THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF MAC VS PC FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION

THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF MAC VS PC FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION

When I was in college studying all about everything in the audio world, there seemed to be an endless debate between everyone on whether Mac’s or PC’s were better for recording and mixing. Having used both extensively and having had the same debate over and over and over again, I think I’ve heard about every reason for siding with one over the other and below I’ll address some of those questions as well as tell you what my personal choices have been based off of.

Time-line

Probably the biggest component to this debate relates to technology over time. What I mean by that is who’s got the latest technology available and integrated? Is Mac ahead or is it PC? There is always a developing landscape of the new or the best and it’s always shifting back and forth. So just for the sake of argument and reference, I’m writing this article August of 2017 and so my information will be based on what is currently available.

Comparison Criteria

The comparisons I’ll be using are fairly simple. I really only have a few things that I look for.

  • Performance
  • Stability
  • Compatibility
  • Deliverable Options
  • Longevity/Upgradability
  • Cost

So let’s get into each one these and see how things stack up.

Performance

Performance is really one of those things that is entirely subjective and really depends on a whole host of issues including user configurations, hardware, drivers, operating systems, and any other variable out there. Without sitting down and doing a bunch of bench tests (which there are tons of videos on and you can look them up), I’m going to chock up performance to a single question: Does it work and does it get the job done?

  • Mac – Yep it works
  • PC – Yep it also works

We can also delve into this further with the time-line I mentioned earlier as well by asking a simple question: Who’s ahead on the technology front? Like I mentioned before this is something that is always in flux and if I had to hand out a winner over the last couple of years I would say PC was winning hands down. With CPU’s like the new Core i9 with 10 cores, the 20 core Xeon and AMD’s new Ryzen chip, massive jumps in RAM motherboard support from 16GB to 128GB, M.2 support, an increase in both smaller and larger case sizes, the release of the current Nvidia GTX 10 series, implementation of both USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt, water cooling and some other things, Mac has really only given us Thunderbolt in the same time period. That being said, I think Mac has realized their failings in both the professional and consumer markets and is scheduled to release the new iMac Pro that will be up to par with anything currently available in the PC market. The Mac Pro is also getting an overhaul which hasn’t been updated since it’s current release. Overall I think Mac has been trailing mostly due to PC’s ability to innovate change much faster over time and it will be interesting to see how Apple addresses things if they truly ant to compete.

Stability

Stability is one of those things that’s also subjective. Having used both Mac and Windows extensively, I don’t really think one is better than the other. Each of them has their quirks and it’s really more about knowing how to find a workaround or solution for each of the problems that each of them presents a user with. That being said, Mac is notorious for really strange problems where everything breaks when they have software updates and it’s a really sore subject with Mac fans. Remember when iTunes deleted everyone’s music libraries with one of their releases? The funny thing is that each of the Mac Fanboys will tell you that they don’t ever do an upgrade until at least six months after a release because of the huge probable risk of system failure being involved. This can happen with Windows too, but seems to happen much less frequently. As we’ve seen before, there are also strange things that occur with releases when Windows drops a new OS like the BSOD and bricking that seemed to afflict mostly HP Laptops.

Like I said earlier, I don’t think one is better than the other and it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. I’ve run Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD on each of them and I’m comfortable moving back and forth between each of them.

Compatibility

Compatibility may not seem like a huge issue, but as someone that moves between the two platforms on a regular basis, I’ve found that it’s important to be able to have all of my hardware (like external hard drives) work the same. Mac’s and PC’s both definitely have their own quirks, but overall I’m going to have to give this one to PC just due to the simple fact that PC adopts whatever works and implements it quickly. As an example of that, Mac gave us Thunderbolt, and PC has adopted it while also creating a version that is UBS backwards compatible in the form of USB 3.1 (a.k.a. Type C). On the flip side, Mac hardware is always proprietary and, aside from Thunderbolt, always seems to be based on technology that’s technically old in the world of PC (take Mac’s 1366 MHz.RAM that is still being used in the current Mac Pro as an example). Ultimately though, they both work, which in the end is all that matters.

Deliverable Options

Deliverables are a huge source of contention between Mac and PC users. In the spirit of saving space and getting to the point as quick as possible, there are two schools of thought that I’ve come across when it comes to things like files and formats. On the Mac side, there is limited support for anything in the world of audio outside of Mp3, WAV or AAC. This has both the benefit and the downside of forcing compatibility to one of these formats. On the plus side (as Mac Fanboys always remind me), everything just works. On the downside, I end up having to convert everything to one of these formats, and the sore point for PC Fanboys is that often there are formats that have better compression rates and take up way less space (like Windows Media Files for example), and the counter argument heard from the PC camp are that there are a serious lack of options, choice and tools when it comes to anything on a Mac. The conclusion? It’s up to the user and there are pros and cons to both sides. Personally though, I like options.

Longevity and Upgradability

In case you’re wondering, the answer is always, It Depends. When it comes to things like longevity and upgradability, There are pros and cons to each side of the isle and it sort of depends on what you want. Do you want a machine that’s going to be the same for a while until it’s out of date in which case you replace it with a new machine; or do you want a machine that is upgradable and can keep up with the latest technology? Either one is fine and it’s really a matter of personal choice. Personally, as I sated in the paragraph above, I like options and so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I like PC’s much more. I use my computer for way more than just audio production. A lot of my friends are programmers and are avid gamers. I’m not a huge gamer, but I do enjoy going to LAN parties and kicking it with a bunch of dudes that are screaming at each other across the room as they pummel each other into submission. So when the new Nvidia GTX 10 series GPU’s came out it was no big deal to swap out my old GTX 640 that couldn’t handle anything anymore and get something much better to keep up with my fiends. I also like to tinker with things too. On the flip side, there is also something to be said for having a no maintenance machine that just does it’s thing and when it’s done gets replaced. There is a significant dollar amount attached to each way of thinking and realistically, you’re going to pay for it either way. I think the question is do you want to pay for it all at once or in increments?

Cost

When it comes to Mac vs PC, this is really the main event and it’s a real grudge match. So in order to do a fair comparison, we’ll compare my computer (and what I paid for it) vs a comparable Mac Pro. My computer is a few years old and so is the Mac Pro so it should be a fairly straight comparison. So onto the specs.

Mac

CPU: Xeon E5 6 Core @ 3.5 GHz

RAM: 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC

SSD: 512GB PCI-e SSD

MB: Apple Proprietary

PS: Apple Proprietary

CASE: Apple Proprietary

GPU: Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each

STORAGE: N/A

COOLING: Air Cooled

DISP: LG UltraFine 4K Display 21.4 Inch (Mac Store Sug,)

OS: OS X El Capitan

TOTAL: $5,298

Scott’s PC

CPU:   Core i7 6 Core @ 3.4 GHz

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 64GB DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2400

SSD: Mushkin Enhanced ECO2 2.5″ 512GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)

MB: MSI X79A-GD45 Plus LGA 2011 Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard 

PS: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 G1 120-G1-1000-VR 80+ GOLD 1000W Fully Modular

CASE: Fractal Design Define R5 Blackout Silent ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

GPU: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Mini ITX OC 6GB GDDR5 Graphics Card

STORAGE: WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive – 7200 RPM x2

COOLING: Intel BXTS13X Water/Liquid Cooling

DISP: Dell E2414H 24-Inch Widescreen Backlit TN LED Monitor 1920x1080P x2

OS: Windows 10

TOTAL: $2,827      

As you can plainly see, there is a huge disparity between what my computer cost and what a Mac Pro goes for today. Straight across the CPU, the RAM and the SSD are about the same. But that’s really where things start to change. I’ve got more storage and water cooling (which is quiet), and even if I added 16TB of storage today (no expansion chassis required) it would only add about $500 to my total. My computer is up to date, the Mac Pro is still using parts from 2013 and they were outdated then. Even though the Mac Pro has dual GPU’s, my single GTX 1060 beats the crap out of both those cards at everything. Now let’s keep in mind that when I bought my computer the Mac Pro was closer to $6,800 without a display. Now granted I built my own computer and if I had to go out and buy a pre-built one it would probably be $1,000 more but it still comes in way under what the Mac Pro cost. Now I’m sure there are those of you out there that are saying, “What about the new iMac Pro? I bet it would wail on your computer!”. Yeah that’s probably true. But based on Apple’s record with the Mac Pro, a fully loaded iMac Pro with an 18 core Xeon, 4 TB SSD and 128GB of RAM is probably going to cost a kidney or your firstborn child. If we use the current Mac Pro fully maxed out (which is half the machine by the way) as a guide, it’s going to cost at least $7,000. That’s an insane amount of money. And the funny thing is that my computer might still be able to compete with this new behemoth solely because I’ll still have more storage, more expandability, an awesome GPU and the option to upgrade my computer at a fraction of the cost. Even if I dropped in a new motherboard and 128 GB of RAM (which would put me right back on par with the iMac Pro) it would only add about $1,500 to my $2,827 total. That’s still $971 under what the current Mac Pro costs and it’s probably way less that what the iMac Pro will cost. Sorry Mac Fanboys, when it comes to cost, PC wins hands down.

Conclusion

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you prefer when it comes to Mac or PC. They both have strengths and they both have shortcomings and honestly I don’t really prefer one over the other to work. The two things that really shift me away from Apple and toward PC are the cost and the ability to keep my hardware current. The sad thing is that for the most part, they use the same parts, so the question for me has always been why should I spend $5,298 on something when I can get something that has similar or better specs at almost half the cost? It doesn’t add up and for my money, I’ll stick with PC The money I save can go to other things like pre amps or mics or guitars.

A WORD ON SAMPLES VS LIVE DRUMS

A WORD ON SAMPLES VS LIVE DRUMS

One of the debates that seems to be rolling around the internet that I hear quite frequently between professional engineers and enthusiasts seems to be focused around the growing shift to replace live recorded drums with samples or programs like Superior Drummer. Below is my take on the pros and cons of samples and the philosophy on why I came to those conclusions.

