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If you are thinking about recording, we recommend you read this entire page... it has a ton of useful 
information that can help save you money & time.

The entire following text information on this page was written by David Banks 2008.

Part 1. Some thoughts about recording…

Every band need is unique. The following information is to try to give you an idea of how the recording process generally works. Of course, sitting down in person is the best way to understand what your needs are as a band, songwriter, or artist.

Typically, before we ever get into the discussion of rates we need to get a solid understanding of what your goals are. For example, is the recording one of the following:

  • Demo for getting gigs
  • Demo for just for your you and friends to hear
  • Is this for a CD to sell
  • A CD to send out for a potential publishing or a performance deal
  • Music to put on a website for general listening
  • Submittal for contest or to record company

Songwriters and acoustic bands often want to enhance their production with percussion, even adding drums, or take their acoustic performance full scale with other instruments. In some cases to attract potential new band members, other times to rework a song idea with a producer to create a production ‘masterpiece’.

Depending on the production arrangement with the artist, the producer may bring in other musicians to help polish the sound – adding other instruments, back-up vocalists, etc., to compliment the overall recording. We have done this many, many times to a level where the artist is amazed with the end product – often exceeding their expectations with such a high level CD / radio quality final master that compares in sound with anything you could buy in a store or hear on a radio.

The most basic demo…
When we hear ‘demo’ that can mean a wide range of sound from the recording production perspective. Some bands a ‘demo’ means they play the tracks live to capture that ‘live sound’ and do so in a couple of recording takes. Then the band sits back, listens and says, “yeah, take #2, we performed well as band, go with that”. In those cases, the band usually has a tighter budget and simply wants us to set up a mix on-the-fly with the mixing console, and spend maybe an hour or so to mix-down their song. This type of approach allows the final product to give the listener an idea that the band is tight, performs well, and has talent in the group. This type of approach, though, is rarely ever turns out a mass production ‘CD’ quality or radio-ready sound.

Track by track…
On the other hand, more often than not, bands want to spend time tracking each instrument. We do this by usually doing scratch music takes while we capture the drummer’s perfect performance. Keep in mind, there are some amazing things that can be done with editing, but in this step, we are generally looking for a steady drumming meter, clean fills, and a groove the rest of the band can perform well to. In some cases, we’ll get usable tracks for bass & rhythm guitar, keys, etc, along with the solid drum track – maybe only needing a minor overdub to fix a small mistake here or there.

From there, we focus the next steps of the recording on each instrument through vocals, one at a time. This ensures each musician / vocalist is focused solely on the part they are recording at that time without having to worry about nuances or pressure of screwing up their take for the rest of the band and having to start from the beginning again to get the groove of the song back.

Once all the instruments and vocals are recorded, and sometimes edited, we assemble the parts to create a final mix. Often this is done with Pro Tools, digitally. And, alternatively, we have the capability to mix a full-scale song with a 48 channel mixing console. Some mixes warrant the use of both digital mixing and analog outboard gear to make the process perfect for that song’s needs.

The final step…
The final step after the mix is done is mastering. We could write a ton of stuff about mastering, but instead we simply say, that most all songs being distributed to any sized audience need to be mastered. Mastering brings out the potential of the recording, emphasizes detail that sometimes gets lost in a mix, and improves the over sonic quality of the recording.

Keep in mind…
There are many ways to minimize wasting extra time in the studio. The best way is go into the recording process extremely well rehearsed.  Have a clear vision on the overall recording goal. Know when you have performed your part well. Have one, or two key members of the band be designated as the final decision makers when it comes to the ‘sound’. Often, too many cooks spoil the dinner when it comes to mixing. Allow engineers to do their job. What you hear during the recording process at any given moment is not necessarily a representation of what you will hear when your song is finished. Engineers have to keep track of a ton of things during recording. What they may be listening to at any given moment is something you can’t hear or are not used to looking for when listening. That is where the years and years of experience recording the engineer has behind the mixing board are really valuable. Sure, the recording process has a huge element of trust involved in it – that’s a good reason to make sure you can work with the people involved in recording your songs. And that is what makes meeting in person before the recording session so important. An at length, over the phone discussion before the recording can be very beneficial, too.

