Recording sessions can be as simple as an acoustic guitar and voice, or as complex as a drum kit going down to 14 tracks, along with bass, two guitars, keyborads, and a vocalist, all cutting live.
Our philosophy here is twofold: 1) Make the artist as comfortable as possible; 2) Capture the highest quality signal possible to tape. Sometimes these two goals conflict in which case goal #1 takes precedence. Usually, however, accomplishing goal #1 takes care of goal #2.
For example, some singers sing better without headphones. Their pitch is improved, they feel less "mic - shy," and there are a number of other possible reasons. So, even though there may be a bit of bleed from the backing track into the mic, it's well worth it to get the best possible performance. Many bands like to set up and play "live," just like at a gig or rehearsal. At a lot of studios, the recording engineer will ask just one musician to play with the drummer and everyone else to overdub because they just want to focus on the drum track, or don't have enough isolation booths.
We believe recording engineers shouldn't force artists to do things in ways in which they aren't comfortable. The studio should be a relaxed atmosphere where recording engineers don't dictate how things have to be done and the artist's vision is paramount. Whether it's solo harp, a twelve piece choir, or a band, we have a motto at Secret Sound: "The answer is always 'yes'!"
After the tracks have been recorded, but before they are mixed, some editing may be required. With our hard disk editing system, we can tackle just about anything. Late drum hit? We can move it. A bunch of late drum hits? No problem. Guitar player didn't hold the last chord long enough? We'll stretch it. Singer out of tune? We can correct it with Antares Auto Tune. Or, for that matter, an out of tune fretless bass or sax. Want to change the arrangement of the song and cut out a chorus? Or add time to the end for a fade out? Or just shave 10 seconds off the time without changing the pitch to meet that contest requirement? Yes, yes, and yes!
After everything's been recorded and edited, it's time to mix. This is a critical element in the chain that needs special care. Great equipment is no substitute for great ears and experience. Luckily, we have both. Reverbs from Lexicon, dynamics processors from t.c electronic, Aphex, and Universal Audio, but more importantly, hundreds of records and thousands of mixes under our belt. Probably one of the hallmarks of a record that sounds "local" or "amateurish" is a poor mix. Flabby bottom end, highs that are harsh or muddy, things jumping out of a mix or not coming through—these are all the end result of poor mixing skills.
We usually suggest bringing a reference CD or two of something you like in the same genre as your music. Then, we'll occasionally reference our mix against it for balance and overall sonics. Often, we'll run out to the car to listen there. Cars can be great for revealing problem areas in a mix. We can even beam our mix out on an FM transmitter and listen in the car radio!
With the Digital 8 Bus mixer, it has become common for the client to take home a mix, listen to it for a few days on a variety of systems, and then come back for a "tweak" session. With the board's total recall, we can bring the mix right back to where we left it, change a few things, and print a new one. It's a beautiful thing.
Mastering—the mysterious, oft misunderstood phase of a recording project—has been best described as the last step in the creative process and the first step in the replication process. For the uninitiated, here's a brief overview of what it is (and isn't):
First of all, though they are often confused with each other, mastering is not mixing. One of the goals of mastering is to take all of the final mixes and make sure that they are uniform in level (volume) and EQ (tone). In other words, when listening to a mastered CD, you shouldn't have to reach for the volume knob or be re-adjusting the tone controls on your stereo from track to track.
Another goal is compatibility. Not only should the CD be uniform in volume and tone from track to track, but sonically it should be similar to the majority of current, well produced discs that are out there. Although there are many differences in the sound of various CDs, there is a "window" of compatibility in terms of volume and tone within which you want your CD to fall. So your CD may be very consistent from track to track, but if the whole thing sounds substantially softer in volume or different in tone than the majority of other releases in your genre, the mastering job is not finished.
Mastering requires capable tools and sophisticated ears. It is often helpful to have a reference CD—something particularly well recorded that is in the same style of music as yours—and use it for comparison. At Secret Sound, we can master projects that were recorded elsewhere and we often master our own projects. For those that want a fresh set of ears, we can recommend some capable mastering houses.