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So You Want to be in a Recording Studio?

Updated on February 4, 2010

I know. Many readers out there think that being in a recording studio is stardom and quite the glamorous thing. Many wannabes enter the studio all wide eyed and bushy tailed like a fawn caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. If they are paying for it, time is a real pressure & always in the back of their minds, because, here, time is expensive money.

Sterling Knight, an actor on the Disney show, Sonny with a Chance, with Demi Lovato, recently recorded a song for his upcoming movie, Starstruck. Sterling went to UT in Austin, he is older than his looks show. Having never been in a recording studio lay some tracks entered thinking it was quick and easy thing, maybe an hour or two for a couple of songs. He left the studio five hours later with only one complete song done. He was shocked about just how long it takes.

It's true. After a few run throughs of a song to adjust the mike inputs etc., it may have already consumed a lot of time for each member of the band. Once things are set up, some basic tracks are laid down. A large amount of time is consumed by the key members in making a decision about a host of issues and experimentation. Simple things that requires another take to listen to the playback. Then there are the human snafus in the second, third, fourth, fifth take of the same song. The singer coughs. The guitar sounds different. The drummer tries something different that others don't like. Arguments about what direction the song should go in.The sound quality is not as expected, adjustments need to made in the microphones, additional tests occur.

However, the most time consuming item in recording a song is usually laying overdubs on the vocals or instruments for a much fuller sound. The Beatles popularized this technique starting in 1964. For some singers, it helps their vocals sound fuller and better. Some singers do not require this as their voice is stellar. Compare John Lennon's voice with Paul McCartney's, both are unique sounding, yet John did have a less full and weaker sounding vocal.

Overdubs are soooo time consuming. Why? You first lay down a basic track, then while it plays, the overdub occurs and the singer or instrument must be duplicated in identical manner. The Singer puts on the headphones, the song is played. While it sounds easy, it it quite difficult to overdub in identical fashion. The slightest mishap or difference in the vocal or instrument playing, ruins the simultaneous effect. The listener will know. Doing the overdub is a bit nervewracking for those involved. A lot of pressure is on them to repeat an identical performance and human nature simply makes this a problem. The problem compounds itself as retakes occur repeatly because of slight nuances that cannot be buried from the listener. It is common for a song to have 10-20 takes for a vareity of reasons for a variety of reasons. One option to avoid this is to simply copy the main vocal and try to match it using a Time Stretch tool in the software to match the original. This is no easy task.

It is common for a band to enter a studio and spend all day resulting in only one song completed to their liking for public release. It is common for those involved to be totally sick of the song by the end of the day, as retake after retake takes its toll on the patience and desire of the music makers.

The Beatles worse mixing of a song is no doubt their, "Revolution", released in 1968 and was on the B-side of the single. It's A side was "Hey Jude". In Revolution, John was no doubt sloppy and allowed his overdubs on parts that showed he used the wrong lyrics. It is quite apparent to the listener something is wrong.

The listener of a song only hears the final compilation. They know nothing about how many hours or days it took to get it to that point. Think of how many songs that took a lot of time and money to make that ended up in the dustbin because the public just did not like it.

The 12 songs on your CD no doubt took months, many months, to finish from the first take to final. Thousands of dollars were spent. Then, you pay $12 for it and only like maybe 2-4 songs on it. You are disappointed. For the artist, they are proud about the end result yet feel rejected personally because the CD bombed and they are in debt in pursuing the Number One spot.

You can download your own studio and see for yourself. A free studio software, Audacity 3.11, is available and you can see the time consuming impact. Record your song, open a new track and try to overdub your vocal or guitar in identical manner to the original track. You can easily spend four hours just trying to it so it sounds "spot on" in playback.

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