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MASTER CD:
 
If you are in the business of recording music for sale to the public, then you are more likely going to spend more time in the studio recording than on a simple demo. It's not to say that musicians don't sell their demos to the public - this happens quite a lot, but typically a CD release involves a greater level of attention, especially to the overall production aspects of the recording. The amount of time to budget on a master recording varies greatly. Typically a band or artist would have a producer involved in this process. The producer usually manages the studio time and ensures that the artist is as ready as they can be for the recording process. However in the case where a recording is going to be self-produced, then the budget is in the hands of the artist and its up to them on how they wish to achieve their recording. There are no guidelines when it comes to master recordings. Typically you stop when you are happy with the end result.
 
A master recording isn't typically finished until it has been honed after the recording sessions have completed. This honing is often referred to as "mastering" the recording. This mastering process involves sending the mixed recordings to a special mastering studio where the recordings are polished to ensure that they are at the best sonic fidelity, ready for duplication to CD.
 
YOUR RECORDING BUDGET
Once you have defined the goal of the recording process, you must first define a budget for the recording. Studio time varies greatly in cost. Typically it is cheapest in cities that have a great deal of music production activities going on. I guess this is so due to the number of studios in the area and the general competition that this creates. Studios typically charge either by the hour or by the day. You might be lucky enough to have a studio give you a fixed price for your project, but its unlikely. As you are recording artistic content, there are few rules on how you are going to best record it, and it's almost impossible for studios to predict exactly how much time is going to be needed. So consequently you should assume you are going to be paying for time spent in the studio.

 
If you are recording a master recording, I would suggest that you locate not only the studio that you want to record your music, but also locate a mastering studio for its mastering. Normally these are two different studio facilities that you will need. You can find mastering studios by talking with collegues who have already gone through the recording process before, or through your local Yellow Pages. Most duplication houses can recommend good mastering facilities too.
 
Studio time also varies based on the equipment that they have available. With the advent of affordable digital recording (e.g. ADATs, Hard Disk Recording systems, etc.) you will find that many musicians may offer their recording studios to you for recording. This can be a very attractive way to get your music recorded, however be wary that the musicians may not be trained engineers in recording, and although they might have the basic equipment necessary to record your music, they are probably lacking in areas such as range of microphones, outboard effects equipment, quality recording console, computerization, etc. All of these factors are critical in making a decent sounding recording.
 
Most studios will advertise their facilities either by the number of tracks they can offer you for your recording, or by the type of multitrack recording system they have. Although these are important factors, they don't really make that much of a difference to the sound of your end production. You'd be surprised how many great records are made on few recording tracks. However things like quality recording rooms, or quality microphones, will make a huge difference to the sound of your recording. At the end of the day, it comes down to the way the engineer uses the equipment available, and this is something that can't be easily advertised.
 
As for your overall budget, let's say that you are a 4 piece band and want to record a 3 song demo. You find a 24 track recording studio that charges $50 per hour. You are well rehearsed and know exactly what is going to be recorded. You agree not to make changes to the arrangements once in the studio. I would suggest that you could probably get the demo done in around 15 hours, including a minimal amount of mix time. This is subjective, of course but its a starting number. So your overall cost is going to be $750.00.
 
Or if you want to record a CD and have estimated that you will need 100 hours of recording time. You will probably be able to negotiate a better rate with a studio because of the quantity of time you are going to need. Let's say that they bring the price down to $40 per hour. Then you are up for $4,000.00 of recording time.
 
What else do you need to budget for? Well most studios don't provide recording tape free of charge. This can be a substantial expense depending upon what you need. If you are recording at a 24 track facility, that uses 2" analog tape, and you have been told to purchase new, virgin tape, expect to pay top dollar for tape. Depending upon where you are, this will vary. If you are in America, you'll probably pay around $150 per roll of tape, and you'll get about 15 minutes on this at 30 ips, or 30 minutes at 15 ips. (ips is the speed that the tape will travel through the multitrack - faster is better sound quality). So if you want to do an album, expect 4 or so rolls of tape. If you are not in America, then your price is going to be substantially more expensive for tape. If you are recording to digital, typically your tape cost is far lower. Check with your studio on tape costs up front.
 
Also you have to decide if you have all the players necessary for the content of your music. You might need a specialist player (or session player as they are usually referred to) for certain instruments that you need in your production, but no one in your group can play them. Most studios have a cadre of session players that they work with and can recommend players based on your needs. However these players are usually paid independant of the studio. You will need to work out with them the cost of their time in the recording session.
 
Finally don't expect studios to handle the pressing of CDs or duplication of tapes for you. They might act as "brokers" and be able to arrange these for you, but typically this is done independantly of the studio. You need to know the format of the end result of your recording session (i.e. DAT Tape, CD Master, etc.). This format must be compatible with what your pressing company needs to press CDs, etc. if you are recording a master.
 
Is the studio any good?
How do you know that the studio you want to record at is any good? Well that question may not be specific enough. The studio may be well experienced with recording country & western bands, but may have little experience with your jazz band. Or might be really good with film post production work, but has little experience or equipment to handle your album project. What you really need to do is to have the studio play you some recordings that they have made with other clients, that are in a similar area to your music. That way you can get a general idea of how your music may end up. Its not a guarantee, but it certainly helps.

 
You can also get a general idea by visiting the studio. Don't be fooled by presentation, though. Although studios can often spend thousands and thousands on decor, and fancy interiors, the end result of your time there is the recording, and that's what is most important. I have seen so many artists record at the wrong studio because they liked the color of the rooms, or thought the place looked "cool". It is important to be comfortable at the studio you are working with, but remember that some great albums have been recorded in back-yard studios that were not very comfortable (check out Red Hot Chilli Pepper Albums, or early REM albums). It really comes down to the competency of the engineering team at the studio and the tools that they have at their disposal.
 
