Recording budgets

I have often seen a lot of debate about the merits of downloading music for promotion of a band and how downloads are changing the music landscape.

Generally I agree that the opportunities for bands are much greater in this day an age than they were previously. In fact, our first EP is released under a Creative Commons license because of this belief – anyone can share our music with their friends, remix it (as our friend Karoshi just has – can’t wait to share that with you!), and the like.

What I haven’t seen is a lot of discussion of how much it actually costs to record and produce music of a standard suitable for “releasing” (radio play etc.). I get a sense that there’s a bit of a misconception that, with the advent of cheaper computers and audio recording hardware and software, that artists are able to produce their music really cheaply, which isn’t actually the case.

The other suggestion I see a lot is that bands can release music for free and make money through other means (performance fees etc.). This I think is in some way related to the first misconception, but also is problematic in its own way.

What I want to do in this post is share my experience of producing music with my band, Fuzu, and having a look at what it costs to release an independent EP.

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Recording progress

Fuzu EP on mixing desk at GPHQ

On Sunday and Monday we had the pleasure of working with Sean Carey to record 5 tracks for our next EP at GPHQ/gigpiglet.

We had an absolute blast, and managed to track all the instrumental parts for 5 tracks in under 2 full days in the studio (we even had a bit of time to experiment with some piano and glock parts).

I’ll be tracking vocals (and we’ll be doing a couple of minor guitar overdubs) with Sean in the coming weeks – so we’re not quite there yet. But given the results so far, I’m really looking forward to it!

Our time in the studio was as fun and productive as last time I worked with Sean – back when I was in a band called Glance with Barry and Dave (along with Toby who is also in Fuzu). Sean’s just getting back into recording after pretty much being on tour for the past few years – so if you are wanting to record we can thoroughly recommend him.

The studio had an awesome vibe too – and we’re really chuffed with the results. Gigpiglet founder Gareth has created an amazing place to record. The studio is climate neutral – part of gigpiglet’s sustainability policy – which is awesome, as we were unable to do that for the last EP. He’s also developed some great sustainable packaging that we’ll hopefully be using if we press CDs.

Anyways – hopefully we’ll be able to share the results before too long (we don’t intend to take as long this time ’round getting everything up and out). And if you’re in the market to do some recording, we can’t recommend highly enough both Sean and GPHQ – check ’em out…

Update: Toby has posted some great pics of the session to Flickr.

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.

Fuzu happenings

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning here recent band news. We’re launching our new EP Between your lines next Wednesday (25 June) at the Hopetoun Hotel.

Come down and help us celebrate: our friends Underlapper and Karoshi will be playing earlier in the evening. If you’re on Facebook you can RSVP for the event there.

The EP is also on a range of music download services, most notably iTunes if you want to get the tracks before the launch.

We’ve also got t-shirts for sale, featuring the CD art, on RedBubble. They’re going for AUD$24.95, are printed on American Apparel tees, and are available in a range of colours (just click on the colour chart below the image to preview).

Update: And we’ve just launched a new-look website

Live IAC driver issues

This is just a little techy post for folks that use Ableton Live on an Intel Mac under Leopard (10.5). Just passing it on for the Google-bots – hopefully it’ll save someone a bit of grief…

I started getting major audio glitches the other night (not the good kind), and I couldn’t quite work out why.

I tracked down the problem to Apple’s IAC midi driver. I use the driver (which you can enable under Applications > Utilities > Audio & Midi Setup) to send midi notes from a track within Live to trigger a scene change.

When I enabled it on my MacBook I started getting major audio glitches in Live (6.0.10). After a bit of troubleshooting I worked out a configuration change in Live that (seems to have) resolved the conflict. A screenshot:

live-iac-config.gif

Gig at Mars Hill + Earth Hour

Just a quick note to let y’all know I’ll be playing an acoustic show at Mars Hill Café (Parramatta) next Saturday 29 March with my long-time friend Kristian Jackson.

By happy providence, the gig spans across Earth Hour, and Mars Hill will be participating in the Earth Hour event. So if you’re looking for a a special way to participate in Earth Hour, or just want to enjoy an night of music, you know where to come 😉

Gig tonight at the Hopetoun

Just a quick reminder that Fuzu, my band, are playing tonight at the Hopetoun. We’re onstage at 8.30pm – so it’s an early start (and finish) if you’re worried about it being a school night.

We’re supporting the wonderful Centipede and Underlapper (who are also playing the Bat & Ball on Saturday night) – so it should be a great gig if you wanted to stay for the evening.

As an aside – for those that have been following the whole guitar saga, I picked up my replacement telecaster late yesterday arvo too, so I’m looking forward to christening it at the gig…

Radiohead album

Radiohead have announced their new album. They’ve skipped labels and are releasing independently. You can pre-order the album as a download or “disc box” here.

The “disc box” contains one vinyl LP + 2 CDs, plus the access to download the album on 10 Oct, all for 40 pounds. The disc boxes themselves will begin to be shipped in December – I expect to gauge demand and to establish numbers before production.

What’s most interesting, is you get to choose how much you pay if you go for the download only option. That is, they have not set a price – you add it to your cart and then specify how much you’ll pay for the downloads. Fascinating…

Anyways – I’m tossing up whether to part with the $120 odd bucks for the full box set. I probably won’t but I’ll have a think about it for a few days before deciding…