Session Documentation: Plan Wisely & Arm Yourself With Data!
by Kyle Snyder
Whether you’re just beginning a career in recording or at the top of your game, documentation is key. Imagine you’ve just finished a killer tracking session, one you may want the ability to recreate someday (hint: that’s potentially every session), so now what? I’m generally confident in my memory for microphone placements and studio setup for a brief while, however plans change over time, and what may have been easy to remember tomorrow suddenly needs to be compartmentalized until everyone is available again next month. Plus, it’s unlikely you’ll remember compressor or EQ settings, let alone values for gear that has less than descriptive faceplates.
So, what’s an engineer to do? Well, the obvious answer is documentation of some form. If you’re serious about this business, you’ll be documenting your session. After all, you never know what may become of that last-minute project you did last week, and it’s always valuable to be able to look back. All this having been said, what form of documentation you use depends completely on your work-flow and needs. Some items which should be included in your documentation, as discussed by David Miles Huber in his newest version of Modern Recording Techniques, 8th Ed. include:
– Artists, engineers and support staff who were involved with the project
– Session calendar dates and locations Session tempo
– Participants in the project and important dates (for future credits)
– Mic choice and placement (for future overdub reference)
– Outboard equipment types and their settings
– Plug-in effects and their settings or general descriptions (you never know if they’ll be available at a future time, so a description can help you to duplicate it with another app)
So, let’s take a look at some of the options.
There’s nothing quite so simple as good old pen and paper. When I’m running around a studio or venue just trying to get work done minute to minute, this is more than likely how I’m going to keep track of data. I’ve also created my own take sheets, track sheets, and session logs which I print off and use when I’m in a hurry (Need a starting place? Ultimate Track Sheets are popular). However, if I’m working and just trying to keep track of information, there’s no separating me from my Moleskine. Of course, paper being paper, it is susceptible to damage. When I’m working out in the elements I really love Rite in the Rain All-Weather Paper.
Sometimes, there’s just no time to write. Really, I’ve been there, and it’s a pain. However, if you’re packing a camera while you’re working, you can settle on an equally useful compromise; pictures. Even though you might not have a detailed diagram of the setup or precise details of settings, snapping a few pictures before you hurriedly move on in a busy situation is often all you need to piece it all back together at a later date.
This is just as useful for capturing the front panels of gear as notating exactly where that tom mic was. Whether you’re rocking a smartphone which can be truly indispensable or a trusty Digital SLR, a camera is a fantastic way to keep track of details in the heat of the moment.
Analog + Digital
Sometimes, no matter what images you capture of a session, the best information can only be captured by words. That’s why I trust Evenote with my mobile and desktop record keeping and note taking. With clients for every platform you always have access to your information. Sweetening the deal further, Evernote has the ability to take pictures and run optical character recognition on text (OCR) to make it searchable; perfect for napkin documentation I’m always jotting down after the fact. You can also share notes with others which is really helpful.
While you can often capture your settings in pictures and words, sometimes you just need more. Enter Teaboy Audio with their Recall Sheet Software. It’s an online service for creating and storing recall notes of your recording sessions. Instead of using traditional pencil and paper, you get photorealistic images of your outboard gear that you can manipulate like you would with a software plug-in
The program allows you to manage your data with pinpoint accuracy and synchronize your data to a central server. Plus, since it’s Java based, you can use Teaboy’s Recall Sheet Software on any system on that supports Java.