How It Works
So how do I record? It’s a big question with a big answer, so I’ve dedicated this entire page to answering it.
For the audio book process and advise, skip to the bottom of this page.
To Click Or Not To Click?
Recording to a click can be tricky for artists not used to it. If you plan to do so, practice/rehearse to one for a while to get the feel of it. If your track has tempo or time signature changes, we will need to build a tempo map before recording, which will likely add an hour. You can speed this up by writing down the length (in bars), tempo and time signature of sections before coming in to the studio. If you plan to copy and paste sections of songs at any point, recording to click is pretty essential.
It’s easier for solo artists. I can set up a basic drum beat instead of a click, which feels much more natural. I would recommend this if you plan to add additional instruments to your tracks in post. Especially anything that will be programmed, instead of manually played. Having the whole track fit to grid is incredibly useful when adding instruments/drums and can save a lot of time. Recording to a drum beat is much easier when recording on your own.
Bands are a different matter. Every member has to be confident with recording to click, and the sound of the click has to be quite piercing and loud to cut above the sound of the drums. I often go with cowbell for this, as it is still nicer than the inbuilt klopfgeist click. Many bands will try to make the drummer play to click, and then try to play to the drummer. I’ve never seen it work. The band tends to pull the drummer either faster or slower and they then have an impossible task of drumming to both, and the timing all breaks down.
The Basic Concept - Quality & Isolation
So the main aim with studio recording is quality. Basically using the kind of gear you wouldn’t dare take on the road, in a great space, great mics, great preamp’s, more time and the ability to do retakes in case of bum notes etc.
The other very important concept (which enables much of the above) is isolation.
This is the recording of things separately so they do not sonically interfere with each other (avoiding mic bleed). The concept is simple. Imagine two guitar amps next to each other, each with a mic 6 inches from the front, amp A and amp B. When you record both at the same time, a healthy amount of amp A will be bleeding in to mic B and vice versa. Imagine if the guitar sound of amp A needed much more 2kHz to make it sound great, but amp B needed much less. Because of the mic bleed a change to one is a change to both, but the change is needed in opposite directions for each channel. In this situation, neither can be made to sound great. Now imagine the guitarist for amp A needed to redo a section because of a duff chord. Their duff chord sounds through both mics, so both tracks need to be re-recorded. Now imagine a whole band in one room, all recording live with mic bleed going on all over the place. The ideal sound is more or less impossible to achieve.
How do we solve this? Headphones, rooms and dividers. Anything that does not need to make a physical sound (keyboards, DI’d bass) can go straight in to the mixing desk, and straight out to headphones with no sound in the room. Loud sound sources are set apart in different rooms (I have 3 to utilise). Drums in the main live room, rhythm guitar amp in the acoustic booth, cello in the control room with me etc. Dividers can also be used in the main live room to record certain instruments at the same time. Guide vocals are normally recorded at the same time, and then completely re-recorded in the acoustic booth for the proper finished version. Most soft delicate instruments will be properly tracked after the main recording is finished, as no amount of acoustic shielding will provide the isolation they need (harps, dulcimer, soft acoustic guitar etc).
Vox + Keys at the same time (live style) = Easy . I have no real piano in the studio, so we’ll be recording either your in built keyboard sound, or recording MIDI for my software sounds, straight in to the software. Either way there is no real physical sound in the room from the keys. You’ll use headphones and vocal and keyboard are recorded together in complete isolation. You can then redo bits of keys/vocal as you see fit.
Vox + Keys separate = If you do your best work concentrating on one thing at a time, no problem. We can record either/or separately.
Vox + Acoustic Guitar = A little more tricky to get isolation. You can easily record both at the same time, but you are limited to doing it live, as dropping in one line of vocal, or a few chords on guitar on it’s own can’t be done without it being obvious (too much of the original sound is left in the other channel from the mic bleed). If you can play the guitar part on it’s own, it’s simple. Just record it first, then add the vocal. If you find that hard, and still want complete isolation between vocal and guitar, then you have to record a guide track first, then re-record both vocal and guitar on their own, while playing to the guide track.