One of the worst things an artists/ bands do…
During the recording process, take a rough mix, play it for people, or listen to the rough mix over and over again. People are critics. Their expectations will be blown away a lot more if you wait to show them the final mix. Rough mixes are simply designed to provide a sample of the parts that were recorded for the band to review - never intended for the average listener. Too many times bands take rough mixes out only to either become frustrated with what they hear because levels are not final, nor is the sound ‘dialed in’ for that specific mix. Other times, musicians will want to redo their part over and over again. Recording is simply a snapshot in time. Most people can always do it better and better each and every time they try playing a part. The key is, to find the point where the drums, music, & vocal parts are well executed and ultimately blend and mixing that in a way that makes the overall recording sound great.

Artists and bands really benefit from knowing what they want to accomplish before the record button is every pressed in a studio.

Thinking about a 3 or 4 song demo?
Your budget will drive where to put your recording energy. Leave enough time for mixing. Are you really looking for an all-out "album" sound or simply a solid recording that lets people know you are a great band or artist?

Not sure on what to do?
We try to help narrow down your needs by showing you some examples of what we've done previously (usually this is done in person where you can hear some sound examples – here we describe the budget that was used to get the sound for the artist or band). Also, knowing a bit about your studio experience, playing abilities, and vision of how things would be mixed helps, too. We take all of this into consideration when estimating what your project might cost.

For example, some bands are very particular about a guitar sound or other instruments and want to be part of every step of the recording process (i.e. editing, staging the mix, the actual mix, mastering, and direct the tracking of everyone else’s parts) and others simply chose to rely on our experience as engineers and producers to help guide them to an overall sound that we would consider full and ready to be presented to the world. In many ways, recording can be a partnership in the sense that we at the studio want the best sounding product to go out the door, and so do you. If we let a crappy sounding stuff leave, then that's not good for us, and certainly does not help the band any.

On rare occasions artists & bands have ideas that they can achieve everything from set-up, recording, editing, mixing, vocals, harmonies for 3 or 4 songs in a 5 hour block of time for a {insert low dollar figure here} special that they heard about in some ad. Just so you know, we are not that kind of studio.

What we do is work with you, the band/artist. We learn what your expectations are and do our best to meet those. We can show you how to maximize your budget. We do project rates - which helps alleviate a lot of the stress and anxiety rushing through an hourly rate.  

Traditional options for recording a band…

1.)    T & M We do work on an hourly basis. We ask that you provide an estimate of how much time you think you will need, and then prior to session start, a deposit is paid. After a pre-determined set-up time the clock starts (minus a food break, rest room breaks for the engineer, etc.). Session is paid for that day before any CD product leaves the studio.

This type of situation is best for bands that are completely clear on how they will record, what order they want to record in, who will be the band member designated to make the final call on mix levels and performance takes, etc. The band gets whatever level mix they did during that time on a few CD's when the session ends. We use our media to record onto and, if the band wants the original tracks, they have to provide a formatted hard drive (or buy one from us) and are charged for the time it takes to transfer all session files. We can also put the session files on DVD's or data CD-Rs, but that usually doesn't make much sense when hard drives are so cheap these days.

2.)    Live tracking this is where bands track everyone at the same time, we isolate each instrument, sometimes cutting only a scratch vocal track (unless it's a mic'd acoustic guitar, then the guitar player who sings cuts a scratch part and scratch vocals) - then we go back and track the vocal and minimize the overdubs except for glaring mistakes in performance. Then, as best we can, we mix the sound to a 2-track master and call it a day. I've seen full bands with drums track 9 songs in 6 to 8 hours, however, the mixes that come from this are only for 'demo' or ‘concept’ and wouldn't be called a true studio mix (from my perspective). We do try to set a block rate for this type of session up front (again, so we're not clock watching every minute, but generally keeping a very steady pace through the session. We record and mix with an HD recorder, analogue console, and outboard compressors, gates, effects, etc.

3.)    Acoustic studio demo for a really solid sounding acoustic demo for a 2 or 3 piece w/ vocals (no drums), figure on the first song that each part usually takes "at least" the better part of one hour to record. The first song usually takes the longest, the following songs can take less, once the musicians are flowing in the recording process. Harmony vox and lesser played instruments can take less time, especially when the talent is solid and well rehearsed. Depending on the complexity of vocals, layers, etc, add in around 30 minutes plus per song for editing time. An hour total to stage the mix for 3 songs, then the actual mix time usually takes longest for the first song (plus, this all depends on how picky the final decision makers are). Then the other song mixes go pretty smoothly from there. Finally, mastering at this level is relatively inexpensive, and transfers and burning take a short time.

