Recording

I don’t want it to be ‘perfect’

October 07 2015

 P8220694

Recording is such a large topic that I’ll just share with  you my thoughts on the recording process itself and not include the nitty gritty about copyrights, licensing, manufacturing, design etc.

I love recording but that’s probably because my preferred way of doing it is as low pressure as possible. It all starts with my concept of what a recording is (for me) and that is a snapshot of a performance at that time. I’ve always felt that this is all it can be and it relieves me from the pressure of having to consider it a definitive version or my very best anything during the process. To that end, there are a few things I do or don’t do that might be a surprise to most who are either considering doing a recording or have already done several. I’ll outline them below in the appropriate sections.

 

Venue: I prefer to record in an actual hall (church or concert hall) rather than in a studio. I like to hear the sound of the hall on the recording as I feel it gives lots of character to and further ties in to my idea of a final product that sounds as though one is at a concert. Make sure to choose a space that complements your sound. Studio recordings give one more options in the editing portion and there are amazing tools an engineer could use to present you at your best. For me though, it all takes away from the overall sound of that concert experience. Be aware of the noise around the hall during different times of the day and choose a time to record that is the most quiet.

 

Preparation: This is of vital importance. Do your rehearsals in advance and rehearse as you would for a concert. Actual recording time is expensive and you will want to be as efficient as possible in using your time. Rehearsing sections during the recording process is not a good use of time.

 

Recording: The day arrives when you will do the deed and it goes without saying that you should be completely warmed up! Remember, treat it as a concert. Depending on the piece itself, you will want to be aware of sections where you can easily do a re-take. Remember that if you are recording over more than one day, you should try and do an entire piece or movement on the same day. This is because the sound in the space you are in could very well change from one day to the next. Sometimes microphones aren’t exactly as they were or something else has changed in the room and this will be glaring on the final product. Have a producer who’s ears you trust listening to every bit that you record and take their advice seriously.

I try and do as few takes as possible and find that after a maximum of three takes on something it begins to change and doesn’t sound like me any longer. Perhaps we just get more and more careful with each take who knows. But I do know that eventually I start to sound like a machine with too many takes. If you are well-prepared, one take should be enough and most of my final product is from one take, even if it wasn’t perfect.

Editing:  In this part of the process, as with the takes mentioned above, I try to do as little as possible. Glaring things will be edited out yes but little things such as a 08tone colour I wasn’t expecting or a slightly out of tune note or a tempo gone wrong etc. I will leave alone. Again, this is tying into the ‘concert experience’ sound I’m trying for.

Because I record in actual halls one sometimes has to deal with outside noise. It isn’t a pristine environment and there can be traffic or even a squeaky chair. Depending on the severity of those noises I might leave them in. ‘Concert experience’ remember! Besides which, to my ears, too much cutting and pasting leaves a foreign product and I don’t recognise any part of myself at the end.

Mastering:  Frankly I don’t have my recordings mastered. The product you hear on the CD is the actual recording feed that happened. I don’t like hearing levels equalised where softs become a little louder and louds become softer. It misses the subtleties I’m trying for.

What I hope with the final product is that someone could put on the CD and feel that they are actually in that room at that time with me as if it were a concert. I’m not as much concerned with ‘perfection’ as I am with identity and purpose. In other words, does it sound like me and does it get my message across.


I like hearing the creaking of a chair or the breaths I might take or sometimes the passing of traffic. In effect, making it as close to a live concert as possible. For some future recording, I’m toying with the idea of leaving on the final product what happens after I record a take.  So no, my recordings aren’t ‘perfect’ and I’m glad they’re not!