly and correctly. This will help give the performance that feeling like it was recorded all in one take.
Work Dat Sh*t
Do be afraid to practice counting and punching in. Remember, practice makes perfect. It’s important to know everything there is to know about the punch settings in your DAW, cause every audio system is different. Build your experience with both auto-punches and freehand punches. The goal is to make it effortless and sound natural.
Before the Roll, there was Pre Roll
This can be a real mind bender when recording. It’s important when you’re punching in or recording multiple takes that you use the same amount of pre-roll and a consistent starting point. Too much pre-roll can lead to forgetfulness or over analyzation from the artist or musician who is punching in. Not enough pre-roll can lead to an unnatural punch in which can destroy the emotion and character of a given recorded performance as a whole.
Starting randomly at different times in the beat will not put the artist or musician in a comfortable state of mind either. Pay close attention to your time ruler. Have a rule that you will either use one or two bars of pre-roll when punching in. Stay away from odd starting points unless the song is in an odd time signature.
The important thing is you always want the artist or musician you are recording to feel grounded 100% comfortable. If your start times are herky-jerky and inconsistent, you can and should expect weaker recorded performances overall.
Also, make sure the artist or musician you are punching in understands the aspects of pre-roll and punch ins. Practice it a few times with them so they can become comfortable with the punch in procedure. Practice makes perfect!
It’s important to make sure you label each section of the song. Do this as early in the session as you possibly can. Nobody enjoys hearing or watching you take the time to search for a specific section of the song.
Every DAW on the market has different options when it comes to markers. Systems like Logic and Pro Tools allow you to name and color code markers. You can even come up with your own system. Doing this for every song will make navigation much easier for each song because there is consistency, and you are building good engineering habits.
So remember, its all the small things that add up to making the studio experience more memorable and positive. If your goal is to become a better engineer for your clients, make sure you consider these skills.