Samples

There are a lot of reasons for using samples when it comes to drums in music. Here’s the basic breakdown:

Pros

  • They’re relatively cheap in comparison to recording live drums.
  • They sound good because they are technically ‘real’ in the sense that they were played by a real person at some point.
  • They’re perfect every time. There’s no miss hits or stick flubs to correct.
  • They’re relatively easy to edit or mix and someone with absolutely no experience whatsoever can get really great results every time because they are essentially already mixed.
  • They’re fast. You can set up a program to playback the same track time and time again and decrease your production time in a significant way.
  • There is total isolation of one part of the kit to another.
  • Replacing poorly recorded drums is easy and cost effective.
  • No space is required to ‘record’.

Cons

  • They’re generic and are a totally canned sound. There is no uniqueness involved whatsoever
  • They’re ‘fake’ in the sense that a computer and not a person is playing the song.
  • They’re perfect every time and consequently are devoid of the emotional impact that real drums illicit in a listener. You’re actually much more likely to experience ear fatigue where you basically stop listening altogether and tune things out.
  • There is a huge tendency in the home studio/amateur realm to use poorly edited samples that you can actually hear when the sample starts and ends.
  • There is total isolation of one part of the kit to another which results in the lost overall stereo image of the drum kit as a single instrument.
  • No space is required to ‘record’, which in turn eliminates at least half of what creates a unique sound.

Conclusions

There are several conclusions that you can come to, and depending on how you feel about it I think you could easily argue for or against until you’re blue in the face. For me personally, I think there is a time and a place to use samples (i.e. fixing a bad hit or some other problem); but I also feel that the vast rise in samples use is due to a serious lack of striving for musical excellence on the part of poor or lazy engineers that don’t even realize what they are doing to the emotional impact of a song. Recording drums isn’t easy and requires some serious skills to do properly. Not everyone can do it nor should they. No matter what the reason, whether it be the cost, lack of space, lack of experience or some other reason, it really doesn’t make much difference because the end result is the same. For me, it ultimately comes down to a basic philosophy on how sound and music come together to move the listener. At the end of the day, I want to hear a real representation of a band or an artist that is unique, engaging, emotionally driven and that makes me not only feel, but feel intensely. After all, aside from love and sex, music to me is the most powerful personal emotional force that we as humans can experience. In the end, I can’t be moved or feel anything if I hear the same drum samples on every song I listen to; whether it be country, rock, jazz, folk, industrial, electronic or whatever. Eventually, my ears will become numb and I’ll stop listening altogether. Anyway that’s my take on music as an emotional force and why I prefer to use a real drummer whenever I’m able.

COSTS AND SAMPLE STUDIO BUDGETS

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked when people come into the studio for a consultation is: How much is it going to cost? The simple answer is: It depends. It depends on you as the talent and it also depends on what sort of results you’re after. So I’ve set up some different scenarios here with different price points to illustrate that there are often times many different ways to approach a project, all with different results. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong scenario as each project is unique. However, there is a significant difference in price depending on exactly how you want to record your project. Each session is based on a ten song EP and the studio rate is $50/hour.

 

SINGLE ACOUSTIC GUITAR WITH VOCALS

In this scenario there would be a single guitar accompanied by a single voice. This is about as simple a session there is.

 

LIVE STUDIO RECORDING
No click track
No song map
4 Complete passes per song
No punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 14 Hr/$50 $700
Edit/Mix Time 08 Hr/$50 $400
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                             
$1,575

LIVE STUDIO RECORDING
Click track
Song Map
4 Complete passes per song
Punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 16 Hr/$50 $800
Edit/Mix Time 08 Hr/$50 $400
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                             
$1,575

STUDIO RECORDING
VOCS AND GTR REC. SEPERATE
No click track
No song map
4 Complete GTR and VOC passes per song
No punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 25 Hr/$50 $1,250
Edit/Mix Time 12 Hr/$50 $500
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                            
$2,225

STUDIO RECORDING
VOCS AND GTR REC. SEPERATE
Click track
Song Map
4 Complete GTR and VOC passes per song
Punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 30 Hr/$50 $1,500
Edit/Mix Time 14 Hr/$50 $600
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                            
$2,575

 

 

THREE PIECE COMBO WITH VOCALS

In this scenario there would be any combination of three instruments accompanied by a single voice . Often times this consists of guitar, bass and drums and a singer. This is a fairly common setup, but as there are more pieces involved, there are more options available in the recording process. Each setup is slightly different and each will yield different results.

 

LIVE STUDIO RECORDING
No click track
No song map
4 Complete passes per song
No punching in to fix mistakes
No GTR solo overdubbing

Recording Time 16 Hr/$50 $800
Edit/Mix Time 10 Hr/$50 $500
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                            
$1,775

LIVE STUDIO RECORDING
Click track
Song Map
4 Complete passes per song
Punching in to fix mistakes
GTR solo overdubbing

Recording Time 20 Hr/$50 $1000
Edit/Mix Time 11 Hr/$50 $550
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                              
$2,025

STUDIO RECORDING
GTR, BS and DR RECORDED TOGETHER VOCS SEP.
No click track
No song map
4 Complete passes per song
No punching in to fix mistakes
No GTR solo overdubbing

Recording Time 20 Hr/$50 $1000
Edit/Mix Time 12 Hr/$50 $600
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                               
$2,075

STUDIO RECORDING
GTR, BS and DR RECORDED TOGETHER VOCS SEP.
Click track
Song Map
4 Complete passes per song
Punching in to fix mistakes
GTR solo overdubbing

Recording Time 25 Hr/$5 $1250
Edit/Mix Time 14 Hr/$50 $700
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                               
$2,425

STUDIO RECORDING
ALL REC. SEPERATELY
No click track
No song map
4 Complete GTR and VOC passes per song 
No punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 40 Hr/$50 $2000
Edit/Mix Time 15 Hr/$50 $750
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                              
$3,225

STUDIO RECORDING
ALL REC. SEPERATELY
Click track
Song Map
4 Complete GTR and VOC passes per song
Punching in to fix mistakes

Recording Time 45 Hr/$50 $2,250
Edit/Mix Time 18 Hr/$50 $900
Mastering $475 flat rate $475
Total                                                                             
$3,625

 

HOME STUDIO BUNDLES

I’ve included some bundles here for bands/artists that are looking to only partially have their projects completed in the studio.

 

RE-AMPING SESSION
(2-4 GTR or BS TRACKS/SONG @ 3 MIN.)

Recording Time 03 Hr/$50 $150
Total                                                                            
$150

RE-AMPING SESSION
(5-8 GTR or BASS TRACKS PER SONG)

Recording Time 06 Hr/$50 $300
Total                                                                           
$300

RE-AMPING SESSION
(8-12 GTR or BS TRACKS/SONG @ 3 MIN.)

Recording Time 09 Hr/$50 $450
Total                                                                            
$450

 

RE-AMPING SESSION
(11-16 GTR or BASS TRACKS PER SONG)

Recording Time 12 Hr/$50 $600
Total                                                                             
$600

RE-AMPING SESSION w/DRUM OR VOCAL TRACKING
(2-4 GTR or BS TRACKS/SONG @ 3 MIN.)
No click
No song map
4 passes per song
No punches to fix mistakes

Recording Time 18 Hr/$50 $900
Total                                                                             
$900

RE-AMPING SESSION w/DRUM OR VOCAL TRACKING
(2-4 GTR or BASS TRACKS PER SONG)
Click Track
Song Map
4 passes per song 
Punches to fix mistakes

Recording Time 24 Hr/$50 $1,250
Total                                                                               
$1,250

RE-AMPING SESSION w/DRUM OR VOCAL TRACKING
(5-8 GTR or BS TRACKS/SONG @ 3 MIN.)
No click
No song map
4 passes per song
No punches to fix mistakes

Recording Time 20 Hr/$50 $1000
Total                                                                                
$1000

RE-AMPING SESSION w/DRUM OR VOCAL TRACKING
(5-8 GTR or BASS TRACKS PER SONG)
Click Track
Song Map
4 passes per song 
Punches to fix mistakes

Recording Time 26 Hr/$50 $1,300
Total                                                                                   
$1,300

HELPFUL TIPS AND INFORMATION FOR YOUTUBERS FROM AN AUDIO ENGINEER

I had a conversation the other day with Devin, my brother in law. He happens to work in social media marketing and we ended up having an interesting conversation about possible reasons that people watch certain videos, skip over some or turn off others all together. There were lots of things that were possible contributors but interestingly enough, the one thing that we readily agreed upon was that if a video had poor audio, people were much more likely to stop watching and move on. As an Audio Engineer I’ve known this for a long time. We can see this in everyday life. If you’re at home watching a clip of something that has poor video quality but the sound is good, chances are you’ll finish watching it. If there is a clip that is in crystal clear 4K resolution and has horrible audio, people will turn it off or flip the channel. Anyways the point is that there really is no excuse nowadays to have poor quality audio and so in the spirit of the pursuit of excellence, Devin suggested that I create an article to help show YouTubers how an Audio Engineer could be a valuable asset to their productions and, in essence, get them more clicks. So I’ve put together a list of some areas that I think I can help people get much better sounding results than what they are used to getting. I’ve broken them down into the following categories: Consultations, Pre-production, Production and Post Production. I’ve also included all of the jobs that are traditionally done by 20-30 people for film, but these jobs can be done on a much smaller scale with just 1 or 2 people. I’ve included the traditional way just as a matter of reference.

