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Some Questions before Going into the Studio

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Kevin Hsieh, Mar 9, 2008.

  1. My piano trio is going into the studio for the first time. Being our first time in the studio, we're looking for any tips you more seasoned cats could give us.

    We're going to do 3 or 4 originals and 3 standards.

    Question about mastering
    Is mastering necessary? What are the costs?

    Question about playing standards
    We're going to play Three Flowers (a mccoy tune), Rio (a brazilian tune), and I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face. If we are to make copies of the music and give it out or sell it to our friends and people who we want it, will we have to deal with copyrights and licenses?

    Let me know if any of you TBers want a copy, I'll get one to you for cheap.
  2. jacoman


    Sep 7, 2007
    i imagine costs vary; but yes, mastering is necessary.
  3. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Mastering is important. Taking it to a dedicated mastering house can be really expensive. Like +100/hr or more. Often times the studio you are at can do it. Most of the time it is wise to have a different person master it than mixed it. A fresh set of ears. Ask around. One of my groups found a mastering engineer that mastered it in his home studio instead of at the mastering house and charged us a bunch less.

    As far as selling. Yes, technically you need to own the rights if you are going to sell them. If you plan to sell physical cds you need a mechanical license. For iTunes you need something called a DPD. A license for digital distribution. You can go to www.harryfox.com to find out if the rights are available and how much they cost.

    I know way more than I'd like to about this stuff. Feel free to pm me or IM me if you really want the skinny.
  4. Fingers is more or less correct, but I'd like to jump in to clarify a bit. 'Mastering', as the term is used these days, is all too often part of the mixing process; engineers will slap a look-ahead limiter (like the Waves L-1) and an EQ across the master output and call it 'mastered'. It usually comes out better in the end, though, to work with the final mixes that are going to make up the CD, since part of the purpose of mastering is to make the collection of songs into a unified whole. Another side of mastering, and the part that's not done as often in situations where the engineer that mixes the record also masters it, is the technical side of assembling the production master - that is, the disk that will be replicated. It's nice to know that the subcodes are correct, that the codes that would be necessary for you to (potentially) get money from airplay are there, that the start and finish times for each song are correct to the frame, and that the error rate of the production master isn't excessive. All of these are part of what I call 'mastering' - as much as listening and adjusting the balances between the songs is mastering. (By the way, making it 'loud' isn't necessarily part of the process; it might be, but most CD's are too loud as it is...).

    I''ve paid as little as about $300 for having a project mastered, and as much as almost $2K (a famous mastering house). For a self-released project, I'd suggest that you can find a competent mastering engineer from around $450 to about $900.

    You don't own the 'rights' to distribute a song, but you DO have to have a license to do it. As fingers says, Harry Fox is the place to get that. And if a song HAS been released commercially, then you can get a license to release your recording of it - the biggest problem is that not all publishers (and not all songs) are represented by HFA. If they're not, you need to go to the publisher to get the license (the ASCAP and BMI webpages have search engines that can help you to find that information).

    The rate that you pay for a license is set by law; that statutory rate, is, I believe, currently 9.1 cents per song for each copy that you manufacture. So if you were going press 1000 CD's, the mechanical license will cost $91 per song (for those songs that you didn't write). Also Harry Fox charges a fee on top of that (the details are on their web site). There's another issue that you might have to deal with, by the way; for songs that are more than a certain length, the statutory rate can go up past 9.1 cents. Again, HFA (or fingers) should be able to help you out with the details.
  5. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Agreed. I engineer at a studio and I NEVER master something I have mixed. I'll do as Dave says and slap a limiter on there to match the levels and get rid of some transients but to me that is not mastering. If you do master check with the studio about what recording format they are using and what format the mastering house wants. Usually, if it is a digital file, the mastering place wants the file at full resolution and they'll handle the dithering.
  6. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    a) Keep it loose. Dress in layers.

    b) Bring good grub and plenty of beverages.

    c) LISTEN TO PLAYBACK, at least for the first few takes. Every time I didn't I suffered later. Be ready to take the time which is required for the engineer to switch from record to playback mode if you're working digitally.

