The Recording Process Explained

Step 1: Producing Your Project

"Production" starts long before the first tracking session begins and continues throughout the project.

The producer of a recording helps the artist listen through the ears of the masses. This involves evaluating the music on different levels, with an open mind. A producer will suggest arrangements, instrumentation, and recording techniques, all in an effort to minimize weaknesses and play upon the strengths of a particular work.

At the basic level, a producer endeavors to enhance the music so it is compatible with the present market. A "commercially viable" project is one that not only sounds good but will also attract attention.

Our producers will never require that songwriters or musicians change anything, after all, the music belongs to the writer. However, to many in the industry, enlisting the aid of an experienced producer, and listening to their suggestions, is the most important step in the entire recording process.

At Fountain Square House production is included in our project packages. Our producers have the knowledge and experience to make your songs not only sound better, but be more marketable.

You are, of course, welcome to bring your own producer.

Step 2: Charting & Studio Musician Selection

Shortly after the music is arranged, the project is charted. At this point, studio musicians are selected and supplied with a copy of your recorded material and the charts. These materials are used extensively by the musicians to prepare. When our studio musicians arrive for your recording session, they are both familiar and comfortable with the music so recording can begin immediately and progress quickly. Our studio musicians, provided free with our project packages, will make your songs sound great!

A word on using studio musicians... Precision and expression are required in the studio, quite a different scenario from the techniques heavy on showmanship and charisma required on stage. Some musicians excel at stage work, but struggle in the studio. Many studio musicians rarely perform live on stage. A few musicians excel at both. Bringing a friend along to play guitar, or a musician without much studio experience will cost you time and money both in the recording and editing of your project.


Step 3: Initial Tracking Session

For most contemporary rock, pop or folk material, drums and bass guitar are usually permanently tracked during the first recording session. Because the recording engineer needs to listen closely to the content being recorded, these instruments are the foundation upon which the rest of the song will be built, other instruments are seldom recorded at the same time. A scratch (temporary) guitar and / or vocal track may also be recorded to help the musicians follow the charts. The drummer plays to a click track (metronome) and the bass player follows the drummer.

If the project involves an entire album of material, the first session usually requires one to two full days. Tracking continues with the drummer and bass player until the engineer decides he/she has enough content to build a flawless structure for the album.

Note that certain genres, such as jazz or classical, are often tracked differently and are not expected to adhere to the same process.

Step 4: Editing and First Pass Mixing

Following the initial tracking session, the mixing engineer spends several hours editing, arranging, and creating a "first pass" mix. This is a rough mix, a "music bed," which when played back will enable the rest of the musicians to record their parts. The next tracking session is scheduled to follow this step.

Step 5: Instrumental Tracking Session

In general, the remaining musical content is tracked during the second recording session. All guitars, keyboards, and other instruments are tracked. Usually, at least one full day is required for an album.

Step 6: Editing and Second Pass Mixing

The recordings made during the intermediate tracking session are now added to the working mix, as needed, in preparation for vocal recording. Usually no focused final mixing process has started. However, depending on the circumstances, sometimes several hours are devoted to the mix before the vocal tracks are started.

Step 7: Lead Vocal Tracking

A very grueling day for the lead vocalist(s), this is a dedicated session for lead vocals only. Although it is possible to track all lead vocals in one day, we try to keep these sessions shorter than the others, usually no longer than four hours. Generally we plan on spending two four hour days for lead vocal tracking.

Step 8: Vocal Arrangement

Once the raw lead vocal tracks are arranged, the backup vocal parts are generally written or arranged during this time, to fit around the lead vocals, and to compliment the music. This may require several days for the producer or songwriter, and instigates some time off from the studio for everyone.

Step 9: Backup Vocals

This is yet another very grueling session, and unless the songwriter has already written the parts and has been working with specific vocalists, we recommend our studio vocalists for this task. Backup vocal singing often calls for unnatural inflections and many find the work difficult to perform. These sessions usually require at least two full days for a complete album.

Step 10: Full Mix

At this point, the mixing engineer goes deep with the project, spending hours tweaking and processing the audio. The result is the official "deliverable" first mix for the client to take home and consider. Sometimes additional musical parts are added, such as string pads, sound effects, etc. For a full album, this mixing process usually requires about two weeks.

Step 11: Evaluation Disk

Once the full mix is completed, the evaluation CD is created. This mix represents a very close resemblance to the final CD, and should be given careful attention. We suggest clients take the evaluation disk home and listen to it frequently for a week or two. Every change desired (if any) should be carefully noted. Client, producer and engineer will communicate with each other regarding these changes. A final pass (touch-up) mixing session follows. The client and producer are encouraged to be present as the engineer creates this final mix to ensure all needs are met.

Step 12: Final Disk

Once everyone is satisfied with the final mix, the music will be mastered and burned to disk. At this point, the process for CD duplication or replication can begin. CD graphics arts, layout, and packaging should be completed by this point and the disk can be shipped to the CD duplication/replication facility.

It must be understood that design and preparation of CD graphics and packaging is a complicated endeavor that requires a lot of time and planning. This process should begin at the same time as the initial tracking session. Publishing and copyright paperwork can be completed once the final mix is available and a release date is known.

Why Record Professionally?

Most (R.F.) radio stations are owned by large corporations which govern what gets played on the air. Radio programmers are those individuals in charge of content, and they are watched closely by federal regulators, as well as many other entities. Due to liability concerns, radio stations tend to be strict about what they allow to go on air. Furthermore, most programmers organize their playlists according to financial priority (what the record labels pay), and the peak hours for their listeners. There are flagship stations across the U.S. that play original music, and most of the other stations organize their playlists based upon the statistics reported by these flagship stations, as well as present hits and income flow.

The toughest part about airplay for an unsigned artist is convincing the radio programmers to give your project air time. Most will require a legal relationship with a trusted business person or lawyer to protect themselves against potential lawsuits. Radio stations pay millions of dollars for equipment, staff, and licensing, so getting a "freebie" can be difficult. There is a lot to learn about this topic and there are individuals and companies that specialize in helping musicians get radio airplay. Nevertheless, one thing is important: your recording project must sound professional if you're ever planning to acquire time on the air.