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Recording Tips: How to Record Vocals

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Unless you play instrumental music, the vocal track is the most important part of your demo. It’s the part of the music that most fans and listeners connect with the most, and that makes your vocal tracks the heart and soul of your recording. But recording vocals can be a tricky thing. How do you capture the spirit of a great vocal take without losing any of the raw energy of the performance? Here are a few recording tips for vocalists.

Finding a Place to Record

Where will your vocal recording take place? The opportunities are endless, really… Besides professional recording studios, vocals can be easily recorded at home with the proper setup. If you don’t have a home recording setup (or know someone who does), you might want to take a look at our guide to finding the right vocal recording studio to help you find the right location. If you do decide to head to a recording studio, you can skip the next section on recording software and hardware.

Recording Software & Hardware

When you take recording matters into your own hands, it is imperative that you choose the right recording gear for the job. The sheer number of options available may seem intimidating at first, but here are a few tips.

You’ll need a digital audio workstation (DAW) to start. Some of the most common DAWs include Protools, Cubase and Logic. If you don’t want to invest in expensive software, many companies offer scaled down, cheaper versions of their titles. There are also free options available as well, though if you’re planning on getting serious about recording you’ll probably want to spend a few dollars on decent recording software.

You’re also going to need an audio interface of some sort. This is the hardware that you will be plugging your microphone into (which then plugs into your computer, usually via USB or Firewire). Again, there are tons of options out there for interfaces, but there are plenty of basic affordable products such as the Mbox. Just be aware that the more expensive interfaces often boast better sound quality when recording. Music recording gear tends to be pretty straightforward with pricing; more expensive will get you better recordings and more options, while less expensive tends to deliver lower quality and fewer choices.

Choosing the Right Microphone

More than anything else, the microphone is probably the most crucial piece of recording gear you can buy when it comes to recording vocals. The best DAW in the world won’t make a difference if you’re singing into a $15 Radio Shack microphone. There are several different types of microphones, the most common being dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics like the Shure SM-57 are typically more affordable, but tend to be better suited for live performance than for recording. Condenser mics can be pricier, but they’ll give you a much crisper, more nuanced vocal track. That’s why most engineers prefer to use higher end microphones for recording.
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Choosing the Right Instrumentation For Your Song

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

We love giving musicians a lot of options for their songs, but not every option can be right for every song. You should always carefully consider the instrumentation you choose. Not only will the right instruments make your track sound appropriate for its genre, they will also allow you to showcase the parts that are most important to your song. Here are a few choices you may come across when picking the right instrumentation.

Real drum track vs. programmed drums

The first decision to make is whether you would like a live drummer playing a real drum set or would rather have a programmed drum part. Usually if your song is rock, country, and certain kinds of pop, you’ll want the sound of one of our Los Angeles session drummers to give your song that full band, live sound. But if you do R&B, hip hop, electronic or top 40 pop music, you’re most likely going to want the sound of programmed drums.

Real vs. synth bass

A great bass line is a key part of a great song. That bass line can be played by a studio bassist, or we can program a synth bass line. Once again, it all depends on what vibe you’re going for with your music.

Guitars

There are many types of guitars that make all kinds of sounds: solid body guitars, hollow bodies, acoustics, electrics, etc. There are tons of different guitar sounds even out of the same guitar, too: different pickups, distortion, clean, reverbs, delays, and various effects.  Different guitar sounds fit with different styles: acoustic goes great with folk and singer/songwriter music, hollow body electric is perfect for jazz, etc.

Guitars also sound good when they’re layered, and rhythm guitar parts are often doubled in songs you hear on the radio. But don’t go overboard laying guitars; more than 3-5 and your song starts sounding muddy and undefined.

Keyboards and synths

Keyboards are similar to guitars: lots of options, but add too many and the listener won’t know what they’re supposed to be listening to. With keyboard tracks, you can have piano, organ, electric keyboards (like a Rhodes or Wurlitzer), and synth instruments (including string sections). If the rest of your song sounds very acoustic or live, you probably want to stick with one of the basics like piano or organ. If you’re producing a dance track, you’ll probably want to have a lot of cool synths and sounds that aren’t quite as “natural” as your standard keyboards.

Vocalists

Vocals are instruments, too. Even if you don’t use one of our vocalists for your lead part, they can add a new dimension to your music with harmonies or other background vocals. You’d be amazed what a few tracks of “oohs” can do for your song!