COSULTATIONS

I realize that a lot of YouTubers aren’t made of money and essentially start their channels from scratch. There is a lot of DIY that happens and I think that part is great. To me it’s just a representation of the American Spirit and the hard work and dedication it takes to build and maintain our country. Now in the spirit of the do-it-yourselfers, sometimes it pays to consult with someone that has first hand knowledge and experience to help you get the most bang for your buck. In this case consulting with (and paying) an Audio Engineer can help you buy the right products, teach you how to use them properly and to get the best possible sound out of whatever project you’re working on. So here are some things that you might want to ask an Audio Engineer about.

          1. Room Acoustics/Acoustic Treatment – Out of all the things to ask an Engineer about, this is probably the most important thing that gets skipped over the most. Without going into a ton of science, what you really need to know about what ever room or space you’re planning on recording in, is that they all have their own individual tone and characteristics. Audio Engineers use certain tools to help eliminate the undesirable parts of a room and to keep the good parts. We use tools like oscilloscopes, frequency spectrum analyzers that run white and pink noise, reference microphones, tone generators, mirrors and a bunch of other fun tools to identify problem areas in a room where we can use things like acoustic treatment, sound diffusers and bass traps to eliminate problems like standing waves, bass buildup, and reverberate reflections. It also leaves us with a desirable recording space that still sounds natural and has a good ambiance. This is what is known as “tuning a room”. If you are planning on doing anything in a dedicated space I highly recommend you have these things checked out.
          2. Gear Choices – One of the biggest questions that I see from a lot of YouTubers are related to what gear to buy. There are tons of videos out there about what people are using; but honestly, why not consult with someone that uses these things on a daily basis and knows what each of them sounds like? There is way more to gear selection than just things like price and quality. There are things like application, project type, and even things like the individual human voice that can change what the best gear for the situation is. For example, I would use a much different microphone for recording vocals on a song than I would for doing something like a voice over or dialogue replacement. I’ve even had situations where I choose to use a much different mic based on whether I’m recording a man or a woman because in general, men and women’s voices vary greatly in the timbre that they produce. I’m fond of saying that there are certain mics that love your voice, and there are certain ones that hate your voice, and knowing what one to use is 90% of the battle. Anyways an Engineer can help you get set up with the right gear for your situation, regardless of budget. I’ve used gear that costs $5 and I’ve used gear that costs $500,000. There is great gear at every price point and on the flip side, there is a lot of overpriced junk out there too. I’m actually fairly certain that most people would be surprised at just how little the things that I prefer to use cost. The point is it might be worth your while to talk with someone who knows the difference.
          3. Gear Use – So this kind of goes with the one above. Just because you have the right gear, doesn’t mean you know how to use it properly. So why not get some training from someone that can help you personally optimize your gear to your project specifications? These can be things like project settings and specs to general use of things. For example: On most audio equipment that uses a microphone, there is often a gain knob that goes along with it; say on a field recorder, pre-amp or audio interface. It is a common preconception that this knob controls the volume of the microphone signal. What it’s actually doing is controlling the magnetic field created by your microphone based on the pickup pattern. The more the gain is cranked, the larger the magnetic field. You can actually have a person stand directly in front of a mic, and if you increase the magnetic field enough, you actually end up recording what is behind a person instead of what is coming out of their mouth. This is just one of many things that that happens on a regular basis and it can have a huge impact on your sound.

PRE-PRODUCTION

This section builds a lot on the Consultation section of this article but takes things a step further. Firstly; in the above section I broadly assume that consultations would be done on a strictly limited basis; whereas this and the following sections assume that you have hired an Audio Engineer to work as either an Engineer, Producer, Post Production Supervisor, Mixer, or as the Head of the Sound Department for the length of a project, or on a series of projects. Pre-production is an interesting stage of the game nowadays. It is something that is repeatedly overlooked but can drastically change the outcome of a project. There are really only two things worth mentioning in this section. They are similar to how consultations work and basically involve planning and budgeting.

          1. Planning – Having an Audio Engineer around at this stage may not seem like something that a lot of people would do, but in both film and music, it isn’t uncommon to have an Engineer act as Producer or a Consultant. They can often provide vital information on things like equipment, time, best practices, and all kind of things that have a direct bearing on the budget or the outcome of the budget over the life of a project. This is also the point that all of the prep work for a product should be done. In music this can include things like songwriting, demos and gear choices. In film, it can include things like script writing, story boarding, screen tests, casting and a whole host of other things. Anyways having an Engineer involved from the beginning of a project can help you plan properly for things and possibly save you money based on their experience and expertise.
          2. Budget – I think it’s fairly obvious to most people that sticking to the budget for a project and keeping things moving on time is really important, but most people don’t realize that because sound is the last element to be added and finalized on films or videos, it’s also the same area that is negatively impacted the most. If a project goes over time and over budget there are two things that can happen. The first is that there is often much less time than is needed to accomplish the work that needs to be done; which in turn, runs your project into massive amounts of overtime and debt. The second thing that can happen is that your project runs out of money and comes to a screeching halt. I really don’t like having the conversation in the middle of the film where I get to tell the Director that he is over budget and it’s going to cost twice what he had planned for because he didn’t take the time to consult with an Engineer on how much things actually cost.

PRODUCTION

In the production process an Engineer often moves over into 1 of 3 roles. I’ve worked as all of these things and each one requires a ton of skill and discipline to work well.

          1. Sound Mixer – So if you are doing anything with dialog you want one of these guys. They are responsible for capturing and marking all of the takes in something like a film. They often communicate constantly with the script supervisor on things like print takes and what are known as wild tracks. Wild tracks are sometimes just the scene done up close with all of the actors standing in a circle where they do their lines as just audio, or things that might help the sound designers later in post production. Depending on how good these guys are, they can make or break your post production budget.
          2. Boom Operator – A lot of people I’ve met think its a simple matter to be a boom operator and that anyone standing around can do it. That will do in a pinch, but in reality Boom Operators can save you a ton of time in post production by getting good usable audio on set. This means that there is less time in post production doing dialog replacement.
          3. Audio Engineer – The other aspect of production would be to do something like a podcast or a video or a radio spot where you are in a studio and are properly mic’ed up. Most people think that these guys just push record and walk away, but if they are good, they will be constantly riding the volume fader and eliminate tons of editing time in post. This is just something that you just have to see to understand. It’s also becoming less and less common to do because it requires a lot more skill than just pushing record and walking away.

POST PRODUCTION

By way of information, in the Film and Music industries there are tons of people involved in the post production process. In film there can be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people working on a project and in music there can be 3-5. To see the full extent of how Engineers are involved in the film and music processes, see my articles in the Engineer’s Corner. For the sake of simplicity, we can realistically break down post production into 2 categories: Editing and Mixing.

          1. Editing – Editing can be a very important process and there is a lot more to it than most people think. Without getting into the semantics of exactly what audio editing entails, I’ll just say that the goal during editing is to take out everything you don’t want to hear, and to leave everything else good behind. These can often include addressing issues like pops, clicks, hums, background noise reduction and plosives while simultaneously adding things like proper fades or volume automation.
          2. Mixing – Mixing is the last stage that gets applied to a project in both film and music. It essentially is combining and regulating all of the elements in a project to play nicely with one another. There can also be different levels or degrees of mixing and each is an art unto itself. They differ in the film and music industries, but ultimately the goal is to deliver a good final product at the right specifications for the intended market. What that means for YouTubers is that you want someone mixing your material who is going to take into account the changes that YouTube makes to your final product. Like I stated earlier, mixing is an art and there are tons of tools and techniques that go along with mixing. Ultimately what you want to look for in a mixer is someone that has an uncompromising view on quality. I say this because if you choose to put your name on a product like a video, film or song, it should be something that you should be proud of and be the best work that you can deliver.

I hope that this article has helped some of you in some small way to either seek out and get help to capturing better sound, or at least opens up the possibility to the idea that better sound is possible with the right kind of knowledge and expertise.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

QUALITY AND COST IN SOUND AND AUDIO

 

I’ve thought a long time about exactly how to tackle this topic. Honestly it’s one of those things that comes up pretty frequently; but seems to always leave a sour taste in my mouth when I have to talk to people about these things. In today’s market where you can buy things cheaply and learn how to get some decent results by watching YouTube tutorials, the question I’ve had to repeatedly answer and overcome is this: “Why should I pay you a lot of money to do something that I can get my nephew to do in his parent’s basement for free?” The answer that I give to that question every time is: “Quality, Quality, Quality.” along with something snarky like “Well, if you want your nephew to do it in his parent’s basement for free, it’s going to sound like it was done in a basement for free.”. I personally want to give everyone I work with the best possible work that I can, but it does come at a price. I’ve put together a list of some things here to help people understand why there is a correlation between cost and quality. I’ve also included some ways for you to be able to talk with people and find out if their quality is worth what they are charging.