    d) If it's a demo, be prepared to make compromises to get in and get out.

    e) If it's not a demo, take extra time to get GREAT sounds. 1.25 hours for drums, 0.75 hours for double bass, 0.5 hours for piano is a MINIMUM in my experience: You can get most of the way there in less, but why get most of the way there? It might make sense for you to not even show up until there's already a decent drum-sound going.

    f) Don't be afraid to tell people what you want. Many engineers do not routinely record jazz. (Many of those cats think that the snare-drum is the most important instrument in the band.) Bring one or two examples of music you think is particularly nicely-recorded to point the engineer toward where YOU are heading.

    g) CUE: Along the same lines, take as much time as you need to get a really helpful cue mix and don't be afraid to tweak it. (I often use only one can in the studio so I can hear my bass clearly.) Try to keep the volume down on your cue so you don't fatigue your ears.

    h) At some points there will need to be decisions made. A group process is almost always a compromise.

    i) Above all, PLAN AHEAD. As a (self-)producer I actually chart out feels, tempos, keys and solo order so that I am certain my final product will show variety and not do the same thing over and over. It really works: Your disc will sound more "intentional." Intention is just as key in producing as it is in improvising.

    Report back, bro.
  7. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    You're welcome.

    Sam's suggestions are good. Good planning leads to less stress. Stress is never a good thing in the studio.

    Above all just relax and play. Forget the tape is rolling and just do your thing. Trying to be something you're not in the studio just leads to mistakes or a forced sounding recording.
  8. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings, Aguilar Amplifiers
    To reinforce Sam's point about planning I'd like to share a recent experience I had on a session. This was a Bluegrass session, Bluegrass and Jazz are similar in that they both have a standard repertoire, so most players know a lot of the same tunes. In this case the player whose record I was performing on thought that we could just get in there, play through a few tunes without any real plan and it would be a "record". Imagine if you came into a session with someone you barely knew and they said;
    "Okay Kevin, I guess we're gonna do Autumn Leaves, Blue Bossa and just for variety, let's get wild and do a rhythm changes, someone else pick which one."
    You'd be rolling your eyes, right? These are fine tunes, but in my opinion, if you aren't planning on doing something new with, them then why record them? This person hadn't thought about it like that, and the tunes that he had considered (without making any definitive choice) were as garden-variety as the jazz standards I mentioned. To make matters worse, he had recorded half of them on his last album.
    We wound up wasting a day, but had a good second day after he got organized.

    I don't think you're in any danger of having an experience like this. I'm just sharing a worst case example.

    Also, if you don't have a leader I'd recommend nominating someone to play leader while you're in the studio. It's much less confusing when there's one person who can do the talking when it comes to the organizational stuff like which tune is next, what the tempo is if a click needs to be set, counting off the tunes (bring a metronome for reference just in case) and talking the tunes down once before you play. I think it'll help to keep you organized, and the engineer will appreciate having one organized person to turn to with questions. And remember, the engineer can be a great source of information. I have learned a lot about my playing by listening to playbacks with a good engineer.

    Best of luck, enjoy it.
  9. bribass


    Jan 25, 2006
    Northern NJ
    Endorsing Artist; Arnold Schnitzer/ Wil DeSola New Standard RN DB
    Great advice from Marc and Sam. Only thing I might add is to make sure you're comfortable in the space (booth) you're playing in. Do you have enough room for proper playing position, music stand, arco room so you don't hit the mic etc? Is it too warm or cold in there? Don't be afraid to say what you need.
    If you want to be able to punch and/or correct any mistakes later, better to be in your own booth than out in the larger room w/ other instruments. There will be too much bleed in your mic in that case.

    I wish I had the 'TB advantage' when I was in school. Good luck Kevin.

