I was excited when I found out that I had a chance to get back in the studio with a band I've previously been involved with, because I knew that these guys deserved a better recording that what we had achieved back when we first recorded them a year ago. I was also keen to get my feet wet in an area of the recording process that I hadn't before; I was going to run the live rooms and organise the microphone choices and placement alongside Alice and Tom. Alice and I were going to take control of most of this while Tom was going to help us mostly on the day with everything that needed to be set up and managed. We were told a week in advance and so for a whole week we would be researching and planning to make sure that the session would run as smoothly as possible, as our goal was to completely record two songs in a single eight hour session.
In this blog I will reflect on the planning process in regards to the choices we made and the communication standards we upheld, and how that process effected the outcome of our session.
Alice and I were to work in tandem with the planning process. We decided that the best way for us to work was to share the work load 50/50, which I was more than happy with because Alice has much more experience than I do in doing live studio recordings and I was sure that I could learn a lot from her. She got to work doing a genre analysis based on the bands influences and their suggestion that they wrote their songs according to the genre of Desert Rock. While Alice did this, I headed to one of the bands practice sessions with the rest of our crew, to get a feel for the gear they had, and start to think about what we might need for our session. I, as well as some of our other team members, took some photos of the bands set up and noted what kind of gear they would be bringing on the day, we would then look to meet back up as a group to discuss how we would attack the session. Unfortunately, some difficulties in communication arose as not everyone was aware that meetings were taking place, mostly due to the fact that our messaging application was not notifying us and this lead to short notice for a lot of the team members. However, once Alice did receive a proper list of the bands equipment, she was able to devise a microphone list for the guitars and bass guitar, which was creative and appropriate for the genre she had analysed. I was left to choose microphones for the drum kit, under the guidance of Alice's microphone placement ideas. I chose a basic setup as my understanding of recording drum kits is limited and looked to Alice for advice. She agreed that it was a simple setup, but the style were trying to achieve is fairly rough and unpolished so we decided that it would be enough for what we wanted. Even though my mic list was basic, I was keen to get in and see how it would go, so that I would have a good foundation of knowledge when it comes to miking up drum kits.
I was invited to come along to a session with our team leaders and the vocalist from the band to trial some microphones and see what might be best to use on the day. This experience was really good for me; I enjoyed being able to compare microphones in an environment that allowed us to talk freely with the artist about his creative intention and our ideas for microphone choices. I would have liked for Alice to have been involved with this process as I think she felt a little bit out of the loop after this session, especially when it came to the meeting we had afterwards in which we discussed how we would set up the live rooms during our session, and went through details that Alice, Tom and I missed during the last meeting. I felt as though she needed to be involved as I was trying to keep our involvement evenly weighted, so after our meeting I asked our team leaders if we could have a similar discussion with Alice so that she could be caught up to speed with what we were doing. I could have taken notes down on everything that we talked about at the meeting and then told Alice later on, but I didn't want our team leaders to think that I should be the main liaison for live room tech business, I wanted us to both be as involved as one and other.
After our debrief with the rest of the live room team, we had decided that we would want some separation between instruments during the session, and due to our limited space and time we decided that we would run multiple sessions. Our first session would be a scratch track that the band would play all together, with the drummer and bassist in one live room, and the lead and rhythm guitarists in the other. Then for our second session we would remove the lead guitars and move the bass into the live room with the rhythm guitar, this way we could record our rhythm section without getting any spill from the drum kit into our bass tracks. Our third session would then see us putting the lead guitarist back into the live room to record overdubs, and then vocals and drum one shots. This decision making was based on a comment that I made about wanting separation between the tracks, but the final idea for moving around instruments in our live room was made by our project heads. While we were told that the plan they had made was just a suggestion, if I'm honest, I didn't feel like we had much of a say in the final decision to operate the session like this. Due to time constraints however, we went with what was suggested as we felt it would most likely work to our advantage. We had a similar issue when it came to mic lists; we found the when we passed our lists on to the project heads, they were then altered without us necessarily being told. Again, we were told they were just suggestions, but it did feel as though I didn't have much sway in the decision making process; I also felt a little less confident to extend my ideas for recording because of my limited knowledge in the process, so I in effect went along with what was suggested. I would have preferred that Alice and I had full creative control over the live room setups, or at least more knowledge of why things that we had worked on were being altered.
We were eventually ready with a mic and input list to share around on the day, and it was time to get in and start recording.
The Execution - Setting Up
The night before our session I headed in with the band to get a few things set up so that our 7:30am start would run smoothly. We got the drum kit set up in the live room along with a couple of mic stands with microphones ready to go. We had all the gear in the control room so on the day it would just be a matter of moving everything into place and plugging in all of our mics and gear. The morning of came along and we were all there ready to go, only problem was all of our gear was locked in the control room with no way of getting in until 8:00am. We did however get the mics we had in the live room set up and ready to go, but most of the gear we needed was still locked away in the control room. Unfortunately we were locked out of there for about an hour so we were still setting up when the band arrived at 9:00am.