Overall, it is not uncommon for an acoustic demo to run anywhere from 6 to 10 hours for a 3-song acoustic demo that will sound great. Keep in mind, we are figuring time based on the fact that there would not be excessive re-takes, tons of layered overdubs, and a traditional mixing approach to the song.  We may use Pro Tools, or depending on when we talk, also use a dedicated HD recorder to track and the mixing console with our extensive outboard gear to mix the project.

4.)    Band studio demo – similar to above, but we focus on tracking drums first - usually to a click track. Depending on the band, budget, and style, we may do some editing to ensure kicks and snares are on the beats (or ‘grid’) – basically aligned well. Depending on budget, we may get everything set to mix in Pro Tools, or alternatively, via the mixing console. Size of project, band needs, and so on, all influence the course of the recording process. A lot of times, we may spread sessions out over a couple/few of days to accommodate the schedules of everyone.

5.)    Single or Album –  we do produce for artists and bands where they get a radio quality sound ready to go head-to-head with anything that you'd buy in a store - projects like this can range from low to high, depending on the level of our involvement and collaboration. We also consider and do projects on this scale sound for less up front fees and tie in back-end points. That type of situation is established through meetings in person and a production agreement.

Have tracks already that you want to mix?
Call us and bring them in. We can work from a lot of different formats.

Want to record tracks and mix in your home studio?
Record your drum tracks with us. We have a great live room, lots of guitars, amps, outboard gear, mics, keyboards, and more. Track your vocals with really high-end mic pres and fantastic mics. We’ll show you how to make your recording project go smoothly and provide tips to best use your existing set-up.

Most recording needs are unique…

Give us a call and we can discuss your needs.  

www.EnergyCommand.com  

      PART 2 - More Information about recording & costs...          

The entire text information on this page was written by David Banks 2008.

Often times we get inquiries about recording - where artists or bands want a quote on how much it's going to cost to record. Here's some information we provided to a recent band that is recording at the studio - they appreciated our candid outline of the process, and up front communication - it made the process go much smoother, and the product turned out great...

Scenario - band has a modest budget, wants to do cover songs, and do a couple originals.


Maintain focus…  

The focus we recommend for bands wanting to combine cover songs and originals into one tracking session is to track the 5 or 6 cover songs musically (meaning guitars/bass/drums/scratch vocals). Then, get the drum tracks down on the other two songs - don't worry about the actual final music for the originals on this tracking day - we'll use the guitar and bass parts as scratch tracks (placeholders until we track the real guitars) - this will give us an opportunity to clean-up any drum parts (or as indicated in Part 1 above, grid the drums). If you get a good take on a guitar or bass while tracking the drums for the original songs, that's a bonus, but I do not advise deterring from the focus of the cover demo by working on creative songs musical performances during the same tracking period as doing cover songs. By the time we get through vocals and have mixed the cover songs, the ears may start to fatigue, so I would not push to also track 2 originals musically and have dreams of walking out with mixes of the originals and the several cover tracks - mix the cover songs that day only. I would plan to come back for a 2nd day for tracking the music/vocals on the originals, and mixing would be that after with a fresh set of ears (ideally not the same time as tracking). 

Note: Of course, we are more than happy to accommodate if you wish to record and mix as long as you like that day - just understand that you may reach a threshold of productivity for the initial engineering ears ( sometimes bands have to push for the marathons as it may be difficult to get everyone together for a recording session) if that is an approach you want like to take, we can split the engineering duties to get as much accomplished in one day - just give us a heads-up before you schedule the session.

Tracking Process…


For Drums
-
2 kick mics (we sometimes use 1, but 2 gets a very controllable kick sound for drummers we are not familiar with)
- 2 snare mics (top & bottom)
- 1 mic for each tom. Sometimes for ride & hi-hat. We always use a stereo or matched pair of overheads, and a room mic, sometimes multiple strategically placed room mics, depending on the project.
- The lead vocalist will do a scratch track while we track the drums, guitars, bass, keyboards, etc.

We find that sizeable chunks of time can get eaten up by a band that does not plan their set-up. This tends to make people antsy and contributes to clock watching. If you can give us an idea what the instrument players (guitarists, percussionists, etc) had in mind for sound that will help us help you be best prepared for your session (for example, what instruments they will be using, amps they want to play through, if they use pedal boards, have a special cabinet they want to record, change guitars between songs, one player has multiple parts, number of keyboards, horns, percussion, etc). 

