Setting Up the Studio – The Three or Seven Ps
Pre-Production Planning. Or more assertively – Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!
Before a recording session, you need to research the band or musicians you are recording:
• What is their musical style?
• How many musicians are there?
• What instruments do they each play?
• What is their “sound”?
• How do their previous recordings sound? How do they want this one to sound?
Another very important question to consider is:
• Does the band have studio quality instruments?
The recording process will put their performance and equipment under a microscope and magnify any problems with an instrument or amp cabinet’s sound. Some studios carry drum and amp inventory, so if there are any band equipment problems they can arrange to use those (if they haven’t sourced alternatives prior to the session). Many studios have rental arrangements with local companies. If the client, or you as the engineer or producer, decides it is necessary to rent gear, make sure it is adequately provided for in the project budget.
Questions you need to ask include:
• How will the session be set up, and how will it be run?
• Does the available equipment inventory (mics, stands, pre-amps, inputs, etc.) support the ideal approach?
• Do the physical facilities and limitations of the studio support or impact the setup and approach?
• Will any compromises be needed? If so, ensure they will not negatively impact the recording process or end result.
Having answered those questions, you can decide how many mics, which mics, and what specific mic techniques you will use. You should create an “ideal” input list and room plot. You can’t make any final decisions until you hear the instruments in the studio, but having a strategy enables you to efficiently get to work, and appear relaxed and professional. This sets the tone for the session and puts your clients at ease. The input list and room setup will no doubt change, and that is perfectly normal – just be sure to keep good notes and document all the changes. Weeks or months from the session, you want to be able to remember what you did, what worked well, and what could have been better so you don’t do it again! Extensive notes, including exact positioning of mic stands and the height and angle of the mics, are essential in case it is necessary to re-record identical sounds at a later date. Take pictures of the exact setups with a digital camera and store the files with the rest of the session documents – this will help substantially if the need for recall arises. This is a good job for an assistant, intern, or a knowledgeable and reliable “extra” at the session!
Excerpt from Mic It! by Ian Corbett © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Dr. Ian Corbett is the coordinator of the Audio Engineering Program, and Professor of Music Technology and Audio Engineering at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He also owns and operates “off-beat-open-hats – recording and sound reinforcement” which specializes in servicing the needs of jazz and classical ensembles in the Kansas City area. Since 2004, he has been a member of the Audio Engineering Society’s Education Committee, and has mentored, presented, and served on panels at local, regional, national, and international AES and other professional events. Ian has also authored articles on audio recording related subjects for Sound On Sound magazine.