Once the band were in their live rooms with all their pedals and amps ready to go we decided to do a couple more checks of the microphones we had in place by getting each band member to play a bit while I and our desk operator stood in the control room listening to the tonality of our mics in different place while also checking our gain staging. The communication was fairly easy between myself and the techs working in the drum room as we had easy communication with headphones and talk back through the desk. In the other live room it was a bit more difficult because the desk operators were having trouble getting appropriate level in the headphone mix for that live room. I also have to say that the communication in the live room could have been improved; while I was talking to the people in the live room I was also trying to communicate what mics we wanted soloed for checking with our desk operator. This was difficult because I was calling each mic by it's brand name rather than the input that it was assigned to on the desk; the desk operator requested that I used the input number rather than the brand and model name and communication improved. There was also an issue with there being too many people in the control room at the time, meaning that while I was checking levels and tonality, our DAW operator was also trying to talk to the desk operator about issues they were having. I felt that these sorts of things should have been mediated by one of our team leaders but I also could have politely asked that everyone focus on one task before moving onto another. I think a lot of this was due to the fact that we didn't have as much time as we had planned for so everyone was trying to do their jobs at the same time, which in tern had people getting in each others way.
All of this aside, the sound and tonality for the guitars especially was fantastic. The microphone choices and tonality that the band had chosen for their instruments through use of their pedals was perfect; myself and the other live room techs were pleased that all of our effort in planning had come to fruition. After all the stress we had endured trying to get everything set up in time, this was a much needed win.
The Execution - Tracking
The vibe was feeling good and it was time to start tracking our scratch track. Needless to say, we were very being schedule, but it was in our interest not to show this to the band as we wanted them in a good head space for recording. Alice and I went to each live room before recording just to do some last checks with the band and make sure they were comfortable and pumped up ready to start playing. We were very fortunate to have a band that was so well prepared; they had upped their practising schedule for the week coming up to the session and it definitely showed. Even though our guitarists had issues with their headphone mixes being too quiet, their performance as a band was still tight. After a few takes of our scratch tracks, time caught up with us; we realised that it was already midday and we had very little time to get everything else recorded, so a few changes in our session schedule had to be made.
We called the band in to the control room to listen to what they had recorded and get their feedback, I took this as an opportunity to be open with the band, discuss our time schedule and see what elements of the recording they would deem a priority. I was told by one of our team leaders that we should try and not discuss anything about the session planning with the band in order not to stress them out any more but my thought process was to at least keep them in the loop and make them feel comfortable enough to be involved in the decision making process. I had a quick chat with one of the guitarists and he expressed to me that he didn't feel we needed to do a scratch track as they usually play live anyway and would be comfortable using the set up for our scratch tracks to record the proper tracking. I took this on board, and according to my team leaders instruction, pulled them aside and suggested that we possibly change the session plan. Our suggestion was to keep the bass in the same room as the drums and keep everything rolling the way that it was; the only difference being that our next lot of takes would be without our lead guitar or vocals. Our team leader seemed a bit more comfortable with the fact that I had brought this idea to them instead of voicing my opinion with everybody, and so I allowed them to take the actions they thought were necessary to put this new plan into action.
As there wasn't any need to move equipment around, the live room techs and I were able to relax a bit and just keep an eye on things from the control room. However, due to our previous issues of there being too many people in the live room, we made ourselves scares while the desk and DAW operator were trouble shooting. From what could tell, they were having a lot of issues and so myself, Alice and one of the band members took a break and went outside for some fresh air. When we came back down they were still having issues and we thought it was best to stay out of the control room for the rest of the day until everything was sorted.
We eventually had a good chunk of recording completed and were now discussing further sessions to start tracking vocals.
Things didn't run as smoothly as we'd hoped, but mostly this was due to a lack of time. The fact that we had so much work to do in one day of recording definitely put a lot of pressure on everyone, but also delivered some lessons about preparation, and working under pressure. I personally thought that the live room techs did an awesome job; during our set up we realised how much proper planning can help on the day, simply because everything was so easily done. Without having to make really any decisions on the day we saved stress. When it came time to make snap decisions I felt like I was able to navigate problems effectively by discussing them with my team and the band. If there was a snap decision to be made, I had no problem pulling the trigger because I took on board the advice of my piers and in tern had their support.
As soon as we arrived in the morning I made sure to always be excited and eager when talking with the band, hoping that they would reciprocate and keep a positive attitude towards the issues that we faced. This was fairly easy because I had already worked with the band but can definitely see how it would work if I didn't have prior contact with a client or artist. Communicating with my live room tech team was easy for similar reasons, most of us had worked together before and because of communications leading up to the session we were all on the same page. When it came to the rest of the team working on the session, I found it was best to not interfere and leave them to work things out amongst themselves, offering support only when requested.
During the planning stage, I felt that the communication amongst my team was appropriate. We all knew who was working on what and what our collective goals were, however, the communication between everyone involved with the project could have been improved. I felt like meetings were organised with little notice and when we were notified it was too late to attend. I also would have liked to have been more in the loop about changes that were being made to our mic lists by the team leaders. While they were just suggestions by the team leaders, we weren't aware of that when we discovered they had made changes, this made us feel a little undervalued but after discussing it with the rest of the team we were able to have our final say in the mic choices for the day.
Over all I am happy with what we have learned from this experience; even though the final product is not ideal, I now believe that my communication skills are more refined and the importance of planning is well understood.