We have a proven method that we work with when setting-up for tracking a 'live' playing band. The guitars & bass may play & listen in the control room, drummer in live room, vocalist isolated, keyboards in the back room - everyone has visibility through the great design of our rooms. We sometimes put 1 guitar amp/cab in the vocal booth, the 2nd guitar may want to track later or go direct (preferred) - sometimes amp in a hallway that is away from the other instruments and live room - should your guitarist want to go direct using our Mesa Boogie Recording Pre, we have had some fantastic results. Occasionally, when requested, we may use a POD, amp simulator which can save some hurdles & time and still get a very good sound. Electric bass goes direct through one of the bass pre-amps we have - we always get a good sound there. We advise (heavily) against any bass player that wants to mic their cabinets on lower budget projects and have rarely found justification to record a bass cabinet for rock music - we just get great results using the bass pres and some recording & mixing tricks that have been very successful for us. The vocalist will usually perform the scratch track from the control room or close-by (sometimes using headphones, but not usually). Then, after all the music tracks are laid down for all songs, the lead singer gets to go in the vocal room to replace the scratch track while we focus on vocals only. Any harmonies get recorded after the lead vocal is tracked. We find the best results evolve from individual tracking - it is rare that the performance results from tracking multiple harmonies at one time turn out as well as people think they will - hence, track-at-a-time for vocals = overall better sound quality. Then we move to the next vocal song.

We highly advise that you do not bring friends or non-band members to attend tracking sessions. We can tell you from experience that it more often hinders the recording process. While some people find it is nice to have an audience to get them in the groove, all too often, having a girlfriend, significant other, buddy, boyfriend, sibling around only creates an atmosphere that winds up taking too much of your valuable time and energy away from recording.

We also urge artists and band members to avoid text-ing throughout the session. Not only for the interruptions that they cause, but for noise purposes. Believe it or not, cell phones even in silent mode can still affect
the sensitive studio gear. 

Deposits for sessions

Our standard practice is that a deposit is applied prior to the session date (via a check or cash and a deposit receipt is issued at that time) - or - on the day of the session, before tracking starts the deposit is paid in cash. We typically set deposits to between 20% to 50% of project estimate, depending on size, or deposit installments when doing multiple tracking sessions on larger scale projects. We do not accept checks the same day as sessions without prior history of recording at the studio. We also have a credit card option available - please call us for more information if that interests you. 

Media
Recording these days is primarily via some form of hard disk recorder. (Although we still have some tape options available.) Artists/bands should plan to have their own hard drive (external USB/Firewire or internal IDE) available for taking their tracks with them at the sessions. While we can make arrangements to hold your session files during the recording process for your project(s), we can not be responsible for long-term housing of your content on any media format. We have drives in stock at the studio (sizes are large enough to fit all aspects of nearly any project on them - from tracking, mixing, mastering, and finals) - hard disks can run between $75 and $150 depending on size - also check the local electronics superstores for deals on drives - you want at least 40 GB of space or more. Flash drives will not be large enough to hold your band's project. We do not back-up to iPods or similar devices.

You can of course, elect to rely on the audio final CD as your only back-up, but that is the artist/band's choice. The session content will consume more space than a data CD-R can hold and in most cases more than a data DVD or two. We charge normal studio rates for time taken for creating back-ups to Media such as DVD, CD-R, ADATs, Tape, real time CD's, network laptops, etc, as well transfer time to ftp sites. We provide back-up to hard disk as an included courtesy for most normal sized projects. That process usually is something we do in off-hours or while performing other aspects of your session (like breakdown, wrap-up, duplication, etc.). It is to the artist/band's advantage to come prepared with a hard disk or plan to purchase one at the time of the session. We can not be responsible for tracks left behind at session end.

We usually provide 3 copies of the final product to the band. 1 as an archival safe-keeping master, and 2 for playing, personal duplication. Additional one-off CD's can be purchased as needed. We keep a back-up of the final audio CD at the studio for at least 60 days. We can provide red-book audio CDs when requested. We also have capacity for larger duplication runs with full color screen printing on CD's and DVD's.

