Just for the Record

By Paul Turner

So you wanna be a rock 'n' roll star

Then listen now to what I say

Just get an electric guitar

And take some time and learn how to play

And if your hair's combed right and your pants fit tight

It's gonna be alright.

That's the first verse of the Sixties hit by the Byrds "So you Wanna Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star." But that's all it is — the beginning of becoming a "star."

Unfortunately for all of us, more is entailed to becoming a success in the music industry than combing your hair right and wearing tight pants — and just playing guitar. But that's the fantasy still, as many who enter a recording studio today find out quickly.

In talking with various engineers, producers and people in the biz around town who know (see the list of credits at the end of the article), we've put together our own demagnetized head to compile a list of tips for preparation for studio sessions. We'd like to see you reach your potential — and you probably would, too, —without making every single possible mistake in the process.

first, as a solo act or group, set your goals. Decide within reasonable parameters your guidelines for time and money as well as your specific expectations for the project (overdubs, mix time, packaging budget, etc.). Setting goals gives you a focused direction that you will need later when you're bombarded with the pressure of doing all those "necessary options."

If money is a factor (as if there is anyone for whom it isn't), there are things you do to prepare. After setting your goal and deciding how much money you have to spend to get there, practice like crazy, because practice makes perfect — and saves you money.

The first and foremost problem that engineers encounter in doing sessions is that musicians don't know their material well enough. When players get in the studio, they often start(!) to realize what it is that is actually being played. (That's not a 'D' — it's a B minor) Many times this is due to practicing at excessive volumes. turn down and work it out before you hit the studio. A studio is the world's most expensive rehearsal hall.

Background vocal harmonies are usually the worst offender in this scenario. Loud instruments can hide those bad harmonies on stage but not in the studio.

Create a studio environment during practice as much as possible. Using headphones, isolate performers and parts and use a click track (a.k.a a metronome). That's how it works in the studio. Not only will it help you when you get that "tape rolling" signal, but it'll even help you mus ically.

Ready? Set? Go!

But where? To find out, shop around for your best studio deal. find out where you will get the best overall results for your dollar.

Things to consider in your investigation: Is the engineer knowledgeable and helpful? Is he/she familiar with your kind of music? Listen to some past and present projects he/ she has worked on. Get references and call those people.

What kind of equipment does the studio have or have access to? Do you really need all that stuff? Remember, the studio paid good money for those racks of effects and they would like to put them to work — sometimes whether your music needs them or not. Get an equipment list. If you don't know what something does, get the studio to demonstrate it. (on their time, not yours) Go to your music store and get them to show you what it does.

Get a complete breakdown of charges. How much per hour, how much for the reel of studio tape, how much for cassette copies, how much for incidentals and extras and so on. Keep in mind that you'll spend about one-third of your time recording and two-thirds mixing down.

When you think you've found the studio and engineer, don't be afraid to pick their brains with intelligent questions.

(Intelligent questions are the ones you ask — stupid questions are the ones you don't) They are the pros -— they know what a marketable tape should sound like. They don't necessarily know what you want to sound like, but it's a potential "two heads are better than one" situation. How good your tape turns out is often a direct result of just how well you've communicated and worked out your 'corporate' ideas.

If you opt to do some tracks at home, check with the engineer ahead of time to insure it's a workable idea for him in terms of quality, mix control and compatibility. MIDIs are a definite thing to nail down early, in terms of later processing.

Use studio equipment whenever possible. One good example is acoustic drum sets. The engineers are more familiar with their own set's particular sound and most often it's tuned for "studio gig" as opposed to your "live gig" set. Also, it cuts down on setup time.

Reduce all unnecessary chatter in the studio. Casual remarks and expressions of amazement really interfere with the work. If it's not a directive from the engineer or something pertinent to the track, save it for another, less expensive, moment. This is especially true within the walls of the control room, where everyone is trying to concentrate.

At this point, musicians can be grouped into two categories: those who are anxiously waiting for their first session and those who are anxiously waiting for a return trip — no matter how many times they've been there.

One nice thing about studio work is the 'new and fused' ideas when people work together. They become fresh again. You don't become a monster player because of "magic walls" but the studio does tend to bring out a player's best when the formula is happening.

Some players book studio time to get inspired — others save their money for the real "take."

Depending on your budget, the studio is one of the best places to experiment (not practice), especially during the mixdown. Effects such as compression, reverb, noise reduction and overdubs can be just the right touch when properly applied. "fix it in the mix" often becomes "make it in the mix." Of course, only so much can be done to what has already been recorded — your part.

"Expect the unexpected in the studio, especially the first time. The unexpected cart be the key to comedy, but in the studio it can be a tragedy, since it usually involves more time (and money) than you planned for. Most often, that means that you lose mixdown time, the place where you need it most.

Don't take out your frustrations on the engineer or studio manager and don't push them past their limits. Most are eager to please and are very helpful. (The ones who aren't don't last.) Their job is to make your experience so comfortable and successful that you'll come back (because they know that most studio business is repeat business).

Being nice to a studio engineer can have unexpectedly positive results. A couple of times I've had an engineer take a project I've done and shop it to a friend of his because he liked me and the product. Engineers meet lots of people in the business, after all.

You never know who your friends are and who they know when you make them, so remember what your Mama said: "Be nice."

We all need more friends in the business. (If you don't, please send me your list. Thanks.) Next month, Louisville Music News will print a Recording Studio Directory, for "your shopping convenience."

I went to thank the following people for their insight and input in making this article happen — on a first 'take'. In alphabetical order:

Kyrie Dunn — Nashville Video Sounds

Gary Falk — Falk Recording Service

Howie Gano Mom's Recording Studio

Rob Magallon —Studio 2002

Bryan Manley — Artists' Recording Service

Dan Murphy Group Effort Studio

Nick Stevens — Allen-Martin Productions.

(They're willing and able to help you, too!) Make sure you catch Part 2 of "Just For the Record" and a Recording Studio Directory in the July issue of LMN.