          1. Audio Engineering is my livelihood, not a hobby – This may come as a bit of a shock to most people (especially in Utah), but I do what I do as a professional; not an amateur and not as a hobbyist. That means that I don’t work for free, I don’t work for food, for drugs or for crappy gear that you have laying around that you want to get rid of. I work for money, just like everyone else does. It also means that I work for myself where there is no insurance, no paid time off, no 401K and no holiday pay. Asking someone to work for pennies or to work for free is just plain insulting. I don’t do it to people that I do business with, and I expect the same courtesy in return. If I go have my car worked on, I expect to pay for the parts and services that I am getting. It’s no different with Audio.
          2. My education and my gear is expensive – There are only a handful of schools that have degrees in what I specialize in. That means that I have a very specialized skill set and I have the education and the know-how to use better practices than most of my competition, which in turn gets me much better results. If you’re using someone who was just standing around or has gotten all of their education on YouTube; chances are there are going to be massive holes in their education, which can translate to problems in their audio. The sad thing is that most of the time these people don’t even know that they are missing things.
          3. I don’t compromise on quality – If you really think that someone you know can do as good of a job as I can and they’re willing to do it for free, lets face it. You’re probably being straight up being lied to and ripped off. I stand by the quality of the practices I use and oftentimes, I’m willing to do a sample of something for free to prove it.
          4. I use best practices – Part of my education and the experience that I have is that I know the difference between good, better and best practices when it comes to audio. I also know the limitations and weaknesses of the practices that are out there and I spend a lot of time making sure that I play to the strengths of the practices I use.
          5. Best practices aren’t cheap, so be prepared to pay for it – This should be fairly obvious to anyone that has two brain cells to rub together; but honestly I can’t believe the amount of people that can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s a simple concept. Do you want the best quality that you can possibly afford? Or are you interesting in doing things as cheaply as possible? If you said yes to the first section, chances are there is going to be an associated price tag that goes along with it. If you said yes to the second, chances are your quality is going to drop significantly.
          6. Chances are, the best practices that cost a bit more will probably save you money in the long run – I really hate to sit here and harp on the money to quality thing but the reality of the situation is that if you choose to do things as cheaply as possible and step over the quality of good audio, chances are you’re going to pay for it later on down the road. In music not getting good sound at the source can mean having to re-record something and start over again from scratch. It could also mean that you’re going to pay tons of money to “fix it in the mix”(this is a horrible practice by the way). The same goes for film. The better audio you can get on set means you spend way less time in the studio doing things like Dialogue Replacement or in the worst case, having to re-shoot the entire scene.
          7. I’m not trying to rip you off, I’m just trying to educate you about the sticker shock you’re in – Most of the time I end up talking to people about quality and price, people have a preconceived notion of what they think my services are worth. Unfortunately most people have no reference for how much things actually cost; nor the investments I’ve made in things like education and the equipment I have. It’s kind of like walking into a Ferrari Dealership and having the expectation that all cars cost $20,000 because your last car (The Ford Fiesta) cost that much. Then having the harsh realization that you’ve just been slapped in the face with the real price tag of $300,000. Your card gets declined, everyone is looking at you funny and all it does is make you look stupid as well as wastes my time. I’ve never had a project that I wasn’t able to be fully transparent about exactly where the money is going, but for the sake of everyone involved, don’t expect Grade A quality at bare minimum pricing.

For those that are still skeptical about the relationship between quality and cost, here are some ways to check that you’re truly getting what you pay for. Just by way of information, if you are looking into hiring an artist of any kind, you should be treating the questions you ask just like you were a company interviewing for a new position. A lot of what I’ve put down here may seem like things that should be asked just as a matter of course, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people that don’t do these things.

  1. Ask for samples – This may seem fairly obvious but most people don’t do this at all. It would make things a lot easier if people did. You can tell a lot about someone’s work by the portfolio of work they provide. They can give you insightful information about their practices and procedures which all relate to the quality of the end product.
  2. Ask for references – I may be the greatest Engineer on Earth but if I put off everyone I’ve ever worked with, I may have problems in other areas that aren’t evident in a first impression.
  3. Ask for a quote or a sample budget for a similar project – You can learn a lot of things about a person by what sort of things they put in a quote. I have a tendency to pad things quite a bit so it gives me some room to work if something goes wrong. I also let people know that that’s how I do things. I learned a long time ago to plan for the worst, but to rely on hard work and experience instead of hope to have things turn out for the best.
  4. Show me where the money is going – This one is related to the one above. Realistically in this day and age transparency is the best policy. I believe in being honest and forthright with my fellow man about the way that I do business. I have no problem showing you exactly where the money is going on any given project.
  5. Ask for their qualifications – This can tell you a lot of things about a person. Where did they study? Did they finish school or not? How far did they go in school? These are important questions that can have a direct bearing on the quality of their work.

Anyways I hope that some of these ideas have helped answer some questions that they have, and to help people learn how to collaborate and work on projects in a manner that is forthright and honest with their fellow man.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

ROLES OF AUDIO PROFESSIONALS IN FILM

In writing up my article relating to Audio Engineers and YouTubers, I ended up going into tons of detail about some of the various roles of Audio professionals across the film process. After sleeping on it I realized there was way too much information for my intended audience and I ended up cutting most of it out. I’ve decided that most of the information can still be useful so I decided to create an article talking about it on it’s own. So the film process uses the same basic sub categories that music does in that we have Pre-production, Production and Post Production. I’ll address each of these and hopefully people can take some information away from this and use it to their advantage.

PRE-PRODUCTION

Pre-production may not seem like a likely place to find audio professionals in film, but having them around can help alleviate and minimize all sorts of production and logistical issues before they become a problem.

          1. Producer – There are different kinds of jobs within music and film. Acting as a pre-production producer to help lay out possibilities on things like costs and time frames can help save tons of money on a given project.
          2. Consultant – This is something that I’ve repeatedly seen done as an afterthought in things like film and TV. Often times the sound department isn’t consulted until a project is already underway and the budget is set. I really don’t like having the conversation in the middle of the film where I get to tell the Director that he is over budget and it’s going to cost twice what he had planned for. The other aspect of a project that I always plan for is in regard to my equipment. If I draw up a budget I always add all of my equipment as if I had to go out and buy it new. There are a couple of reasons I do that. The first is it provides for the length and life of my equipment. Audio gear is hella expensive and when it breaks on a shoot, I either need to have a backup handy or the ability to replace it really fast. The second part of it is that it is a quality thing. I want to have the best audio available and so I want to use new stuff as often as I can. It limits discrepancies and odd variables that can happen with electronics over time.

PRODUCTION

So at this point I’m going to assume that if you decided to bite the bullet and hire an Engineer for their expertise. That’s great. There are really only two or three jobs in production that are really worth mentioning. I’ve worked as all three and they have very different aspects in regard to what your end result is.

          1. Sound Mixer – So if you are doing anything with dialog you want one of these guys. They are responsible for capturing and marking all of the takes in something like a film. The communicate constantly with the script supervisor on things like print takes and what are known as wild tracks. Wild tracks are sometimes just the scene done up close with all of the actors standing in a circle where they do their lines as just audio, or things that might help the sound designers later in post production. Depending on how good these guys are, they can make or break your post production budget.
          2. Boom Operator – A lot of people I’ve met think its a simple matter to be a boom operator and that anyone standing around can do it. That will do in a pinch, but in reality Boom Operators can save you a ton of time in post production by getting good usable audio on set. This means that there is less time in post production doing dialog replacement.
          3. Audio Engineer – The other aspect of production would be to do with something like a podcast or a video or a radio spot where you are in a studio and are properly mic’ed up. Most people think that these guys just push record and walk away, but if they are good, they will be constantly riding the volume fader and eliminate tons of editing time in post. This is just something that you just have to see to understand. It’s also becoming less and less common to do because it requires a lot more skill than just pushing record and walking away.

POST PRODUCTION

The last part where an Audio Engineer might be handy to have around is in Post Production. This is where all of the fun elements come together after something like a video or film is fully edited and cut. It’s also where all of your hard work can come together or blow up in your face. It’s also the most important part of Audio in videos and film. If you decide to spend money in just one area of audio to improve your quality, it should be here. So there are several processes here that are we use that I’m going to base the rest of this on. In the big leagues there can be up to 5 separate divisions working on the sound at the same time. It may be overkill for what you may need done but at least you’ll have some different options available.

          1. Lock Your Picture – When a film or a video comes to audio in post, there are a couple of things that should have happened already. If you use an editor or you are you’re own editor, make sure your picture is locked. You can read more about that and thing like project specs in my article in the Engineer’s Corner.
          2. Spotting Script Session – After a film comes to me and is locked into place, it is common practice for an Engineer to sit down with the Director and the Script Supervisor and do a spotting session. This is where we go through an entire film line by line and decide which lines need to be replaced in a process called Automatic Dialog Replacement. It also lets us pencil in specific times for things like voice overs or anything else that needs to be recorded. In the end we create a new script with the lines that need replacing as well as the exact time code placement start time for each line to be recorded. We use this later on when the Actors come in to speedily jump from one line to the next and it can save you hours in studio time. It is also a good idea to send all of the files to your engineer a few days before so that he can check for any problems. This step is really designed to save you tons of time. I’ve seen ADR sessions start 2 hours late because this step didn’t happen and we had to wait for files to transfer.
          3. Dialog Mix – After all of the lines are replaced the next step is to send it off to a dialog cutter/mixer. This guy can make or break your film. When they cut dialog, they should be making the dialog play all the way through with no breaks. You should be able to have just the dialog track and nothing else play and have most of the movie intact. It’s way harder than it sounds and is an art all by itself. It is also way easier if the project had a good Boom Operator and Sound Mixer in production.
          4. Foley – Foley is where we fill in the gaps of human movement or anything that needs to be performed to the picture. So things like footsteps or walking, running or a bunch of other movement would be covered here.
          5. Sound FX – Sound FX are usually everything that isn’t covered by foley. These sounds are often taken from pre-recorded sound libraries and are often warped and fit into place by a sound designer.
          6. Music – This one should be fairly evident but just for clarification, this would be any music that has to be recorded and locked to the picture, as in a Film Score.
          7. Re-recording Mix – So the re-recording mix is where all of the other sound elements get uploaded into a single session file and the Re-recording mixer does the final mix of the film. In the old days this used to be re-recorded to tape but now it comes out as as either a stereo file, 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

VOCALS (A GUIDE TO SINGING IN THE STUDIO)

I’ve spent a lot of time recording vocals in the studio and over time I started to realize that there are some simple but effective things that good singers do to get the most out of their singing. I’ve compiled this list here to help singers of all ranges and skill levels to get the most out of their studio experience.