My preferred method :-
*Put the drums in the big live room (where they sound best, and have room for all the mics).
* We then separate main electric guitar amps in to the acoustic booth to avoid them bleeding in to the drum mics (guitarist can be with the amp in the booth, or in the room with the band, with a cable going through the wall).
* If we want to record a second guitar live with the drums, we can do that in the live room, and use panels to get enough isolation to work with.
* Bass is DI’d (Direct Input) straight in to the software (it can be re-amped after recording if we really want that amp sound, but most bass is best DI’d). For recording we only need it in headphones.
* Keys can also be DI’d, so only heard on headphones.
* Guide vocals can be done in the live room with the drums, as the vocal isn’t loud enough to interfere with the drum mics. The vocal will be completely redone properly afterwards, so drums in the vocal mic don’t matter. The guide vocal does not need to be good. It just needs to keep the band in the right place at the right time. If your band can record without you singing, that is fine as well.
* Anything can be set up with me in the control room if we still need more isolation.
* I can send out 7 individual personalised headphone mixes, so you should never be struggling to hear yourself.
The idea with the main recording is to get the rhythm sections down first. A good track needs a solid foundation, and these initial recordings are all about the groove. Individual bum notes and little mistakes at this point don’t matter. Everything is isolated, anything can be overdubbed. As long as the mistake doesn’t affect the rhythm and groove, it doesn’t matter. When you get a take that really “feels” right, then we go in to the details. People can fix mistakes, re-record sections if needs be, make it pristine. When all these parts are laid down and set in stone, then we can start working on the icing on the cake. Guitar solo’s, double tracks, vocals, backing vocals etc are all laid on top of these rhythm tracks.
How Long Does It Take?
You want to price things up. Completely understandable, but hard to get accurate. Every band is different, and there are many different levels to the detail you can go in to with recording and mixing. I can give a rough idea though. Lets pretend it’s a standard 5 piece rock band.
Set up = Once everything is physically set up, mic’ing and sound checking drums will take an hour. Mic’ing and sound checking everything else is another hour. Headphone mixes are about 5 minutes per person.
Recording = This is the part that is most up to you. If you bang out pristine first takes, you could get a whole album recorded in the time it takes to play it. More likely though is 30 minutes to 1 hour per track. I’ve seen a guy do a 13 track album in 2 hours, and I’ve seen a band take 2 days on one track. It’s all about how prepared you are, and your level of competence, and the level of detail.
Once the rhythm section recordings are done, we have details to think about. Or not! It’s up to you.
Levels of Detail
1. If you do a live style recording (everything as you would do it live, with mistakes overdubbed, vocals re-done after) you can easily knock out a 4 track EP in about 8-10 hours, with about 5-6 hours total mixing and mastering.
2. To go the next level up. Adding extra guitar licks, double tracking guitar, vocals and backing vocals double tracked with harmonies etc. Solo listening to every track for mistakes, adding new/more instruments. For this you need to set aside 3-5 hours per track recording, 3-4 hours mixing. At this point you should be seriously considering recording to click so we can get the track to that extra level of perfection if that is your thing, but it is not essential.
3. The final gold standard level is as above, but in agonising detail. Everything poured over from both a musicianship and artistry point of view. Every guitar sound dialed in and tested in track before properly recording. Vocals recorded and mixed in ridiculous detail, comped on the spot so anything which isn’t perfect is caught and re-recorded. Bass re-amped. The whole mix and project automated so everything moves organically to fit the mood of the track. You want to set aside a day per track for this kind of recording, and then 4-6 hours for mixing, and a lot of patience, and regular breaks!
This is a sliding scale. Just a rough indicator to give you an idea. The recording process is much more organic as I see how you work as a band and where you may need the most time and attention spent.
Where Can I Save Time/Money?
