Recording again

Just recently, my band Fuzu released our debut EP. We finished the EP last year, but it took as a while to finalise the artwork and release it, meaning that it was launched in March.

In the time between the recording process and the launch, we started working on some new material. A week or two ago we also discovered that we had a little bit of money in the bank (thanks to GST refunds and gig fees) so we’ve decided to start the process of recording our second EP.

(“Discovered” is the correct word – we get so little $$ I rarely check the bank account balance.)

This will be the fourth time I’ve gone into a recording project like this, and pretty much every time I think it would be great to blog about the process, to share what we learn and provide a bit of an insight into the process.

This time around I hope to actually achieve this goal – starting with this post…

Process

The basic process we go through when recording is:

  1. Rehearse
  2. Tracking
  3. Mixing
  4. Mastering
  5. Pressing
  6. Promotion and distribution

I hope to blog each of these stages as we pass through them, in the hope someone will find it useful/interesting to see how it all fits together.

Rehearse

Right now we’re in the rehearsal phase – we’ve shortlisted 6 songs that we want to record (that will be whittled down to 5 for the EP), and we’re rehearsing the songs collectively, and also working out how we’re going to record some of the parts.

This process is actually quite critical – especially when you’re on a budget (ours is very tight). It’s not just about getting better at playing the parts – which is important. It’s also about working out how, exactly, you’re going to track all the different parts.

You might think that recording is just about getting into a room and recording the band playing, but it’s actually quite a different experience.

When you play live, you arrange songs in such a way that you can perform them with the lineup you have. That means you often kick in effects etc. on guitars because there’s only 1 or 2 of you to create the various sounds in the song. (We do use some sequencing for keys parts as well, but you get my drift.)

To get a good result in the studio, though, you need to record each sound separately. So with guitars, for example, if the part you play live has delay in one part of the song and distortion in another, you actually record each “sound” separately so that the mix engineer can EQ and mix the sounds more effectively.

We prefer to record as much as we can live in the studio – with all 4 of us in the room playing at once – and then overdub the remaining parts (and fixing any major problems with the live parts, if necessary) after we’ve got solid tracks down. We feel this gives us a much better vibe on the recording – something that can easily get lost during the recording process.

Strangely, this requires a bit of co-ordination – both for the people playing the parts, but also for the rest of the band who are quite used to having all the sounds playing at once. For example – in one song my verse rhythm part uses one sound, but the chorus rhythm part is different – requiring me to drop out during the song, which can be quite disconcerting to the other folks in the band if they’re not expecting it.

So our process at the moment is working out what we’re going to play live in the studio and then rehearsing that so that we’re all used to it when we get into the studio.

We’re also thinking about what parts we’re actually going to record. Without the PA and loud amps the sound that’s recorded, especially for guitars and drums, can sound quite thin. So often we have to double-track (recording the same part twice to get a thicker sound) or come up with additional parts that we wouldn’t normally play live to fill out the sound.

To help in this process we record our rehearsals and test out the different parts. This also allows us to make sure that there’s no clashes between parts that we might have missed performing live. There’s nothing worse than getting into the studio and realising that a vocal and guitar part are clashing and having to decide on the spot how to change/fix it.

All of this pre-production work ensures we have a very clear plan for what we need to record when we enter the studio, which is absolutely critical given the cost of studio time.

Of course all the extra practice is also helping us get tighter and better at playing the parts, helping us to take advantage of the limited time in the studio and reduce the time it takes us to record.

That’s enough for the first installment I think. I’ll try to post more in the future about budgeting, other steps in the process, and also about some of the issues we face as independent musicians trying to get our music into the world.