          1. Sit or stand up straight- Good posture is essential to singing. It helps support the diaphragm and allows you to breathe freely.
          2. Breathe deeply- This may sound overly simple but its something that people often forget about or overlook. Take deep breaths and fully fill your lungs with air before you start singing. This is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that people give better performances overall when their lungs are filled properly; they also have a tendency to stay in tune better simply because their diaphragms are supported properly.
          3. Do something physical- Most people don’t realize that there are a lot of muscles involved in singing and by doing some basic exercises it helps those muscles perform to their fullest potential. Doing something simple like a set of push ups or a set of jumping jacks only takes up a few minutes but it can seriously increase the blood flow in the body. This does wonders for waking up the body and the mind. I’ve seen vocal performances increase 200% simply by doing this simple step.
          4. Warm up- Your voice uses a tons of muscles and they need to warm up before you can start getting good takes.
          5. Differentiate notes- When writing or singing songs, sit down and write out the melodies in standard notation. If you play an instrument sit down and learn to play your melodies while singing along. Start slowly and gradually work up to speed. I suggest this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it helps train your ears to be able to differentiate between right and wrong notes. Secondly, slowing down a melody and referencing notes against another instrument will help cement the right notes for a melody into your mind so that you can sing the right notes every time. In the end this is a very simple step that can have a huge impact on being able to stay in tune while you sing.
          6. Learn to count- This may sound a bit silly but being able to count is an essential part of music. For some reason this skill sometimes gets bypassed with singers more than with other musicians. But being able to count every beat in a song including the rests is something that is crucially important in music. This can really come into play when you have multiple vocal parts sung by a single person. Getting each vocal take to match is harder than it sounds and being able to hold notes out for their full count as well as matching a previous vocal delivery will take your vocals from alright to professional in a hurry.
          7. Don’t smoke- Smoking constricts and tightens the muscles used in singing and as such can drastically alter the overall sound of your voice. This is especially true for women. If you smoke I highly recommend that you take a break from smoking while recording and invest in some nicotine patches.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

STUDIO ETIQUETTE

Studios are small spaces and often have a lot of people crammed into them. I’ve put together a list here of things that I consider to be important in maintaining an air of professionalism when in the studio. These things may seem to be simple and self explanatory but they go along way.

          1. Be clean- This should be fairly obvious but for some reason musicians have a hard time with this one. Make sure that you not only bathe on a daily basis but wear clothes that are clean and freshly laundered. Cleanliness goes a long way in the professional world. And if your goal is to someday make music your business this is probably the single most important thing that you can do to elevate your status as a professional. To put it simply, no one is going to want to work with you if they can’t stand to sit next to you.
          2. Go easy on the cologne/perfume- This isn’t quite as obvious as being clean but most people don’t realize that a small amount of cologne or perfume goes a long way. This is especially true in small spaces like the studio. It gets even worse when everyone in a studio is wearing a different brand.
          3. Be Professional- I’ve met a lot of different people in the studio from all walks of life but the single greatest compliment I can give an artist/band is that they handled themselves as professionals while in my studio. This seems like it should go without saying but as an artist/band you never know who is watching. The music industry is exceptionally small and the professionals that work in it on a regular basis talk to each other. ESPECIALLY ENGINEERS. To put it simply, be on your best behavior and show up ready to dig in and get things done because you never know who might recommend you for something down the road.
          4. Be punctual- Being on time is an important thing that musicians often overlook. Quite simply put, not being able to show up on time is just throwing money out the window. If a band/artist has scheduled five days of studio time and shows up an hour late each day, you’re going to go over budget in a hurry. And as cost seems to be the biggest concern for most bands/artists I’ve worked with it gets really irritating when a band/artist doesn’t show up on time and then complains about how much making a record is costing them. Its extremely unprofessional.
          5. Be direct/decisive/communicate effectively- Being direct and giving yes or no answers to questions doesn’t seem like it should be a huge issue in the studio but I’ve seen bands waste hours on decisions that should realistically only take a few minutes. To put it simply, if a problem arises please tell us about it directly. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen sessions go sour because someone decides to take a passive aggressive approach to a problem and ends up sulking in the corner for the remainder of the night. It’s entirely unprofessional and needs to be left at home.
          6. Leave your significant other/children at home- To put it simply, there often isn’t room in a studio for everyone to bring their significant other. The other reason I ask that people leave their S. O. home is that they are enerally not objective and are often counterproductive to the recording process. Bands/artists also have their own internal relationships and in the studio the priority is the band/artist. This relationship can be unnerving for a S. O. and I’ve seen more than one session get canceled because a band member was given an ultimatum by their S. O. to choose between them and the band. Children should also be left at home. My studio is filled with expensive gear and the last thing I want to do is bill you for a $5,000 preamp that your child just spilled his drink on.
          7. Try it- Don’t be afraid to try something new in the studio. Some of the greatest moments on a record are simply the product of having the attitude to be open to trying something new.
          8. Drugs- Illegal drugs and narcotics are never allowed. As a law abiding citizen I will call the cops if I suspect that you are bringing anything illegal into my studio.
          9. Alcohol/Smoking/Vaping- Each studio I’ve been to has a different policy on alcohol and smoking. In my studio I only allow bottled water in the booths and the control room. I do permit beer or wine during meals though. I’ve though long and hard about what to write about smoking and vaping. The simple truth is if you smoke, you stink. On top of that cigarette smoke destroys electronics. From my point of view sitting next to someone who has just smoked isn’t only bad for my health, but bad for my microphones and all of my studio gear which has the potential to cost me tons of money in repairs. If at all possible I urge you to leave smoking and vaping at home. If you can’t do that, be respectful of those of us who don’t smoke and have no desire to and smoke in designated smoking areas (25 feet away from any doors). I’d like to also note that if you are a heavy smoker and need a smoke break every hour you should take what ever your budget is and double it.
          10. Food/drinks- Studios are expensive and as such the only thing I allow in my booths or the control room are drinks that have a screw on cap. I don’t allow food at all unless it is in a designated eating area. And please at the end of the night throw your trash in the trash cans. This may seem really simple but will go a long way with whatever studio you decide to record at.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

MAKING A RECORD FROM START TO FINISH

MUSIC

The Process– There are three major steps in creating a record from start to finish in the music world: Pre-production, Production and Post Production. Each has a significant dollar amount attached and often bands I’ve seen that skip part of this process end up with albums and EP’s that are disappointing. I highly recommend that each project follow a form of this process as they produce the best possible results at the lowest costs. Traditionally the oversight of this process is handled by a Producer. The breakdown of each stage is as follows:

Pre-production- Pre-production includes everything before a band/act goes into the studio. These include things like budgeting, songwriting, song revisions, band practice, demos and studio prep.On larger scales it can include things like travel and living expenses, transportation and even things like scheduling equipment rentals before going into the studio. As an Audio Engineer and Producer, I want to help you make the best record possible. Unfortunately the best albums produced nowadays cost thousands of dollars and tons of time and effort are often put in before a band ever steps into the studio. What I hope to address here are some skills and methods I advise all of my clients to do before ever considering booking studio time that will potentially save them thousands of dollars in time and wasted effort that are all part of the pre- production process. Some of these things are really simple but I guarantee these things will not only save you money, but help you get the best possible results in the studio as well.

          1. Cost/Budget/Specs- I can’t stress this enough. Planning out a budget and finding out exactly what things are going to cost are often the biggest deterrent in recording an album. Creating a budget is often the last thing considered before bands/artists go into the studio and realistically it should be the first. I recommend sitting down to a consultation with an Engineer (I do these for free) and discussing and planning out a budget. Recording studios are not cheap and sometimes the hardest thing I have conveying to a potential client is exactly what they are paying for. Every band/artist I’ve ever talked to wants their music to sound like the best record ever made. Unfortunately the best sounding records on the radio often have a million dollar price tag attached to them. And its at this point that the sticker shock of studio time, mixing and mastering fees start to crush the bands/artists dreams of becoming a recording artist. But there is still hope. Just talking to your Engineer is the first step in eliminating extra costs that would cost thousands of dollars in studio time. The reality of the situation is that you probably don’t have $500,000 to record an album. That’s okay. Your Engineer should be able to suggest some things that will save you time and money when you come into the studio and get you the biggest bang for your buck. Release specifications should also be considered at this time to include things like duplication/replication costs, artwork, ISRC codes, press release kits, formats and any other technical information that could potentially cost thousands of dollars to correct later down the road. For an example of a sample budget click here.
          2. Hire a Producer/Engineer- If you can afford it get one of each. If you can’t afford one find someone who can at least fill the roll of a Producer. Good producers are worth their weight in gold. Their essential function is to manage the process from start to finish while pushing the band/artist to be the best that they can be. Engineers are also helpful as they can help set up things like Pro Tools sessions that are essentially song maps that contain things like scratch tracks, tempo and song structures. In some cases this can be the same person. See my article on how to choose a good producer here.
          3. Write songs- I’m sure that this is overstating the simple for some of you but you’d be surprised at how many bands I’ve seen come into the studio that can’t remember where they are at in a song and we end up wasting half a day just trying to figure out where the song ends.
          4. Revise songs- Most songs need revisions. At this stage each song needs to be critically ripped down and restructured. Figure out what works and change what doesn’t. Most song writers I know have a hard time with this and having someone like a Producer or an Engineer on hand that can simultaneously rip your songs to shreds with brutal honesty while sill being your biggest fan is essential. This process can sometimes be painful but there are a few questions that I always ask my clients that seem to help the process along. The biggest one I have is would you pay money for your own music? If not things need to go back to the drawing board.
          5. Create Song Maps/Demos- After you’ve got your songs locked down I highly recommend sitting down with an Engineer and creating some kind of demo. It doesn’t have to be high grade and can be something as simple as a tape recorder placed in the room during band practice. If you can afford it go into the studio and do a live set in the studio. After each song is locked down I highly suggest creating song maps either on paper or as a Pro Tools session so that each band member is on the same page.
          6. Learn your songs/practice- This seems to go without saying but often this step gets skipped somehow. Each song should be played the same each time. At this point there shouldn’t be any discrepancies in anyone’s performance and each band member should also be practicing with a metronome or a click track at the appropriate BPM for the song. It sounds really stupid but the biggest thing that I tell people to work on before coming into the studio is to be able to play with a click track. Something as simple as having a demo version of a song that each band member can take home and practice to helps tremendously here as well.
          7. Know what you sound like- After getting a solid demo down sit down with your Engineer and talk to them about your sound. Often times bands I’ve worked with (ESPECIALLY GUITAR PLAYERS) are overly critical of the tone that comes through the speakers at the end of a recording session. I highly recommend going over demos with an Engineer and listening to what you as a band/artist sound like. Instruments are highly characteristic of what a finished record sounds like and your Engineer can make suggestions at this point to help you get the sound your looking for. This also gives your Engineer a chance to plan for mic selection and placement to get the best possible results in the studio. At the end of the day the end result of recording in the studio is going to sound like a cleaner, clearer version of what your demo sounds like. For a more in depth look see my article here.
          8. Know your limitations- Everyone has limitations both physically and mentally. The steps listed above are put in place to find out what those limitations might be and to give you the time and the opportunity to address any issues that might arise and to give you the opportunity to grow as an artist.