Horns

Studio Pros also offers horn sections.  Horn sections are essential for certain styles like swing and Latin music, but you might be surprised how many songs in other styles use horns, too.  A horn section can add a very unique element to your song, and they often bring the energy level up considerably when added to a recording.

Don’t forget that you can always mix it up—there’s no rule saying rock music has to have a live bass track or that rap can’t have a real drum set. We love to hear artists experiment and push the boundaries of their style. Just remember to always pick and choose your instruments wisely…  You want to make sure your listener gets the experience that you’re hoping for.

Featured Artist: Rich Marcello

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

A seasoned songwriter and poet, Rich Marcello teamed up with Studio Pros to give his productions the professional edge he needed, and keeps on coming back for more.

Boston based songwriter Rich Marcello is no novice when it comes to getting out the ink and jotting it down.  With over 30 songs professionally produced with Studio Pros, he’s gotten the continual experience of producing his tracks online, and is regularly bringing Studio Pros more material to produce.  “I’ve been writing for around 20 years,” says Marcello.  “At first I did a lot of the production myself but several years ago I decided to get them professionally produced, which was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Marcello came across Studio Pros (which was at the time DrumsForYou.com) through an online search and decided to give it a try.  Starting with just a drum track, he heard the quality of Studio Pros’ production team and decided to try it out for a full production.  “By letting other really talented musicians work on my material it really took my work to a much better place. I knew I found a great partner in music and I’ve felt that on every song Studio Pros has done for me.  I think Studio Pros is the best in the business–I won’t ever use anyone else,” Marcello stated.

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Featured Artist: David Llorente

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

David Llorente used Studio Pros for his first professional project and was blown away not only by the musicianship, but by how much they cared.

“It was probably one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had as a musician.”

That’s how David Llorente feels about his time working with Studio Pros. “Just going through all the processes, seeing what people have to do to get a professional track cut. I didn’t know how long it took. I didn’t know everything that was involved from start to finish. And now, having gone through it with Studio Pros, I’m never gonna forget it. It was awesome.”

Llorente, a Nashville-area singer/songwriter, was hunting down recording options online when he discovered Studio Pros. “I really wanted to get this project out, it was real heavy on my heart,” he remembers. “I read about Studio Pros and thought, ‘that’s a good idea.’” Though intrigued by the idea, Llorente still needed convincing that Studio Pros was the best choice for his music. All it took to persuade him was a little research and a phone call to head of production Kati O’Toole.

“The credentials behind the staff are amazing,” he explains. “I actually went and checked out Katie’s albums that she had done. She’s not just a producer, but she’s a musician and songwriter.” Knowing that his songs were in the hands of fellow musicians put Llorente at ease. “I could hear that she’s passionate about what she’s doing. It was cool to have some people that really cared.”

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Press Kit: What You Should Include

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Even if you’re relatively new to the musician world, you’ve probably heard the term “press kit” thrown around quite a few times by now. A press kit is a package of materials that you might send to record labels, media outlets, venues, etc. that contains all of the pertinent information about your band. But what does that mean exactly? What is and isn’t relevant information?

You’ll want your press kit to follow some basic standards if industry people are going to look at it. Here are a few tips and essentials on putting together the ultimate press kit.

Band Photo

The first thing in your press kit should be a hi-resolution photo of the band (or yourself if you’re a solo artist.) This can be black and white or full color. There aren’t a whole lot of rules when it comes to taking a great band photo (although you might want to stay away from some common clichés such as railroad tracks and brick walls).  But you should definitely make sure of at least two things: everyone’s face should be easily seen in the picture, and the band’s “image” should be on display. If you play dark metal music, it might not suit your image to be wearing bright colors and lying in a field of flowers. If you’re an upbeat pop band, it might not fit to be wearing all black and looking dreary. Let your band’s character shine through!

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Finding Musicians For Your Band

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

One of the great things about Studio Pros is that we hook you up with world-class Los Angeles session musicians to play on your songs. This can be a great resource, particularly for artists who don’t already know too many studio-ready musicians. But when it comes to playing live, you might decide that you want some fellow players to help fill out your sound–especially after you hear the lush new arrangements and full-production treatment that your songs received from us!  Although we can’t rent out our session players to play your live gig, we can at least give you a few pointers on finding some great musicians to join forces with.

Craigslist

Craigslist is a common place to find musicians, with many freelancers looking for gigs through the site. You can post a classified ad in the “Gigs” section or in the “Musicians” section (under “Community”). When doing this, be sure to specify exactly what you want–instruments played, the style of music, pay (if any), show length, duration (if you’re looking for a long-term commitment or just someone to play for a show or two), etc. It’s a good idea to specify that the musician must have their own gear and reliable transportation (and that they should show up on time). Also, provide a link to music samples so any prospective players know specifically what kind of music they’ll be playing. In return, ask anyone interested to send you samples of their playing.