Rescheduling  

We are certainly aware that things come up with the coordination of a recording project. Getting multiple band members on the same page, scheduling various instrumentalists or finding the right voice talents can sometimes present some unforeseen circumstances - what we ask for is communication. Confirmation the day prior to the session via telephone. Should something arise the day of a session, if for an a.m. session a call by sunrise, if a pm or evening session, a call by Noon to let us know that an emergency reschedule is required. We work with you when things come-up, but do not expect this flexibility to be abused. With a reasonable advance call (at least 5 days prior), we'll simply apply the deposit as normal to the rescheduled session. No call/no show means forfeit of deposit. Multiple short notice reschedules can also mean depletion of session deposits. 

About Providing Estimates for Original Song Projects…  

Given the nature of the creative process, we find any attempts to provide exact quotes about songs and bands we have never heard to only be an exercise in budget forecasting and usually provides just a guide... 

Drums: Through our years of experiences - it usually takes about 2 to 3 hours to track drums on 2 songs. Experienced/Session drummers can pump out 2 to 3 songs in 1 to 1.5 hours, but that is exceptionally rare.
 
Bass: We have seen bass parts take 20 or 30 minutes on one song, and we've spent 3 or 4 hours with bassists on one song. For Bass, much depends on how well the musician is rehearsed - and - for many first-timers in the studio, we find a lot of bassists become enlightened as they "discover" the kick drum. We've even sent bass players back home to practice their parts with rough drum mixes so they can save time tracking in the studio - our interest is to capture solid performances, not watch your recording time fly by without results - plus, most bands don't have the patience to use studio time to help people learn their parts. 

Guitars: Guitar parts are split into clean, dirty, lead, and acoustic tracks - and - when we track a guitar those parts are not blended into one track in real-time (as in the guitarist hits the foot pedal on various parts or switches sounds on the fly). To get the best and cleanest recording results, we usually treat each sonic part as an individual track. Single guitar players can run from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours on average per song. Multiple guitarists, bump that 40 minutes to 1.5+ for rhythms, and 20 minutes to an hour (or more) for a solo. 

Vocals: Vocalists - again, depending on skill level can do lead vocals in 3 to 4 takes, plus reviewing and editing time - that makes for at least an hour per song. Harmonies - depending on complexity, skill, and tuning of singers, 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours per song is about average - sometimes less, and, with singers that need tuning help, sometimes more.

Mixing: Can sometimes take an hour, usually longer. For Pro Tools mixes, don't forget that set-up & import of the tracks & transfer time is part of the overall process. In very rare cases basic cover songs can mixed in less time, but that takes a lot of pre-work or using a template based approach which is rarely a  case when mixing creative original songs. In other cases, with heavy editing/alignment of drum parts, alignment of musical parts, noise clean-up, etc, can take 2 to 3 hours per song, sometimes longer with really complicated projects. 

Mastering a CD: can be handled many ways - we've done top notch mastering and, we've done our share of hillbilly mastering. Hillbilly mastering often works well for low budget cover demos or rough mix masters - we use a best practices approach which exceeds most artists/bands expectations for sound quality and budget. On more elaborate projects, we'll help coordinate  your project with a mastering facility. Keep in mind, there are various ranges of mastering as well as price ranges for mastering. Typically, mastering places can charge $45 per song to as high as $300 or more per song at really high-level places (which is rare, but is the top of the heap when it comes to mastering). While we've mastered tons of projects, there always is that extra step that some people can take - we can provide sensible guidance through this process as you need it.

Budget for recording a single song with solid production level: We suggest budgeting between $400 to $700 per song as a good guide for an average multi-song project for original songs. We've seen songs require less, and we have proven radio play results in major markets from artists/bands that have spent more. For projects that require complex production, extreme editing, or arrangement help, please call us and we'll help you figure out a way to maximize your budget.

We recently tracked an experienced drummer/band (30+ years of playing for most members) for 10 cover songs over a 9 hour period. This provided good music & drum tracks. Not mixing. Scratch vocals only. 

This should give you an idea on what to expect in the studio. Your needs may be different. Call us and we can discuss your project. We make every attempt to provide project efficiencies and will give recommendations where appropriate. We work to help you keep the creative process alive and keep your budget sensible. As we get into tracking original songs we discuss your expectations figure out the best way to achieve that, or match your budget with the best solution for your needs. 

About email...
Please, do not hesitate to give us a call if you have an short-term need... while email is a great way to get preliminary information, please do not just ask "how much will it cost to record our CD" - your needs may not be exactly like everyone else's. We find that a good old fashioned phone call can get things moving along for you...

The entire text information on this page was written by David Banks 2008.

Energy Command Studios    

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