Production- Once you’re all practiced up and have everything locked down it’s time to move on to production. Production involves everything in the studio. This can include studio time, equipment rentals, food/catering, transportation and lodgings and whatever else may come up while you’re in the studio.

          1. Recording- At this point in the process most of the technicalities of recording should have been worked out in pre-production. Things like song maps and Pro Tools sessions should be taken care of as well as choices on whether to record the rhythm section together or separately should have already been made. You and you’re Engineer should also have a rough schedule and a call sheet for each day including meal times and breaks. If you have taken the time in pre-production to prepare for recording in advance, recording time in the studio should be minimal and yield good results. Part of practicing so much in pre-production is to build up the stamina it takes to be in the studio for ten or more hours at a time. The same goes for demos. They are there to make sure that you as an artist aren’t going to overstep your abilities. As an Engineer there isn’t anything quite as disappointing as when a band/artist comes in with good material and can’t play their own songs. I’ve stopped sessions and rescheduled them before just for that reason and each time I’ve done so it is embarrassing and costly on both sides of the glass. For more information on Song Maps and Pro Tools sessions see my article here.
          2. Take after take – This stage of the process is often skipped over but it’s important to understand as the talent that in the studio you need to be prepared to play the same part of a song over and over and over again. Some projects I’ve worked on have parts with over fifty takes of a particular song. It’s just part of the process.
          3. Studio Etiquette- Studios are small spaces and often have a lot of people crammed into them. I can’t stress how important it is to be clean and to follow good studio etiquette. For more information on studio etiquette see my article here.
          4. Have Fun-Heading into the studio can be a stressful time. But if you’re properly prepared it should be an exciting and fun experience.
          5. Deliverables- Before the raw files are released to go to post production, often the balance of the bill must be paid for in full.

Post Production– Post production is the final stage of the recording process and includes everything from mixing, mastering and encoding files to be delivered as master stereo files with song lengths, titles and production information.

          1. Mixing– After recording has been completed the raw files are sent to a Mix Engineer. Depending on the project the Mix Engineer may be a different person than the Recording Engineer. Mixing is an art all by itself and is done in a series of back and forth communications. Usually a Mix Engineer will release a mix to the band/artist and will receive notes on what needs changed. Most engineers I know will do this up to three times. Revisions after that are charged for by the hour. Mix Engineers then send off the Stereo Masters to a Mastering Engineer. Engineers DO NOT give out raw files as a general rule unless they are specifically requested as they can take some time to prepare. Engineers also don’t allow bands/artists to be present while they are mixing. Mixing is the culmination of often years of experience and schooling and each Engineer has methods that are considered trade secrets. Asking to be present during a mix session is considered to be quite rude in the sound world. Mixing is part of our lively hood and as such we ask that you treat it with the respect that any other craft, trade or artistry would deserve. As with a Recording Engineer, before stereo files are sent off to be mastered the balance of the studio bill usually needs to be paid for in full.
          2. Mastering- After the final mixes are approved, the stereo files are sent off to a Mastering Engineer. A Mastering Engineer provides the final steps before the final product for a given project are considered fully completed. A Mix Engineer handles and mixes each song as it’s own small project; and a Mastering Engineer mixes and handles all of the songs collectively as a project making sure that each song plays at a consistent volume and applies all of the information such as song title, artist and album information. Theses are know in the industry as Red Book Standards. As before, all balances need to be paid in full before the final product will be released.
          3. Duplication/Replication- This is the final stage of the process. Once the finished master files are completed they are sent off to be released via CD, iTunes, Google Play, or any other of number of ways.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

THE VALUE OF DEMOS

I’ve thought a long while about exactly what to write down about demos. In short demos of songs are often one of the most underutilized tools available to a band/artists. They don’t have to be studio quality and oftentimes a simple tape recorder taken to band practice will give you a useful tool to listen to your music objectively. The following things I’ve listed will help you get the most out of a demo and hopefully give you an idea of how to implement a demo to save you time and money before you ever decide to book studio time.

          1. End user- Deciding exactly who you want to listen to your demo should be the ultimate deciding factor in quality before you decide to ever push record. Is your demo simply a tool in the song writing process or do you intend to use it to send to labels and studio executives in the hope of getting a record deal? These choices can greatly affect how much time and effort you want to put into recording a demo.
          2. Demos for songwriting- Using demos in the songwriting process is a great way to drastically improve your songs. Whether you are a full band or a single artist you should be able to objectively listen to your own songs and decide what works and change what doesn’t. It also lets you nail down exactly how you are going to perform a song in the studio. Once you get a good demo down with the performance that you want practice along with the demo until you can nail the same take every time, because this is exactly what you will be doing in the studio. And if each member of a band is practicing at home to the same demo, band practice will suddenly become faster, smoother and a whole lot tighter in a hurry improving the overall quality of your sound. Listening to demos of your own recordings will also give you a feel of what you or your groups’ own unique sound is like. No two bands sound the same and knowing what you sound like will help tremendously in the mixing process.
          3. Demos for labels- If you’re planning on sending out a demo of your songs to a label I highly recommend spending some time and money getting good quality recordings to send out. Chances are an Audio Engineer will be listening to it at some point and they are more likely to to take a band seriously if they have taken the time to invest in quality recordings. Even doing something as simple as a live set in studio is a great way to get a good demo at a relatively low cost.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

PREPARING YOUR SONGS FOR MIXING

If you are planning on sending out your songs to be professionally mixed there are some things that I’ve listed here that will help save you time and money.

          1. Edit your tracks- Make sure to take the time to get rid of everything in your tracks that is unwanted. These can be things like breaths or small mouth noises in vocal tracks or parts of songs that contain open mics. Basically whatever you don’t want to come through the speakers, get rid of it.
          2. Apply fades to your edits- After taking the time to edit your tracks the next step is to apply fades. Whether they are 1 millisecond long or taper off over several seconds this is one of the most crucial steps in editing. Not applying fades to your edit points can create things like pops and clicks that are hard to pinpoint and correct later on, especially if you’ve consolidated your tracks.
          3. Print or consolidate your tracks- After all your tracks are edited the next step is to print or consolidate your tracks. To put it simply, this creates a complete track from the start of the song to the last waveform, allowing us to export a clip that will line up perfectly, where we want it when we import it into any other DAW. Here is an example or what that looks like.

            As you can see the second and third tracks I’ve taken and edited down until all that is left is the part that I want. The first and fourth tracks are the same tracks, but I’ve consolidated them to create a track that is a complete track from beginning to end, leaving no empty space. This insures that each track will line up properly when imported into any other DAW. If there is a specific effect or way that you want your track to sound, I recommenced including both the raw track as well as a secondary printed track with the effects intact (this also applies to virtual instrument and midi tracks as well). You should also note the details or any other pertinent information about what your effects chain looks like and list it in the text file listed below.
          4. Name and number your tracks- After you’ve consolidated your tracks, rename each of your tracks with a number (I suggest using all double digits starting with 01) and a name that is befitting the track. If your original track was simply named Timmy because that is the name of your bass player, rename the track something like 01 Bass or 01 Bass Timmy if you prefer to keep names intact. Make sure to keep like minded things (like drums) together and if you’re sending out an album keep the core tracks numbered and named the same; adding in the odd tracks at the end.
          5. Bounce or export your tracks- At this point the next step is to individually export your tracks. Theses need to be WAV files and unless they are something like synths or keyboard tracks that have a right and left channel, they should all be mono. You also need to talk to your engineer and decide on the technicalities like sample and bit rates before you export your tracks.
          6. Create a file structure- The next step in the process should be creating a file structure that suits your project. Be sure to include a text file for each song with any special instructions for things like delays, reverbs or special effects. It’s also useful to include basic song maps with things like song structures (in measures or minutes and seconds), tempos and beats per minute (BPMs). Here is sample of a good folder structure:
          7. Compress your file- If you are planning on sending your files to your engineer via the internet, I suggest compressing your files before your send them. This creates a single file that will take much less time to get to your Engineer.
          8. Create a backup- Once you’ve got everything ready to be sent off, create a backup of your files on some kind of storage device such as a CD, DVD or external drive. I only mention this here because I have seen files become corrupted or get wiped out before and its never a pleasant thing.
          9. Send your files off- The last step is to send your files off to your engineer.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

SONG/TEMPO MAPS

Song and tempo maps are highly useful tools in the studio. At the start of every session if songs aren’t mapped out there are often mistakes that can potentially take hours to fix. This guide is meant to help you communicate to your Engineer things like song and chord structures, time signatures, the BPM of a song and any other pertinent song information that will eventually make its way into a session file regardless of what Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) your Engineer uses. In order to be able to map out a song correctly there are some components of music that we need to take a closer look at. They are as follows:

          1. Tempo- Simply put this is the speed at which any given song is played at and is measured in Beats Per Minute (BPM). The higher the BPM the faster the pace of the song. In the studio this is what sets the pace of a click track which we use during tracking to help everything line up properly.
          2. Time Signatures- At the most basic level, time signatures let us break down a song into repetitive mathematical segments that we can sub divide into measures and beats The most common time signature is 4/4.
          3. Measures/Bars- Measures are what we use to sub divide a song into smaller pieces. We number them from start to finish and this is what we use as the base of our song map.
          4. Song Parts- The parts of a song are what we use to break down measures into. The basic parts of a song are the introduction, verses, prechorus, choruses, bridge and outro.

