Recording for Professional Talent- The Cave

As a class project we had to record a 4 track EP for an artist that from here on out will be referred to as “The Cave”. They wanted to create the EP by hiring temporary band members (a guitarist and bassist) and directing them and getting them to play the instruments needed for the EP. Building up to the recording stage we had met them once as a class, listened to some demos and obtained a few of the stems. Jackson had also programmed some drums in to help speed up the recording stage when it came to recording drums. He did a great job and his enthusiasm and effort were greatly appreciated by the class.

15 October- Recording Drums

When it came to recording we had created a schedule and had set roles for everyone. Jackson and Rikki were in charge of creating and monitoring the headphone sends and even brushed up on the process the night before. Ayden and Dan were in charge of the desk and talkback. Alex and Sam were in control of protools and setting up and recording every take. While the rest of us did have specific roles, we were also there to document and observe everything happening.

Setting up the session prior to the artist getting there began at 9, with them getting to the studio just after 10. The drummer set up his kit in no time and was extremely professional and courteous. The artist directing the whole project however, informed us that we were meant to be recording a 5th track (which was not agreed upon previously) and that we had to make sure to get the drums finished for every track by the end of the day. This was a massive set back as we spent a good 15-20 minutes to clarify that there was indeed a 5th track and that each track was correctly named and set up to be recorded. The director of the project spent almost the whole day downloading the stems for the 5th track which caused a huge delay and resulted in even more stress as some people began to doubt how organised they were granted how easily it could have been solved.

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For most of the recording I sat silently, constantly observing the recording flow and the communication between the DAW operators, Guy Gray, the drummer and the director. I noticed some students glued to their phones the whole time which I saw as being completely unprofessional and rude towards the talent which is shame.

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However as everyone that has worked with an artist before knows, problems and tension will almost always arise and this was no exception. The director of the project was providing useful input to begin with. After all it is their project and any suggestions they have must be taken into consideration. Though as time went on they started demanding strange requests from the drummer such as: “play to the vocals” and “Stop sounding like a metronome”. The drummer was extremely confused by this as he is a drummer after all and should be playing to the programmed guide drum tracks. He repeatedly tried to clarify what they meant by “playing to the vocals” but never raised his voice and always stayed calm. Pretty impressive for a drummer, eh?

More tension arose while Alex began asking Guy questions on what to do next and the director told them to shush because they wanted to talk to the drummer. They also began pushing people aside so that they could use the talkback themselves, rather than just asking. By the end up the day it had started to grind on some of the other student with some of them even choosing to leave.

After the constant retakes, many of which were spot on, the director was happy with it and it was time to pack up. Backing up the files was extremely time consuming and should have definitely been taken into account when writing up the schedule. All in all it took about an hour to back up the sessions onto 3 different hard drives. And with that we were ready to record bass guitar and vocals the next day.

16 October- Pre Mixing

Originally we had planned to record bass and vocals today but that never happened due to some sort of miscommunication with the artist even though we had gone over the planning for it just the night before. Some of the dedicated students had arrived at 10 to set up the microphones and the live room ready to record. They set up a U87 and an AKG 414 next to each other with a pop filter in front. The director of the project (also the singer and bassist) arrived around 11:30. They were reluctant to sing which meant the set up and waiting for them to arrive was just a waste of time.

While we were waiting for the artist to arrive, Guy decided to use the session to do a premix on the tracks and to show how effective the technique of parallel compression can be when used correctly. Guy used the Distressor Compressor on the snare and kick to show this technique. It was extremely effective and made the drums way more presence and impact. It was great to watch this technique being used on a professional recording and to hear how much of a difference it made.

When the artist showed up they started demanding changes to the mix and started to take over the session. i watched how Guy handled himself and how professional he reacted. He remained calm and reassured them that he was taking their input into consideration. After about half an hour of this I had had enough and went to work on my project- something that had a schedule that we actually wanted to stay to.

I learned more that day about how professional talent and engineers should both act in a studio environment, how easily conflicts and tension can arise and to resolve the conflicts even if it takes up critical time. If Guy hadn’t been so professional and had just left I’m sure even less work would have been completed and the project would have fallen apart.

22 October- Recording at Tall Poppy Studios

The week after we went to Tall Poppy Studios to record bass and vocals for the artist. Before we began Akshay (the head lecturer) asked us to read a contract he had written up with the artist. The contract explained that we (the students) and SAE maintain educational rights to the recordings and that we had artistic merit when mixing the recordings for the project. I had no idea how important writing up contract was even in the recording stage. Needless to say this was definitely one of the most important steps in working with any artist. Some weeks later some students speculated that The Cave was not comfortable with us having copies of the recordings and Akshay reminded us of the contract that everyone had signed including the artist.

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Inside Tall Poppy Studios

The studio had been set up to record vocals extremely efficiently thanks to the help of one of the engineers of the studio, Stewie. I left before the recording had started due to lack of room in the studio. I decided to make the time productive and work on my project. 2 hours later I checked in to see how much progress was made. Barely anything had been recorded apparently. The artist was again being problematic and focusing on editing the recordings rather than put down any sort of new recordings. I decided that it would be better to just work on the EP project.

23 October- Recording Guitars

This is where it got really interesting. We had planned to record the guitars in the Neve at SAE on this day. The guitarist had recently been in a car accident and was severely injured. He was extremely dedicated and showed up on time with all of his gear. I don’t think i’ve personally seen any band member so dedicated for their band before. The director of the project didn’t arrive for over an hour afterwards. Everyone present during the recording was constantly providing positive reinforcement and feedback to the guitarist. As soon as the director of the project arrived they were immediately unhappy with what we had recorded and didn’t even commend the guitarist for trying. At this point my group and I asked Guy for direction on what to do as could see this becoming another waste of time. He agreed that it would definitely be more productive to work on our project.

28 October

This was another recording at Tall Poppy for guitars and backing vocals. I decided to stay at SAE and work on the project. As I didn’t go I won’t explain what apparently happened but it was the worst session by far. No vocals or bass ended up being recorded.

A few weeks later we had received the edits of the recordings for one of the tracks. From the start of this tri Guy and Akshay had made it clear to The Cave that we would only mix, master and deliver one track by the end of this tri. Once we had compiled it all Guy began to mix in front of us. He also told us that the original files they had sent to him still contained playlists and bad takes. The bass track that they had given contained some harsh, audible clicks every time the strings were plucked. So much for being “edited”. Guy made it clear that usually the mix engineer would not accept this unless he also agreed to edit it.

To fix the clicks Guy showed us a couple of different techniques. He showed us the “lazy” way which most mix engineers use. They simply cut the click out and add a crossfade to the edit. he then showed us how to write a whole new waveform using the pencil tool and smoothing out the edit. The correction was so effective and completely removed the click while still making the edit subtle and impossible to hear.

The next day Guy mixed it and the result was outstanding. His years of professional work in the industry could definitely be heard in the mix. The way he had made it fit according to what The Cave had wanted and referenced but still stand out and not sound generic at all was something that completely blew me away. He then bounced it out and sent it to The Cave and waited for feedback. A couple of days passed but eventually they got back to him saying that they were happy with the mix and the track overall. They also thanked him for giving it to them no later than they had specified.

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