Music Stores

This may be considered the “old fashioned” method at this point, but it’s still worthwhile to print out physical flyers and post them on bulletins boards in local music stores and schools. One of the best ways to find musicians is to go where they congregate!  Anywhere that sells music gear or teaches music lessons is a good choice. Include all of the information mentioned above for the Craigslist ad, and make sure your contact info is clear.

Musician Classifieds Websites

There are websites other than Craigslist that offer services to hook fellow musicians up with each other.  Sites such as Bandmix.com offer alternatives that focus specifically on musicians, without any of the extra clutter that comes with Craigslist.

Word of Mouth

Sometimes all it takes to find someone is asking around! If you’re a musician, chances are you have several musician friends. Ask them, and ask other friends and family members if they know anyone who might want to play in your band. You might be surprised with the number of people you find!

A Note on Safety

Any time you’re dealing with communicating with people you’ve never met, you should always be cautious for your own safety. Never reveal any personal information in posts on the Internet. Always meet new people for the first time in a public place away from your home. And it’s always good to have other people that you trust around as well. Inviting a guitarist to meet you and your drummer at a rehearsal space is fine… Asking a prospective bass player to meet you alone at your house is not. Always use common sense!

There are thousands of musicians out there just dying to play with a great band.  The key is getting out there and finding where they are!

Still in the recording stages of your musical project?  Have Studio Pros’ top-notch professional studio musicians take your songs to the next level!

Featured Artist: Robert Norris

Monday, May 17th, 2010

With a little Studio Pros magic, Robert Norris is making music fun again.

Robert Norris had all but given up on music by his early thirties.  ”Music just wasn’t fun anymore,” he remembers. “I basically ran out of steam and decided to get on with my life.”

Norris had been a musician since he was a kid, when he took drum lessons and started his first garage band in junior high. As time went on, he began learning music theory, became a lead singer, and even got to sample the rock star lifestyle in the beach town of Marshfield, Massachusetts. “The summer we graduated, 1975, the drinking age was 18,” he says. “We were playing in bars that we were barely old enough to be in. Lots of fun, great experience, and a taste of the life.”

After a brief stint at UMass Amherst as a vocal music education major, Norris sang in several bands around the Boston area and began writing original music. After a band breakup, he took to the studio to record a cassette tape of original songs called Nobody’s Dream Come True. But despite getting some local airplay and seeing some interest in his songs, Norris felt like he had hit a wall; music was set aside and life went on.

But as most musicians can attest to, the music bug doesn’t easily go away; years later, Norris wanted to start singing again. But having been removed from the scene and all his old musician contacts for so long, he needed to hire session players for his recordings. “I contacted a studio locally,” he says. “Having no other viable options, I scheduled a four-hour session to start my first song. He charged me from the minute I walked in till the minute I left with no allowance for the three breaks the musicians took. And to make matters worse, I didn’t really like what we had recorded.”

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Featured Artist: Roger Miller

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Roger Miller, like many musicians, is a bit of a perfectionist. Luckily, Studio Pros is full of perfectionists as well.

At the beginning of summer 2009, Roger Miller acquired the funding he needed to record a full-length album of his Christian alternative acoustic music. In order to get a professional sounding product, Miller decided he would head to Nashville, TN, rent out a recording studio, hire session musicians, and put together an album that could hold its own against any major label production. But during his online search for recording studios, he came across a more convenient option that caught his attention: Studio Pros.

Unsure of whether or not Studio Pros could really deliver the top quality product he was looking for, Miller sent in just one song to test the waters. The final product convinced him to continue on with his entire album. “The final album and the songs, they exceeded my expectations quality-wise,” Miller says.

Miller sang, played guitar and even some cello on his songs, but one of his favorite parts of the process was working with the professional studio musicians that Studio Pros provided. Through this recording process, Miller had access to some of the best musicians in LA playing on his songs, while still involving him in the production of his album. “Going into it, I had pretty high standards,” Miller says. But he was impressed with the caliber of playing he received. “The drum tracks were incredible. They were a lot better than I thought they were going to be. The backing vocals were stellar.” Miller used a strategy that combined using his own very specific musical ideas in conjunction with letting the musicians improvise and do their own thing when the songs called for it.

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