Now that we have the pieces we need to know we can put them in a map. Maps range from simple song breakdowns to full on sheet music. Here is a simple example:

From these simple breakdowns we can take the information that we have above and plug them into a session file that looks like this:

The end result is that we can map out the entire song from start to finish to a grid. We can also label each section of a song. This gives us the ability in the studio to properly line each take up to the same portion of a song because we know exactly where we are within a given song. If you are able to create a session before going into the studio this can save hours in time and money by adding things like scratch tracks and markers with color coordination.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

PROJECT SPECIFICATIONS AND DELIVERABLES

Project specifications and deliverables are an important part of every project even though they can often be left undiscussed until projects are almost completed. In reality this is one of the first things that should be discussed in pre-production as discrepancies in things like sample rates, bit rates and frame rates can cause mistakes that are costly and time consuming to remedy. I’ve put together some basic information here to help you as the customer to be informed on the information I need as an Engineer to deliver the best audio possible in the right format.

MUSIC

          1. Where is your project going to be released?- There are so many different mediums that music is released on nowadays and each medium has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing where and how you are choosing to release your music can drastically change the way that your Engineer chooses to record and mix. In the digital world formats vary from WAV, Mp3, FLAC, AAC, DVD and CD. In the physical world we have vinyl and tape that people are releasing music on as there is a growing trend to bring back these mediums. I highly suggest that you sit down and talk to your Engineer early in pre-production to establish exactly what format you need. I also highly suggest getting the highest quality possible in whatever medium you decide on.
          2. Be consistent- There are times where several songs on the same album are recorded in different studios at different times. Therefore it is important that you stick with whatever format you decided on in pre-production. Being consistent can save you hours in time and money down the road.
          3. Red Book Standard- If there isn’t a specified format I always deliver music at what is known as Red Book Standard- which is as follows:

            Format:WAV stereo files

            Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz

            Bit Rate: 16

            If I know before hand that a particular piece of music is going to be used specifically in a film, I deliver files in the following format:

            Format: WAV stereo files

            Sample Rate: 48 kHz

            Bit Rate: 24

FILM

Film is an entirely different animal than music and as such needs to be treated separately from music. There are also some crucial things that as an Engineer I need to know well in advance to complete and deliver projects in the right format and on time. There are also some professional practices I’ve listed here to help film makers communicate with the sound departments more effectively.

          1. Is your picture edit locked?- This may not seem that important but by changing a scene by only a few seconds after a film has gone to post can cost hours in time and money to correct. As an Engineer I don’t enjoy reworking an entire scene I’ve already done and I don’t enjoy having the difficult conversation with the Director that they are now going to have to pay for those corrections.
          2. What are the technical specifications of your film and are they consistent? The technical specifications of a film should be decided on well before the first camera starts rolling. These should include things like frame rate, bit rate and sample rate Your film should also be consistent from one clip to the next. Not having consistent specifications can cause serious problems in editing and post production as often times there can be several different sound departments working on the same film at the same time. Having consistent specifications will ultimately save you time and money while helping you keep your film meet budget and deadline requirements.
          3. Theatrical or broadcast?- Is your film being mixed for a theatrical release or for broadcast? There are major differences between the two and before starting a project its important to decide on which type of mixing your film needs.
          4. Acceptable Files- In the professional world of film the industry standard deliverables to Audio Engineers and studios are AAF, OMF, XML, each with an attached Quicktime file. At the very least a Quicktime file will also work. All of these should contain some sort of time code to insure that things are properly aligned at the end of the day. Traditionally each segment should start at 59:59 or the 1 hour mark. It is traditionally the responsibility of the editor to deliver theses files and to make sure that the specs are where they need to be. I also suggest sending things like scripts, spotting scripts and any other pertinent documents over at this time as well.
          5. Take the time to be prepared- This can apply to several different aspects in the post production process, but what I specifically want to address is file transfers. Because film files are often large and can sometimes take hours to transfer from one computer to another, I suggest getting these to your Engineer as soon as possible. I’ve included it here simply because I’ve scheduled ADR sessions before and haven’t been able to start recording until two hours into the session simply because we were waiting for video files to transfer. It just wastes everyone’s time and isn’t very professional. It also gives an Engineer time to address any problems that might occur and to fix them accordingly.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

WORKING WITH HOME STUDIOS

Due to the increased availability of recording software there has been a rise in recent years for musicians to complete as much of the recording process in home or basement studios as possible. It can save tremendously on the overall expense of recording and yield good results. I’ve heard interesting views both for and against this type of recording on both sides of the glass. I’m not going to list the pros and cons of each but instead I’ve compiled a list of ways to help your home studio recordings achieve much more professional results by working together with a professional Audio Engineer.

          1. Have your songs professionally edited- When working with session files that have been recorded in home studios, often one of the things I spend a lot of time fixing are simple editing mistakes. This is especially true of anything that deals with samples. There are a lot of subtle nuances that can come into play with editing like pops, clicks and what is known as artifacting with poor editing. Its also something that can take up a lot of time to complete if you’re not proficient at it. An average three minute song that has roughly 15-20 tracks may take you days to edit if you know what to listen for. I can usually knock out five three minute songs in something like an hour because its part of what I do on a daily basis. And at $50 an hour it works out to be $10 a song. This will yield better results for your songs and in the long run will probably save you hours in time and frustration.
          2. Re-amping- This is one of those things that not a whole lot of people know about. To put it simply, instead of tracking a guitar player in the studio, a dry electric guitar or bass signal is recorded at home and brought into the studio where we run it through an amp and re-record the amplified signal. We can also re-amp using software. If you don’t have a $2,000 Soldano, Marshall or Fender amp at home but still want the sound of one this is a great way to get it. Most studios have several amps that they have on hand and can easily set this up. It also allows you to blend amps together if you want. It yields excellent results and if done properly a song with 2-4 guitar tracks can be sent out and recorded in a matter of minutes. So instead of doing take after take in the studio and spending tons of money, the average cost of recording ten songs at the cost of $50 an hour now turns into $150 for 3 hours of studio time.
          3. Record your material to a click track- If at any time you plan on having your material edited or worked on by a professional Engineer, I highly suggest recording everything to a click track. It simplifies the editing process significantly and overall things tend to line up much better.
          4. Track drums in studio- Because of the often large spaces and the plethora of mics that are often involved in recording drums I suggest tracking drums in the studio. If there is a place you don’t want to skimp on its recording drums. It will give your recordings a much more polished feel than recording them at home will.
          5. Track drums while Re-amping- If you’ve recorded everything you possibly can at home and are planning to track drums in the studio and re-amp your guitars, often times you can do them simultaneously, effectively cutting studio time in half. This also applies to any other instrument or voice that you want recorded in studio as well.
          6. Have your material professionally mixed and mastered- Even if you are able to mix and master your material at home, I suggest sending it out and having it professionally mixed and mastered. Professional studios are acoustically treated and the speakers that Audio Engineers use are specially designed to play back with a flat frequency response. Most studios also have multiple sets of speakers to check discrepancies from one set of speakers to another.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

HIRING A PRODUCER

Producers serve a vital role in the music industry but oftentimes what they actually do is a bit of a mystery. There are several different kinds of Producers, but for the sake of this article I’m going to focus on Producers that deal with making an album from start to finish. I’ve broken down some of the hows and whys of hiring a good Producer and why it might be something that you want to consider.

          1. What does a Producer actually do- At the professional level a Producer acts as a project overseer. This includes handling everything and anything that may arise from pre to post production. They are often involved in developing talent and work with them directly; often being an objective outside voice grounded in reality that helps bands/artists with songs and arrangements. They are also responsible for things like the budget, studio booking, contracts, and scheduling. On a much smaller scale they can be more closely related to a consultant or coach.
          2. Should you hire a Producer?- This is something that a band/artist needs to considerably weigh the pros and cons of before choosing whether or not to hire a producer. There are certainly good reasons for hiring a producer but at the same time there can be a considerable cost investment involved that some artists simply can’t afford. Each album and set of artists are different and there often isn’t a right or wrong answer but I urge each band/artist that I work with to take into consideration hiring a producer.
          3. Why hire a producer?- Often one of the first questions I hear when I suggest looking at hiring a producer is why? There are a whole host of reasons that can be argued for or against at this point. The answer is expertise. To put it simply, I suggest hiring a producer for the following reasons. The first is that they can give critical advice as an often much needed outside perspective on everything from songs in the songwriting phase to mixing and mastering. They also have the knowledge and know how of what it actually takes to make a record from start to finish and as such can handle a lot of the responsibilities that go along with making a record; leaving the band/artist to focus on giving the best performance they are able to while in the studio.
          4. What to look for in a good Producer- Surprisingly the list of attributes needed to be a producer are relatively short. Firstly, they need to be some sort of competent arranger, composer, songwriter or musician that can give critical feedback to bands/artists that help in the songwriting process. Secondly, a good Producer needs to be familiar with the technical aspects of the recording process to communicate effectively with Audio Engineers to get the best results possible. Thirdly they need to be able to stick to a schedule while still being flexible enough to deal with the last minute things that come up. Lastly, a good Producer believes in your music just as much as you do. This last step is probably the most important thing to look for in a good Producer. They need to be a fan of your music while still being able to play the Devil’s advocate.
          5. Will your budget allow for a Producer?- Most bands/artists I’ve worked with don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on making a record. But that doesn’t mean that hiring a Producer is out of the question. On a much simpler scale Producers can be thought of as consultants or coaches. They have they knowledge and expertise to save you money and time in ways that may not be apparent to you. Your budget may not allow for hiring a Producer for an entire project, but you may be able to have a Producer come in for a day or two at a time to give advice and to point out areas for improvement.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

ADR and VOICE OVER FOR ACTORS

I’ve spent a large amount of time in the studio recording ADR and Voice Over projects. They are always interesting and for the most part are a lot of fun. What people don’t realize is that I sit with the Directors and Producers for hour after hour; day in, day out. Sometimes for months at a time. And what most Actors don’t know is that it’s part of my job is to give critical feedback on the project, getting the best results I can possibly get. For the sake of this article, most of those times I am asked to give that feedback we are often discussing one thing: You, The Actor. Directors and Producers are always thinking in terms of the next project. And whether most Actors realize it or not, you are auditioning for future projects down the road by how you conduct yourself in the studio today. Listed here are some things that I’ve noticed good Actors put into practice as well as some general observations based on the conversations I’ve had with Directors.