Often the best way to know about a studio is to talk to their past clients. Maybe you have a friend who recorded at a studio and can recommend it to you. That's one of the best ways to ensure you are at the right studio. Just make sure you get the same engineering team working on your project as your friends, though.
 
Are you ready?
If you have any doubts to your readiness for recording, then its time to get back in the rehearsal room. You want to spend as much time out of the studio before you start paying for recording time. A trick I recommend my clients is to use a cheap 4 track recorder to pre-produce their recordings. A 4 track system is basically a tape based recording system that will allow for 4 tracks to be recorded independantly and they mixed down. The goal here is not to make a quality recording, but to go through the motions of what will happen in the studio, to get the bugs out of your recording before you start paying for studio time. You can setup a 4 track system in your rehearsal environment, and use it to make sure that everyone is well rehearsed for the recording. The experience will save you hundreds of dollars in the studio, and ensure that everyone is ready.

 
If you don't have access to a 4 track recording system, they can be purchased for usually under $500 new, or much cheaper used. Some music stores can rent them out to you. Just ask.
 
You might also find that if you are trying to work out what songs to record, the 4 track experience will give you some advance notice on what songs sound better recorded then others. Certainly this is something you are best to know before going into your studio session.
 
So it's the big day! On the day of your studio session, remember, the clock is ticking when you all enter the building. So you need to make sure that the following items are already catered for:
a. You have enough recording tape
b. You have a DAT tape for your mixdown
c. Your instrument is prepared to be sounding the best it can
d. You have spare strings (if you play a stringed instrument)
e. You have spare picks (if you are a guitarist)
f. You have your tuner
g. You have all your accessories
h. Bring water, if you are a singer - you'll need it to freshen your vocal cords from time to time
i. Bring a notepad and pen for notes during the session
j. Bring money for the studio - some want a deposit up front to secure your booking.

 
If you are a drummer, make sure your snare drum has a new head on it. If you are a guitarist, make sure you are new strings on your guitar, and make sure that these strings were put on 48 hours beforehand, so that they can stretch and stay in tune for your session. Bass players are less likely to need new strings, however if yours are very old, consider a studio session as the ideal catalyst for changing your strings.
 
Don't bring alcohol to a studio session. Although many studios don't mind, many would prefer that you don't bring alcohol into the session. The engineer needs you to be at your most alert during the performance you have to give. Also most studios are non-smoking environments, due to the equipment there. So don't expect to be able to smoke inside the studio.
 
Despite the glamour that studios are given on rock videos, etc., you will find them to be very boring places, as you have to wait for other musicians to play their parts, or for the engineering teams to get equipment setup for you. You can be waiting for hours and hours, so bring something to read. It really can help pass the time waiting. Finally expect to have food brought in. Pizza is often a staple studio diet, because it can be delivered. You might want to make sure you have funds to cover food during your session.
 
After your session:
Despite the fact that its your music that is on the line, engineers put a lot of heart and soul into making sure your music sounds the best it can for your budget. So if you think that your engineer has helped make you sound great, thank him or her. They really do appreciate it when they are thanked. Also if you are releasing the music, make sure to get the correct spelling of all of the engineering staff for credits that are due to them in the liner notes. Also make sure that you get the actual roles that each one played so that they are given the proper credit for their work.

 
If you have paid for tape, take it with you. Although studios often keep tape for their clients, if there is a problem with the studio in the future, and you need to get mixes done elsewhere, you will need your tape. It's always a good practice to take the tape with you. Not just the final mix, but the actual tracking tape. You should also request a copy of track sheets for your tape. These are engineering notes about the recording session, so that any other engineer can work out what was done at the past session.
 
Problems I have seen in recording sessions!
The most common problem is one of lack of preparation. Most often this is reflected in arguments that occur in the studio between musicians, as one is trying to direct the other. These sorts of issues and negotiations are best done outside of the studio where it doesn't cost anything. Also third parties who are invited to sit in on studio sessions (i.e. girlfriends, friends, spouses, etc.) can offer suggestions during the recording process that may be expensive in terms of time to explore them. I often suggest to artists that they don't bring third parties into recording sessions because it can be very disruptive. At the end of the day, it's a decision that the artist has to make, as it can be quite expensive in today's studios, the use of time must be maximized.

 
The worst kind of mistake that can be made is to not be prepared by missing some important piece of equipment, etc. These simple mistakes can cost dearly if a session can't be completed because of a missing item. Remember, you are on the clock when you are in the studio. Don't waste time.
 
Finally a lack of understanding as to the overall purpose of your recording creates an environment where there are no rules and this can be devastating. Especially when one of the musicians decides that its going to take 4 hours to get his or her part "perfect". Does it need to be perfect? Is this a necessary expense? The only way to answer that question is to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the recording and to put the situation in context with the purpose. Maybe you have to say "Sorry, that take is fine for what we want" or maybe you should say "You can do that better - try it again". Its all dependent on the overall purpose of the recording
 
Conclusion:
A well prepared recording session will give you the best result for your money. I hope that some of these points help you achieve success in the studio! Good luck.

 
'Lost River Records' is committed to providing the best sounding music and voice possible. That's why when our clients decide to master their audio before duplication, we use 'Lost River Records' Recording Studios mastering engineers and facilities. When gold and platinum are your goal, let us bring your goals within reach.

"...the music you make is shaped by what you play it on ... if you feel that you're not getting enough out of a song, change the instrument - go from an acoustic to an electric or vice versa, or try an open tuning ... do something to shake it up..."  - Mark Knopfler / Dire Straits
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