The Recording Process
Seventy five years ago, if you wanted to make a recording, you placed a microphone in a room. The microphone was connected to a cutter that would take the sound energy and translate it into grooves on a disc or drum as you performed. Once the performance was over, you stopped the machine, and removed your master recording. Everything had taken place in one step. If the performance wasn’t good enough, you threw out the master and started again from the beginning. With the advent of modern technology, recording has now evolved into a multistage process, allowing for great care to be taken at each step along the way to assure the highest possible quality for the end result. Not every project happens the same way, but the general flow of an acoustic-based album project goes something like this:
The band comes in with all their gear. Drums are set up, tuned for the room, and mic’ed with multiple mics for the different drums and some ambient mics in the room to catch the overall sound. Other instruments, eg, bass, piano, guitars are placed and mic’ed relative to the amount of sound separation desired between each instrument. If more separation is required, instruments can be DI’ed (directly plugged in), or musicians and or instruments/amplifiers can be moved further away or into separate rooms. The more the players are separated from each other, the greater their reliance will be on the headphone system and visual cues to feel what everyone else is doing. Individual microphone signals from the recording room go back to the control room where they are routed to separate tracks on a multi-track recorder (Non-linear hard drive system or tape recorder). Bass drum might be recorded on track 1; snare drum on 2; toms on 3, 4, and 5; cymbals on 6 and 7; bass on 8, etc… Depending on the time frame of the project, all or only some of the parts recorded at this point will be kept in the final recording.
With adequate sound separation between the different instruments recorded during the bed track session, certain parts can be replayed later and refined. An example of this would be to keep the drums and bass from the bed tracks, and overdub the guitar tracks, solos, and vocals later. By working this way, each musician can be given the time and attention to allow them to focus on their part and record the best performance possible. Editing can take place after recording to further improve the performance by combining takes to create a composite (comp) track of the best sections of multiple takes of a part. Editing can also manipulate the timing of parts, adjust tuning, change the arrangement, and create special effects.
Up to now, each individual part has been on its own track so it can be adjusted. Once the individual parts are satisfactory, mixing is the process whereby all the individual parts are balanced relative to each other to create a whole stereo (or multichannel) mix of each individual song. Automation can aid this process, adjusting the levels as necessary throughout the course of the song.
After all the songs are mixed, mastering is the final stage of the process where the mixes of each song are ordered and processed to form a complete album. Visit our Mastering section for more information.