In 2008 Alex and his partner Amy set up Factory St Studios, a music hub in Bradford, England, with a spacious recording studio sporting a large format Calrec desk, tape machines, a selection of quality outboard as well as digital capability with Pro-tools and Cubase.
Over the years Alex has worked with many musicians of note including, Steve Cropper, Otis Grand, Kim Wilson, Ultrasound, Corrine Bailey Rae, The Somatics, The New Mastersounds, White Light Parade, The Whisky Priests, Geek, The Paul Middleton Band, The Heavens, Jasmine Kennedy and many more.
A little while ago, I had a four piece rock band come into the studio to record a track for their forthcoming album release. Whilst I was following my regular routine of setting up, it occurred to me that no one had taken me through the process when I was learning to record.
I suppose an explanation of how I ended up behind the desk would help.
I had played for many years in many bands and over time spent more and more time in studios as a session player and working on my own projects. The whole thing fascinated me. It was such an unintuitive process to record, compared with standing on a stage and just playing what you’ve learnt, that I was filled with questions; why would you need separation between instruments even if you are recording everything together? Why do you need headphones and can’t use monitors like on stage? Why is it important for the engineer to be in a different room? The questions just kept popping up….I bugged all the engineers in all the studios I worked in for explanations all the time.
Gradually things fell into place, there is a way of doing things for a reason….sometimes to suit the engineer….sometimes to get the band into the right frame of mind. As I watched, I realised that the best engineers/producers were arranging the day around getting the best from the equipment and the musicians; nothing was left to chance.
Spending more time on ‘the other side of the glass’ I have developed my own routines, and I have good reasons for keeping to them. It took a long time get here and I still develop and change, you never stop learning after all, but it could have saved me a lot of time and blind alleys had someone explained to me why they do things their way.
So with that in mind….
The band arrive
Hopefully at roughly the same time, it really helps to do a basic introduction to the studio with everyone at the same time; “the toilets are there” “here’s the kettle” “I like my coffee strong and black”, and then onto how we are going to run the project. On this occasion we were aiming to track one song including overdubs in one full day, mixing later, so a basic explanation of the breakdown of time scale i.e. the first couple of hours setting up, then 2 or 3 hours to get the basic track down and the rest of the day spent on overdubs, was given to the band.
This gives the musicians an opportunity to question the way we are going to set up and start making their preferences known. The fundamental premise that the musicians have to be happy and perform well is critical to producing a good recording, a pristine recording of a poor performance is worthless! It is better that compromises are made with the sound than someone being unable perform well because they are not comfortable in their surroundings.
A word about recording medium. I can count on one hand the number of artists who walk through our front door and don’t want to record to tape, and whilst we offer both analogue tape and Pro Tools/Logic, it really only comes down to budget. So anyone who tells you there’s no desire for reel-to-reel recording is probably saying that because they don’t have it!