1. Tune the drums beforehand, and tune them well.
2. Have your parts figured out. We can of course experiment with additional parts in the studio, but having even a vague idea of when you want extra parts, double tracks, harmonies can save tonnes of time.
3. Check tuning and intonation (easy to fix, YouTube it) on guitars, and put on new strings a week before if you want new strings, and give yourself a good few hours playing them in.
4. If you want to record to a click, practice to a click. If there are tempo changes, write out a tempo and time signature map (130bpm for 80 bars, climb over 1 bar to 150bpm for 10 bars etc etc)
5. Record all the rhythm in one set up. What this means is basically recording all the rhythm tracks without packing down or setting up again. This can of course be split over a few days if needs be. This saves a lot of time in mixing. It means I can import the settings from one mix as a starting point for another. This only works if the instrument/amp, drum and mic positions remain exactly the same though. Packing down and setting back up resets all the positioning, and the mixes can no longer be imported and applied dependably.
Speed and Price- A fairly good measure of audio book recording speed is about 6000 words an hour. Some people are faster, some are slower. It varies greatly on the reading and oratory proficiency of the narrator, and on the content to some extent. Once recording is done, expect between 5 and 10 hours on top for editing and rendering of files.
How It’s Done – The process is pretty simple. Basically I stick you in the acoustic isolation booth with a microphone, headphones and a table and hit record. I have a mic too for communication and if anything needs to be redone for audio reasons, or you just miss-speak we jump back to the last good line, I play it back to you, and you continue from after there. I’ll quickly explain a couple of audio terms to help understand some of the more intricate parts of the process.
Gating – Gating is the process of reducing all sound below a certain volume to complete silence. I can set the threshold high enough so the motorbike outside, or plane overhead is silenced, but your voice is not. When you speak, the needle flicks past that threshold, the gate opens and sound comes out. When you finish speaking, the needle dips back below and any background noise is cut off. Provided the ratio of background noise to voice is good, the voice completely masks the background noise. The illusion is a completely silent space. There are issues to bear in mind though. Sniffs, coughs, throat clearances, chair creeks and the like can all open the gate. Every time that happens, I must make a manual edit, which means more time editing and more time proof listening. It is important to try and minimise these things as much as possible.
Background Noise, The Not So Silent Enemy – The booth is very good at cutting out external noise, but noise within the booth needs to be minimised too. Page turns are noisy, as are computer fans, so tablets are the perfect option for recording. Laptops can work if they are very VERY quiet, or fanless. You need to be able to turn pages or scroll in silence as well, so touch screens or trackpads with two finger scroll capability are perfect. Things like sniffing, jaw clicking, swallowing and other nervous habits have all thrown up curve balls in the past, so the more relaxed you can make yourself with the process beforehand the better. Breaths are generally kept in for a natural sound, but illness or hay fever may make them overly noisy, so keep the health or your throat and lungs in mind. If you have issues with a tight throat at times be sure to have relevant medications to hand. Another consideration is clothing. Any fabrics that rustle or make any other noise will be problematic.
One thing that can surprise people is how quickly you can lose your voice. This varies greatly from person to person. My self, being fairly stoic in nature, the times I have done voiceover work I’ve been astounded how quickly my voice cracks once I start “projecting”. It is a very good idea to read at least a chapter and record it on your phone or the like just to listen back and pick up on things you might need to work on before the recording. Avoid sugary drinks, hot drinks, cold drinks while recording. Warm honey water before is good (no lemon, it dries the throat), and during recording, room temperature water is the go to drink of the pro’s. Obviously it varies from person to person, but there is a strong consensus for avoiding dairy before/during recording.
It’s also a good idea to practice any voices or accents you may want to use.
Have a quick read of the acx submission requirements here.
Anything technical is my domain, but there is a bit on formatting intro/outro etc you should know before coming in.
I do not do the uploading to audible or any other distributors. What you will receive from me is a link to the files all correctly formatted and broadcast ready. You will need to download them and go through the submission process for your chosen distributor/publisher.