"Just the FAQ Ma'am"

Here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) scroll down for the questions…

  • What is the role of the Producer in a recording project?

  • How much money does it take to record a song?

  • What is "Mixing" and "Mastering" and how are they different?

  • What is "Arranging" and how is it different from "Orchestration"?

What is the role of "The Producer" in a Recording Project

The Producer is "The Boss" when it comes to a recording project. It's his job to just listen as the musicians perform and evaluate those performances to decide whether that particular performance is to be kept or replayed. This applies to full band rhythm section takes or an individual take like a solo or vocal performance.

Production styles can and do vary greatly depending on the personality of the producer and the people who he's working with. One one end of the spectrum is the Phil Spector style of production in which every aspect of every part is under iron-clad control of the producer.

On the other side of the coin the Producer might be assigned to an essentially self-contained act and will perform his duties mainly in a supervisory, advisory way. He might participate in rehearsals to polish performances, help focus the band's concepts and pick the material to go on the project but basically let the band do their thing if they have the experience to do so.

The common reality of this situation is the Producer that falls somewhere in-between. Projects that have a quality producer on the session will realize many benefits. You've heard the saying about lawyers, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client"? Well this could be also true for recording, "He who records without a Producer they can trust are destined to put out a substandard recording", or at least one that cost more than it should have.

Artists who produce themselves typically fall prey to a few basic inefficiencies. One is that if you're playing, you can't really be listening to everybody else so you have to take extra time to evaluate the performances.

Secondly, as artists they can get really attached to ideas and concepts that viewed with a certain perspective from a distance are actually not all that important in the long run. I have seen bands invest huge amounts of time and energy in things that are actually not important to anybody but themselves; meaning their project will end up costing them money instead of making them some that they can use to pay for the next project!

A third way artists shoot themselves in the foot is by not having a larger view of their project as it exists within the recording industry as a whole. They can choose a bizarrely incompatible batch of tunes to record, or record tunes with arrangements that are loose, rambling, and incoherent. A Producer with skill can notice these things and create a much tighter, polished final product.

How much money does it take to record a song?

I hear this question all the time from people inquiring about studio time on the phone.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. A song can consist of anything from just a guitar and voice; to full rhythm section, horns, strings, lead and background vocals, keyboards and Latin percussion! Obviously the second song will take much more time to record than the first, and therefore will be more expensive.

However, over the years we have managed to come up with a few guidelines as to what to expect. Of course, these estimates can vary greatly depending on the quality level that you are trying for. Obviously "album release quality" is going to take longer than the "keep all first or second takes and move on" approach which would be more appropriate for song demo work. More than any other things these two factors will determine expense: how clear a vision do you have of what the final song should sound like and how thorough is your preparation, that is, how well rehearsed are you?

If you are recording as a band, expect the basic tracks to take from 1/2 hour to 1 hour per song. Each overdub will take about 1/2 hour, and mixing will take from one to four hours per song although really complicated mixes for national release can take much longer depending on how many decisions you have left to be decided on mix day such as how to best assemble the composite lead vocal from several takes or choosing among several guitar solos. I try and do a lot of these kinds of things as we go along but sometimes you realize there's a ton of organizational kind of work before you can get down to the nitty-gritty of mixing

If you need a more accurate estimate or have a large project to budget for, I can meet with you, review the scope of your project, and give you a pretty good estimate as to how much your project will cost as long as we can keep to the schedule.

What is the difference between "Mixing" and "Mastering"?

Mixing is the balancing and sound design of each individual track in a song, where Mastering is the act of examing each already mixed tune on a project and optimizing them as a group for overall loudness, bass, midrange, and treble balance, and putting them in the proper order with the correct amount of space between the tracks on the CD. Mixing is always done in the multi-track environment; mastering is always done with stereo files of whole songs.

What is arranging and what is orchestration, and how are they different?

Arranging is the songwriting term used to determine the various sections of the song (verse, chorus, bridge etc.) and how they unfold or arrange as the song progresses. For instance it could be intro | verse | chorus | verse 2 to start or perhaps start with a double verse 1 & 2 back to back and then the first chorus would better establish the narrative of the song. Making these kinds of decisions is making the arrangement for the song. You will also deal with where solos go and how long they are, when does the bridge happen, will there be a modulation etc.

Orchestration is the act of deciding which instruments will play which exact notes or chords. Perhaps the guitar part you are used to playing live is actually 3 different guitar parts all mashed together and during recording you could 'orchestrate' that part into 3 different parts with guitar tones optimized for each part. Any horns or instruments that play specific melodic parts will need to be orchestrated; like deciding in what musical range will that violin double the melody?