Be Prepared – Recording Part V
As a producer, I’d have to say one of the main things that keeps me on the productive track, is having the recording rig plugged in and ready for when inspiration strikes. Early on in my days of making demos, it seemed like every time I decided to try and record something, I ended up spending an hour plugging in cables, running lines and practically setting up from scratch most of the tools that I needed to do the job. Some gear would work, some gear wouldn’t and by the time I had everything plugged in and working, I could barely remember what it was I wanted to record. The inspiration had past and my level of productivity was nowhere near what I knew it could be.
While thanks to computers, recording has become extremely portable today, it is still important that you have your tools ready for when inspiration strikes. Maybe you don’t have a dedicated area just for recording? Maybe your computer doubles as an office system or as your laptop that you carry everywhere? To give yourself a better chance of capturing those moments of musical inspiration, it is vital that you remove as many obstacles from your path as possible so that you can record these ideas when they come.
Patched and Wired
I suppose the biggest setback in accomplishing this “always plugged in / always ready” system is going to be the number of channels on the audio interface or the audio mixer that you own. For example, If you are a keyboard player that sings, I would hope you have an interface or a mixer that allows you to have all of your gear plugged in at the same time. That way you’re not recording your keys and then switching everything around to record a vocal track. Having all your tools plugged in and ready at a moment’s notice is what the studio environment is all about.
While most major studios will have a large patch bay for making these connections on the fly, in a home recording environment, unless you have a ton of gear, it should be possible to have most of your instruments plugged in and ready to go with a decent sized mixer or audio interface for your computer. If you don’t have enough input channels to go around, then patch bays are not that expensive and they will enable you to have all of your gear plugged in and ready to go on the fly. Proper patch bay setup is an art in and of itself and a testament to the effenciency of a well designed recording facility.
To speed things up in the software environment, create templates so that you are not reinventing the wheel every time you launch the application. For my templates in Cubase, when I create a new project from a template, I have a set of channels already named and created, the effects that I typically use on those channels already inserted and a set of group channels already created for summing multiple channels such as drums or synths all into one group. Most importantly I have a software connection setup for every physical instrument that is plugged into the interface.
If you don’t have all of this done and you are planning on working a big project; these little tasks add up to quite a lot of time wasted that could have been spent recording music. The software is a major part of your recording environment and with a bit of forethought you can have it setup and prepared just as much as the room you’re recording in. Your template should mimic your physical gear setup, so have it setup to match everything you have plugged into your rig. It takes allot less time to delete a track you’re not going to be using than it does to set one up from scratch.
To enable the immediate recording of guitars, amp modeling tools such as the Line 6 Pod are invaluable in speeding up the process. Software based modeling applications are becoming more and more popular as well, so in terms of getting a rocking guitar tone up in a matter of seconds, there shouldn’t be an issue if your guitar is in play ready condition. If you do use an amplifier, get a dedicated microphone to have in front of it, plug it into your interface and leave it there. Then at most, you’ll just be waiting on the amplifiers tubes to warm up while you arm the record button on the track.
For acoustic guitars, I keep a couple of microphones setup and ready in a stereo placement so that I can hit record and start laying down ideas with quality results at a moments notice.
Another element that I’ve found extremely valuable in terms of getting a song off of the ground is the professionally recorded drum loop. While my drummer has a growing distaste for these things, they truly do mean the difference at times between me being inspired to write a song, or not writing a song at all. There are a number of companies whose main function is recording and mixing a drummer in a major studio and then breaking up the performance into useable loops. These loops can then be manipulated by tempo and even by pitch to your preference. Most are royalty free situations and though they may not always make it to your master CD; they are certainly suitable enough for the writing process to keep you productive when your drummer is not available.
If by chance you are a drummer with the notion of recording yourself, then you above all should know the value of having your gear setup and ready to record on a moment’s notice. The time that it takes to prep, place microphones and be ready to record a drum kit is in the range of hours, so preparing ahead of time if possible can be a huge advantage. It’s a big demand of space and gear and a challenge to be sure to have a rig like this setup and ready but I’ve actually corresponded with a few drummers that have such a setup always ready to hit record.
For my personal studio, to at least marginally help with this obstacle; I actually purchased a small set of drums that I could have setup and ready to go before the drummer ever shows up with the rest of his gear to complete the kit (cymbals, snare, kick pedal etc). This can mean the difference between spending the afternoon setting up for a session or a full day of actually recording music.
All in all, this is just a few ideas for having your “rig ready”, so that when ideas come to mind you can easily bring them out of your head and into the world. Everyone’s situation and preferences will be a bit different but hopefully this blog will give you some ideas that you can apply to your own needs as a producer. Having the tools you need ready to work, will make you 1000% more productive and you’ll find the experience of recording your own music more enjoyable and more focused on the music and not the gear.
You’ll be spending less time untangling wires and finding plugs to power up with and more time bringing your music to life. More than likely, you may need to take a trip to your local music store for additional cables and accesories but the difference it makes in your productivity will be well worth the effort. Happy Recording! – John Orr Franklin