  10. Everyone,

    Once again, your advice has been invaluable to me.
    I'll report back at the end of the month when the session is done.

    and of course I'll keep posting on other threads since I'm a TB addict

    Many thanks

    p.s. i hope this thread helps out the other cats that need studio advice
  11. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I agree with all except "e". Don't use an engineer or studio that has little experience in the style of music you are recording. A good, experienced engineer will be able to get good sounds in much less time than Sam's estimates, and since you are in NY, you have many to choose from. If getting the whole groups sounds takes longer than 30-40 minutes, I wouldn't let the studio add the extra time to your tab.

    Also, make sure the studio can provide more than one cue mix. You really need to hear yourself and the drums and cymbals well to lock in, and while a piano, bass and drum trio shouldn't be too problematic, hearing things the way you want (need) to can sometimes be difficult with only one mix for everyone. Have fun!
  12. Of course, for most of the last 40 years, there has only been one cue mix in studios. It seemed to have worked fine.
  13. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Maybe in your experience, but not always in mine. You can make things "work" when you have to, but it's really nice to have the flexibility that more than one cue mix provides. I confess that this was on my mind as on a recent recording I did, we could never get the rhythm section "right" to my ear in relation to the five horns (which included Phil Woods and Mark Colby). Yes, the job got done, but it would have helped me to bring the horns down in the mix so I could more easily hear the drummer.
  14. Spencer!


    Jun 25, 2006
    Owner, Pike Amplification & 3Leaf Audio
    The most important advice I could possibly stress would be for you to be well-rehearsed before you enter the studio. Time is money, and the more time spent changing parts around or just getting bad takes from lack of practice, the more money will be wasted.

    Drum sounds take some time: usually 1-2 hours depending on the complexity of the kit. Even the best engineers take this long; it's just part of the process. Piano and bass shouldn't take more than 10 or 15 minutes to get good sounds.

    The engineer will have had much more experience than you, but don't hesitate to tell him if you want a certain sound. Be polite, though, some engineers can be pretty easy to piss off.

    Also, plan to spend a few hours on each track for mixdown to stereo. This cost is often overlooked, but is necessary (unless you're only marketing your recording to guys with 20+ channel home systems!).

    Most studios these days use the hearback boxes which enable each musician to control their own headphone mixes, so that shouldn't be an issue.

    Will you be playing to a click track? If so, practice playing to a click before entering the studio, as they can be hard to get used to.
  15. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Take your pick up off the bass if possible. Don't let them near the amp or pick up. Mic on the bass. There are a few instances where you can get good results from the amp/pick up and piano trio is not one of them.
    Sounds like you won't worry about it this time, but if you have a project you can actually get on a label, don't master it, just get a good rough mix. Many if not most labels have their own ideas about mastering, and often use the same mastering person.
  16. John Goldsby

    John Goldsby Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Bassist @ WDR Big Band Cologne, Columnist — BassMagazine.com, Conservatorium Maastricht, NL
    Damon hits the nail on the head here . . . you do not need a pickup to record a trio record. (Or any record, imho). So it saves a lot of time if you do not take one (or at least hide it deep in your bass case) -- then you won't have the discussion with the engineer about, "Well, we'll just take a direct line for safety." The engineer will be able to get a sound on the bass with just one or two microphones. This will work even if you want to fix a couple of notes here and there later. Of course, if you are really into a pickup sound, then take it and use it. From my experience, if the engineer has the pickup on an extra track, it somehow often works its way into the final mix.
  17. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    +1 with Damon and John... get that thing offa there. There are quite a few of my early recordings that got demolished by that "backup" direct bass track.

    I always wondered about that engineer logic, the "pickup for safety" thing... what next, are we going to cram piezos down the singer's throat just in case?. Why does only the bass player need a safety net?
  18. larry


    Apr 11, 2004
    So true.

    The engineer will say "trust me", so you do. Then your DB sounds like a Fender P-Bass. It makes mixing easy, but destroys your sound.

    Take Damon's advice and remove the pick up. Lock it up somewhere far away where the engineer can't smell it.
  19. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Kevin, you still using an Underwood? Should be a piece of cake removing it.
  20. Yea... I'll have to find some more cable ties for later though :silly:

    Thanks for the tips!
    One week!

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