How to prepare for your recording

How to prepare for your recording:

A recording session is one of the most stressful activities a musician can undertake. A performance in front of a thousand people is far less intimidating than immortalizing one’s sound forever with two microphones and an audio recorder. To alleviate some anxiety, preparing properly and knowing what to expect during and after your session is crucial. Hopefully these tips will aid you in your quest to create the perfect album.

Tip: Editing cannot fix bad playing.

If you cannot perform every passage with confidence, you are wasting your time recording it. Editing is to fix random errors that inevitably occur during any performance. Re-recording dozens of takes of a passage you cannot play is time consuming, expensive, and rather pointless. Practice at home, and come prepared. If you cannot perform your repertoire adequately by the recording date, please reschedule until you are comfortable.

Tip: Pretend it is a live performance.

In almost every aspect, from where you stand to how you perform (without stopping), expect to play your music in the most natural, familiar setting you expect in a live concert. Any engineer who tries to alter the setting to suit their needs should not be recording you. A professional classical engineer captures your performance, and does not force their own. Dress comfortably though.

Tip: Bring copies of your music for the engineer.

In the proper Tonmeister tradition, a classical engineer worth hiring will know how to read music well, and should be an accomplished musician in their own right. To aid in note taking and editing for post, bring copies of you music with all personal notations intact to give to the engineer.

Tip: Bring a friend.

Not just any friend, someone who knows your playing, your music, and who can listen for problems in your performance. This person should be able to suggest retakes, keep you confident, and not let the session become sidetracked with second guessing. Even though the engineer should be able to point out mistakes and other performance weaknesses, it is best not to divide his or her attention to much away from the technical aspect of the recording.

Tip: Almost every room needs help.

It is imperative that a recording take place in an acoustic environment that will be suitable for the genre and style of music in question. This means a large church or concert hall for orchestral or choir, and a nice sounding recital hall, small church or gallery for chamber music and soloists. Small dead studios should not be the first choice. However, even in a nice acoustic, some post production will be necessary, especially in mixing, and balancing. Don’t be discouraged when you listen to headphones at the location and not hear the perfect sound, it will come.

Tip: Do you need a piano? Then you better find a good piano.

There is a reason why recording engineers only bother capturing well maintained Steinway D’s, Bosendorfer 290 Imperial’s, and, if their lucky, Yamaha CFX’s. These pianos record with clarity, balance, and energy that the smaller models just cannot duplicate. For a solo piano performance, the key is to locate one of these fine instruments in a good hall, and schedule the recording there. The piano should be tuned THE DAY OF the recording without exception.

Tip: The piano needs to be on full stick.

Contrary to the popular belief, the short stick does nothing to reduce the volume of the piano. It only serves to muffle the sound, and project the sound forward rather than up and out. Open up that top, and enjoy the all of the rich tonal colors, knowing they will be captured without nasty comb filtering a low lid imparts on the sound.

Tip: Rest often.

Recording saps your energy without fail. Once you are done with a take. Put down your instrument, walk away for five minutes and get your blood circulating. Take this opportunity to shake off nerves, review your performance in headphones, drink some water or have a snack. If you fail to take this time to reenergize yourself, your next attempt WILL be much worse. After a short break, practice that difficult passage very slowly for a couple of minutes and immediately nail it the second time around. Does this waste recording session time? Not when you consider the amount of time you could waste recording increasingly sloppy consecutive takes.

Tip: Record yourself during practice.

Let’s face it. You don’t know how you sound to others. Just like it is awkward to hear your voice on an answering machine, the first time hearing yourself play can be rather jarring. Record yourself, get used to it, and make performance adjustments based on an external perception of yourself. There are plenty of inexpensive handheld recorders that can do a nice job of telling you the truth (Tascam, Zoom, Sony etc). After you get used to the disappointment of that sound, hearing yourself in a nice environment, with $15,000+ worth of professional audio equipment, your anxiety will melt away into giddiness and renewed energy.