The following reflections on have been collected from the most ambitious recording session for Ronaldo Januario’s recording project, which took place on Saturday the 7th of October.
The project started as an acoustic blues EP but Ronaldo wasn’t happy with his performances, although they were perfectly OK. A decision was made to take a song that he had attempted to record but had a lot of potential to be developed.
A decision was made to create a more contemporary Brazilian sound that incorporated electronic production and acoustic instruments. A mutal friend, Roberto Fontana was called in to perform a trumpet part that is similar to a ‘call and response’ role with Ronaldo’s vocals. We also recorded Ronaldo’s electric guitar that had been heavily processed with both wah pedal and delay. Our reference track for this ‘ambient’ guitar sound was taken from Thievery Corporation’s song – Le Monde. The overall reference track was supplied by Ronaldo. The track is: Quem Não Quer Sou Eu by Seu Jorge from his album – Músicas Para Churrasco Vol.1 (music for BBQs vol. 1)
Some of the lessons learned from this 8 hour recording session are listed below.
1) Maintain a positive attitude when communication becomes tense between the artist and the production team.
It’s important for the production team to keep reminding themselves that they are there to allow the creativity to happen and flow. There is also an important moment that occurs when the artist attempts to ‘own’ the session and starts setting up microphones without consulting with the production team first.
The production team should ultimately take respoinsibility for the microphone placement and the sound that is being committed to the recording. The production team should endeavour to remain open to suggestion from the recording artist while asserting themselves within the scope of the role. (Quotes from Behind The Glass).
2) Nuture a positive approach to problem solving
Whenever you are in the studio and honestly don’t know how to solve problems with playback from the DAW (digital audio workstation), while monitoring live from the microphone, Keep calm, breathe slowly and create an atmosphere of confidence.
3) Confusion is a waste of time
The ‘tone’ of the recording session is often ‘set’ by how quickly things are organised by the recording engineers and how effectively those problems can be solved. Planning for potential problems is key. The trick to effective planning, is usually based on experiences that you would rather forget. When learning how to be an effective recording engineer, it’s difficult to plan for things that might go wrong, when you’re not aware of those things.
The solution is probably to have a ‘practice run’ in the studio, before inviting the recording artist in. A lot can be done by simply loading up the session file, in the actual studio that you’re going to be recording in. The potential for things to go wrong is usually quite high. Organising the session before tracking live with the artist, organising inputs and outputs, signal flow through the DAW to the console and back into the live room, is time really well spent.
4) Always keep a set of headphones in the control room
A clear mix in the headphones, for the recording artist when overdubbing and listening to takes in the live room, suggests to the artist that everything is under control and they can get on with the business of being creative. A clear and balanced headphone mix should also produce a really great performance.
5) Communication between the live room and the control room should be seamless
Being present for the artist when there needs to be clarification on certain aspects of the performance or things that have already been recorded builds confidence and trust. The role of the engineer often crosses over into producer when no-one has been specified in that role or the artist requires direction in order to save time. Reminding the artist of the amount of time taken to produce a performance that is still considered not good enough, should be done with tact but also ensure that the artist is aware of remaining session time in the studio. The role of engineer as producer can also enhance the creativity of the song being recorded and guide the artist to move away from ‘scope creep’ and provide reality checks when required.
The level of preparation required to adequately manage a recording session is fairly intense. The primary recording artist, performers, production team members and even guests, should all have a clear understanding of what needs to happen and how they can assist in that process. Managing all of the various demands of both the artists and performers is an important step towards creating a great recording. Additionally, if an critical observation needs to be stated, it should be done so with both courtesy and assertiveness. I’ve also found that knowing when to step into the decision making process regarding song arrangement or asking someone to do another take is an important skill. In future, I would try and book time in the same studio before anyone arrives and practice signal flow so that when all the musicians arrive, everything flows as smoothly as possible. Navigating through recording and playback modes is also important so that if the artist wants to listen back to something, it happens seamlessly. Moderating their expectations and my own are all part of the wonderful process that occurs when recording live performances. Keeping the magic alive, is both the challenge and the goal for a successful recording session.