Recently, I was tasked with making a recording for a student. He came in and played his piece a few times (very well I might add) as I got the microphones situated and set up the camera. We were doing a video performance so we ran it into our interface to record the audio and also sent it back to the camera, so I didn't have to mess with re-syncing the audio to the video later.
Pay attention because there is a moral to this story.
Finally I had all of the cables plugged in and the audio volumes set and we were ready to go. I hit record and it happened. Mistakes.
And more mistakes.
The hits kept coming and I could tell our fearless student was finally getting a little bit frustrated. This is the side of music production that they don't show you in biopics or behind the music features. I wish they would though because very few people know or understand a universal truth to anyone who's done it: recording is hard. In the movies they only show you when they go to the studio and just throw a hit song out there. The whole band is in the room and the singer's microphone is three feet above their head hanging from the ceiling (because, ostensibly, that makes them look 'cool').
In reality though it happens another way. The band comes in and records a basic track but they're really just recording the drums. It takes probably all day unless you're really lucky and the drummer knocks it out first try (super rare). After that you do the guitars again because you need a 'capture' without the drums bleeding into the mics. Often times the speaker cabinet for the guitar is out in the studio and the guitarist records from inside the comfy booth. This usually takes a few tries and then you do overdubs where you layer the sound to make it 'fatter' and add little twiddly bits. Guitar can take anywhere from an afternoon to a couple days depending on the scope involved, sometimes you even come back later after everyone else to add more. You can expect anywhere from three to even twenty guitar tracks in a single song. It is a production after all. After this the bassist comes in and does his thing, you generally don't layer too much with bass, their job is pretty pure and straightforward. After all of this -- mistakes, new takes, new takes, another take, another 'shoot-I-almost-nailed-it', and you maybe have a song. Then the singer comes in and spends the entire day cursing at the microphone and then doing overdubs. Vocal parts are actually the other HUGE productions in music and can be upwards of 20+ tracks including double tracking and harmonies. All of those also include various flubs and re-tries. Then repeat this process 13+ times and you have yourself an album. Ever wonder why your favorite band takes a good six months or more to record an album? There's your answer.
So back to the moral of the story here: recording is hard. Recording is when all of your mistakes that you never make show up. They sit inside you and wait for that red light to come on and make their attack. Do one-takes (getting it in one try) happen? Yes, absolutely and they're AWESOME, but they aren't a measure of someones skill because recording is simply too difficult to be understated. That student I was talking about? We stopped for the day and he came back a day later and knocked it out in a few attempts. The red light saw that he had suffered enough and granted him passage.
I encourage all of you to come make a recording, its super fun and frustrating all at once. But, it's also a great experience. And you probably won't have to worry about the massive production side of things. Maybe you'll 'one-take' it? Or maybe you'll see that it's really nothing like the movies and it takes a lot of good old fashioned work.
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