As a recording engineer/mix engineer/music producer/professional musician who is primarily working with younger talent and artists transitioning from homes studios I feel it’s important to pass some experience and knowledge down. This was never taught to me coming up in the industry, so I only feel it’s right to pass this along. I’ll tell you what artists expect, the challenges they set up for themselves, and what they really need to understand when transitioning from a home studio to pro studio.
The biggest challenge I run into when working with artists making the transition from home studio to pro studio is what the artist is expecting to receive with the hours they pay for. Home studio work can be endless takes with time not really being an issue. The trade of course is that home studio gear is limited and the artist has to wear two hats, one of the artist and the other as an engineer. Professional studios however ARE constrained by time with the trade of a professional engineer and thousands of dollars worth of equipment designed for commercial sound. Many believe that a pro studio can create “radio ready” songs in a few hours. Working by the hour IS the challenge. Now in this industry it’s a double edge sword. Artists have limited budgets and high expectations. Hence why being signed is so nice, while the funds are provided by the label the artist doesn’t have to front the bill….yet. That’s a separate beast in itself, so I’m only going to focus on the artist as the record label. Which in today’s industry, that’s the case.
The challenge artists set up for themselves is wanting the minimum amount of hours for their session, yet expect to have a song tracked, edited, and mixed. Depending on the artist and type of music this places a HUGE constraint on the session. Here is the advice that I have coming to you as a musician/engineer myself. Save your money and pay for a full day at the studio. Here are the factors artists must know and understand when they make the transition from home to pro studio
- Time is needed for setting up the session- The engineer needs time to find the right microphone that best suits the artist. Time is needed to place mics and route mics for the session. Not to mention time is needed to get levels. As turn key as we all want to think it is, it’s not. EVERY voice is different! EVERY artist is different. Artists need to make time for that. The artist will also use this time to warm up, feel the vibe of their song and build the confidence they need to perform the best version of their tune. REMEMBER IT’S THE JOB OF THE ENGINEER TO CAPTURE THE BEST PERFORMANCE! Here’s an analogy. Don’t get pissed off at the photographer if your frowning in every picture. They’re there to capture what the subject give them.
- Time is needed to track the music- Now we’re cooking with gas and the everyone is ready to capture audio. The time for tracking is based on HOW WELL THE ARTIST PERFORMS THEIR PART. Yes in a digital age all audio can be manipulated, but the amount of time and skill it takes to do that type of work, young transitioning artists can’t afford to pay for it. Hence the challenge I’m speaking of….hourly time. This is the part of the session of where the artist fulfills their role and shares their talent. Most of the time the session requires multiple takes, overdubs, ad libs, other artists contributing their parts. ALL TAKING TIME. As an engineer/producer I’m listening for authenticity. I’m listening for a believable performance. This is a lot harder than you think. The truth of music production is this, most listeners don’t give two beans about how the song was recorded, they care about how it makes them FEEL. I’m in the business of connecting with and impacting listeners.
- Time is needed to edit the music- After tracking is complete, with all of it’s parts and layers, editing needs to be done. Are there noticeable breaths? Pops? Clicks? Unwanted noises in the background? This can be carved out, so to speak, during the editing phase. In the digital world we as engineers have the ability to make manipulations to the timing of parts to achieve maximum feel. How you ask? We can physically see the audio! Hooray! Based on how well the performance was, determines the time needed to edit.
- Time is needed to mix the music- Ooooooo baby, now we’re onto the good stuff. Mixing is where all the magic comes together. Here’s an analogy. The song is like vegetables from the farm. We need the farmer (artist) to bring us the goods (tracking parts) to then be cleaned up (edited) to be ready for cooking (mixing). As the mixing engineer I am the chef. I take the veggies, I mean tracks, and cook them together in the song. Balancing the parts together, making sure one track or sound isn’t louder than another. Complimenting all the flavors so when the song is finished you can audibly taste the tune. THIS TAKES A HEALTHY AMOUNT OF TIME TO COMPLETE. Don’t rush the chef. If an artist has high expectations of a meal, than the artists budget needs to reflect that. If someone can only afford fast food than they can’t expect a 5 star meal. They’ll only be temporarily satiated, and with music I would hope for more than that.
- Time to master the song- I’m not a mastering engineer, pay to send it out to a professional mastering house.
I’m happy to share this information about what the music production process looks like. To explain the challenges on both the artists end and the engineers end. My hope is that future recording artists use this knowledge to be better prepared for commercial studios. Believe me when I say there is no greater feeling than being in a pro studio where you can will your creation into existence. The experience of working with a team of professionals who are their to set up, capture, and mix the music is something all artists should experience. Honestly it’s not as expensive as it once was 15 years ago to record in a pro studio, but it does require a healthy investment from the artist, as well an understanding of the roles everyone plays in the studio.
Bottom line is this, it’s well worth paying for a full day in the studio where time will work for you, rather than against you.