          1. Request an up to date script– Scripts can constantly be revised on set so its important that you have the most current version of the script available. If at all possible, bring the script with you either as a paper copy or electronically on a tablet or iPad (no laptops please). I’ve worked on projects before where the person responsible for bringing the script forgets it among all the other things they are bringing. The Director will always remember you if you just happen to be prepared for such an emergency.
          2. Request to sit in on the spotting script session- Before an ADR session takes place there should be a screening of the film that takes place to decide which lines in a movie or TV show need to be replaced. This is known as the spotting session. The new information is then taken down and written out as what is known as the spotting script. The technicalities aren’t that important but what is important is that as an Actor there are a lot of things that you can learn by sitting in on a spotting session. I suggest taking a notepad and quietly watching and critiquing your own performance while taking notes on anything that seems important. Stay alert and look for ways to improve your performance for the next project you work on. These can be things in your performance or even technical things that you might be able to help the crew with at some point. Anyways the point of sitting in on a spotting session is to become more of an asset as an Actor than you are at the moment. Who knows, you might be able to work yourself into all kinds of different jobs on top of being an Actor.
          3. Be punctual- Just like Musicians, Actors sometimes have a hard time showing up for sessions on time. In the Hollywood world of film there would probably be an assistant to make sure that you get to where you need to be on time. But in the independent film world showing up on time is sometimes more important because there isn’t a major studio picking up the tab for studio time. Showing up late can also start the session off with the wrong sort of energy in the studio. Nothing is quite as annoying to Directors and Engineers as when an Actor or Musician shows up half an hour late, but still manages to have had time to stop at Starbucks to pick up a coffee on the way. Showing up on time is a good way to build a good repertoire as a working professional and it goes a long way with the people making the big decisions.
          4. Be prepared- Even though this should be fairly obvious it isn’t always taken to heart. If you’re coming into the studio to do ADR or Voice Overs I suggest reading and practicing your lines several days in advance. If there are scenes that are hard, prepare emotionally before you get to the studio to be in the right mind set for your part. And lastly bring anything that you think you might need to be comfortable and relaxed.
          5. Be over animated- As human beings, when we communicate, we rely on facial expressions and body language to help convey the message we are trying express. Unfortunately these same things don’t come across very well in the world of audio. To compensate for this the best Actors I’ve worked with over exaggerate their facial expressions as well as physically act out their parts. It can make a huge difference in an Actors performance. A good rule of thumb that I tell the Actors I work with is that unless you feel silly or dumb while you’re acting, you’re not doing it right.
          6. Take direction with a grain of salt- I’ve seen a lot of Directors try to get the performance they are after, but oftentimes the Directors themselves aren’t quite sure exactly how to ask for it. Unfortunately this can become frustrating and may seem like the Director is being overly harsh or critical. Acting isn’t a perfect medium and what works for one Director may not work for another. Just keep in mind that its most likely not personal, but experimental.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

FINDING YOUR SOUND (OR MORE ACCURATELY, FINDING OUT WHAT YOU SOUND LIKE)

As a result of the many long arduous hours spent in conversations with the musicians I’ve worked with, I’ve compiled this list to help answer some of the most frequently asked questions that I have come across in regard to why finding the ‘right sound’ isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

          1. You are unique- To put it plainly, no matter how much you want to sound like your favorite musician or singer, you never will. I can’t stress this enough. Even if it was possible to replicate everything from using the same setups to recording in the same studios using the same Engineers, its just never going to happen because you aren’t them. In the world of music this is a GOOD THING. Just like you can’t sound like someone else, no one else can sound like you. Its the same for bands. No two bands sound the same. Changing out one band member changes the whole dynamic of the band. Learning to embrace your uniqueness and what you sound like is the best way to become the best musician that you can be and pretty soon people will be wondering how to get your sound instead of the other way around.
          2. Your gear is unique- Just like you, your gear is unique too. Electronics and instruments may start in the same factory but over time the small imperfections in the materials as well as where your gear has been can change the sound of a piece of gear over time. This is especially true of anything made out of wood as over time there are physical changes that take place. It may not seem that obvious but most guitars and amps out there have also have controls and setting that contribute to that uniqueness. I can record the same guitar through the same amp with ten different guitar players and they are all going to have different settings which in turn will change the sound of the recording. But we can get close. If there is a particular sound that you are going for, sit down with your Engineer before you come into the studio. They can make suggestions to help you get closer to the result that you are looking for.
          3. Get the right gear- This may sound a bit harsh but no matter how much I want a Fender guitar to sound like a Gibson or a Gretsch its just never going to happen. The same goes for b brand gear. An Epiphone Les Paul played through a solid state amp is going to sound entirely different that a Gibson Les Paul played through a tube amp. If there is a certain sound you’re trying to emulate the best way I know how to do that is to start with the exact same gear because nothing I can do as an Engineer can make one instrument sound like another.
          4. Know what you sound like- Have you ever heard your voice played back on something and thought to yourself, “Is that what I really sound like?” This happens all the time when people come into the studio. It happens the most with singers but it still happens with every instrument I’ve ever recorded. To make things worse people often have very specific ways that they want to sound at the end of the day. What most people don’t realize is that as a Recording Engineer my job is to accurately record what something sounds like, not to record something and make it sound like something completely different in the mixing stage. People often times have a hard time coming to grips with the reality of what things actually sound like and they often get frustrated with the Mix Engineer in the mixing stage because things don’t sound like the ideal that they have in their head. Part of the reason that I suggest doing demos of songs is to address this phenomena before coming into the studio to record. It lets people adjust to what they really sound like as opposed to what they think they sound like. It also gives them time to adjust their sound if they need to before wasting time and money getting results that they aren’t going to be satisfied with.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C

10 TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY IN THE STUDIO

Probably the biggest concern that people have before coming into the studio is the cost associated with recording. Here are some tips and practices to help you save money in the studio.

 

          1. Make a plan and stick with it- Having a basic plan on how you want to proceed in the studio can save you a ton of time and money. Simple things like song orders and how exactly you are planning on tracking (i.e. all together or separately) can have a huge impact on the overall cost of your studio time.
          2. Create song maps- Song maps are really simple tools, but without them I’ve seen recording sessions go from being productive and rolling smoothly to immediately come to a standstill. Song maps should include a basic list of every voice/instrument of a song. This will help you to include everything that needs to be recorded.
          3. Practice with a click track or metronome- This is one of those things that is really simple but can make a huge difference in the studio. And because we record to click tracks it only makes sense to practice to one. Even as an accomplished musician I suggest people practice to one as it can take a few hours to get used to playing to one again.
          4. Consider Re-amping- If you are proficient in recording things in a home studio, re-amping is a great way to save money. Re-amping is where we take a dry recorded electric guitar or bass track and run them through an amp at a later time, allowing you to take as much time as you want to get your guitars perfect.
          5. Create a scratch track- If you are proficient enough to record some basic tracks to a click track at home, it can be useful to create a scratch track as a guide to use in the studio. You’ll want to write down the BPM of the song and have that readily available for the Engineer when you come into the studio.
          6. Practice, practice, practice- Being practiced is an important part of prepping before you come into the studio. You should be able to play the same song repeatedly and consistently each time. This will help cut down on takes in the studio. It also will help you prepare for the long hours that recording takes.
          7. Change your strings/heads a few days prior to recording- New strings and drum heads are usually fuller and much richer in tone but changing them at the studio can waste a ton of time and money. Changing them a few days before hand allows them to still be new but gives them just enough time to stretch and settle.
          8. Bring spares- If it can will go wrong in a studio, there’s a good chance it might. Strings, drum heads and sticks break. Picks warp, cables develop nasty hums and so on. Being prepared is one way to keep things rolling when things do go wrong. If you’ve got spares bring them with you. If you don’t have spares I suggest getting some.
          9. Plan a food budget- This is one of things that doesn’t really occur to a lot of people until its eleven P.M. after six hours of tracking. I suggest planning out meals in advance or even talking to your studio about having something catered while you’re recording. Depending on how many people are present, it may be a much cheaper option with much less of a hassle to have food catered than trying to feed 8-10 starving people at one in the morning.
          10. Have your gear set up or checked out by a professional- Before heading into the studio its a good idea to take your instrument in and have it checked out to make sure that it is is in tip top shape before recording. This is especially true for any stringed instrument as things like seasonal changes in the weather can have a huge effect on things like intonation.

S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.