3. Preparing for the Session

A recording project generally follows a process similar to one described by Joe Gilder over at homestudiocorner.com:

  1. Pre-Production
  2. Recording
  3. Editing
  4. Mixing
  5. Mastering

As you can see in the first entry, this blog essentially follows that same process, with a focus on using GarageBand on the iPad to perform the activities in each step. Joe provides a great summary of the pre-production steps so I won’t repeat them here. Rather I’ll highlight some key points and provide some hints that may be helpful down the road.

The primary purpose of preparation is to reduce future work and minimize the impact of early choices on future flexibility. For example, if you don’t have a rough draft of a song when you start recording, then you might not know how long the intro is, where the verses and choruses go, how many they are, etc. As a result, you may spend a lot more time editing as you copy and paste items to create missing verses, or you have to go back and do new takes to get missing material. This can add a lot of work to the session that can be easily avoided with a little planning.

Here’s some simple ideas on preparation that you may find helpful that could significantly reduce the overall time and work required to get a finished recording project.

1. Sketch out the project contents

This is relatively simple, but does require some thought. Working with the other project members, determine the content of the project. This could be simply the list of songs that will be included. But you might also want to think about what story you are trying to tell, or what effect you want to have on listeners. This could impact the choice of songs as well as their order. If you’re going to produce a CD, you might also want to sketch the front and back cover, and have a rough outline of the CD liner notes. Similar ideas apply to Web distribution. This information can help set a context for the whole project, ensuring the parts fit together and reinforce each other in a consistent way to deliver the intended result.

You might find it helpful to use apps like Evernote and Skitch to capture song lists, notes, CD sketches, etc. This information can then easily be shared with anyone on the Web to enhance collaboration between team members and maintain documentation for the project.

2. Create a layout track for each song

We’ll cover the details of creating songs from templates and recording tracks in subsequent blog entries, so we won’t cover those details here. What you want to do is create a layout of the song that everyone can follow when recording the keeper tracks. This can a single mono track that has just acoustic guitar or keyboard and vocal. Or you can record the whole band using a stereo mic. The purpose is to establish the tempo, determine the intro, verses, choruses, outro and any other parts of the song arrangement, and provide something for other musicians to go by when they record their tracks. Be sure to record this guide track with a metronome, click track, and/or drum loop to provide a steady beat, and ensure that all subsequent recording is aligned with the measures in a track. This will make future editing and comping a lot easier.

3. Sharing the project

Once the guide tracks are recorded, you can export them to iTunes so all participants can listen and practice their parts in preparation for recording.  At this point you may discover that after listening to the song for a while, the tempo is wrong, or the arrangement needs to change. The sooner these changes are discovered and made, the less impact they have in the rest of the recording and production process.

Again, capturing notes in something like Evernote provides an easy means for others to make comments on each song that can be easily shared. This not only reduces future work, but can have a real positive impact on the end result.

4. Get everything ready for recording

Now that the song tempos and arrangements are completed, the guide tracks are done, and everyone is familiar with the songs, you’re ready to prepare for recording. This means getting your recording room organized, choosing the microphones to use, and making sure all the input devices are working. I include this in the preparation section because you may find some things don’t work as expected. You don’t want to be trying to figure out why you’re not getting any input from some device with a lot of people standing around waiting to record. So its better to try everything out ahead of time to make sure everything works and is ready to go.

The next blog entry will go into more detail on choices for IO devices and getting sound into the iPad.

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