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How to make a CD - Part 2
The recording day...

In our previous article on “How to make a CD”, Trevor Caffull, Marketing Director at SP&S discussed all the things you need to do, prior to the big day, from picking repertoire and researching your potential market to ensuring you know what the exact costs of making a recording are going to be.

In this second article he discusses all the things you will have to take into consideration on the day itself – and it’s not as straight forward as you may think.

Trevor pin points it exactly, “After all the hard work you and your band have put into the pre production of your CD, the last thing you want to happen is for things to go wrong on the day of the recording itself. To remedy this, always ensure that you follow one “Golden Rule”, and take a leaf from the Boy Scouts – “Be Prepared!” – in fact, be “Doubly Prepared” because knowing your luck, something, somewhere may well go wrong and you may need a possible alternative”.

The Venue

Given that you will want your band to sound as good as possible for posterity, you must therefore invest some time (and possibly a bit of extra money, although often a nice old church with a good acoustic can be hired for the promise of 100 quid to the new roof fund - and of course, you can offer a bit of free help in the demolition process!! ) in getting a venue that is fit for the job. Get a poor venue and it will make your band sound poor, so make sure that the venue for the recording is up to scratch. There are basically two things to bear in mind – the bands requirements and the producers requirements.

The most important aspect is that the venue offers excellent acoustics, so church and school halls, large buildings run by County Councils or large companies are usually very good. Not so good will be to choose your bandroom (unless it is a church hall of course!), modern community centres or places that offer a “dead acoustic”. Modern buildings tend to have lots of acoustic tiles to dampen the sound of chattering people, which is great if you are working there, but not so great if you are trying to do a brass band recording.

If your band doesn’t know of a venue that has been used successfully before, take time to visit a few places with possibly a small ensemble and “road test” the hall to hear what it sounds like. A good “reverb” can make your band sound like Black Dyke, but it will spoil things if it makes your band sound as if you are playing in an aircraft hanger! About one and a half seconds of reverb is fine (actually 1.6 is perfect, but it's hard to be that precise!) and will give an ideal recording ambience.

You must also bear in mind the things you may not have any control over when it comes to booking your hall. Check with your Council to ensure they won’t be digging up the roads outside (this tends to be done on weekends, so it’s worth checking) and also that the building isn’t too close to a busy railway line, motorway or heavy metal club! If you are in a very large multi purpose hall, try to ensure that you have exclusive rights on it for the period of the recording. The pitfalls are obvious – you may be playing superbly only for it all to be spoilt by the 2.30 from Paddington to screech past, the Water Board to start with pneumatic drills, or the local heavy metal band to start playing their way through a bit of Motorhead!

Finally, check to ensure the venue is ideal for the producers of the CD itself, so accessibility is important. Ideally the producers would like to be in a separate room, not in sight of the band so they can go about their business without distracting the band and extraneous noises are kept to a minimum. There will usually be a producer, sound engineer and maybe a tape operator, so they must be well looked after and kept happy, warm and well fed! The building should ideally be on one level, so that the humping and carrying of heavy recording equipment is kept manageable and won’t cause any helpful players (and there are a few) to have a hernia if they have to carry three timps and a set of tubular bells up three flights of stairs.

Pre recording preparation

It may sound obvious, but there is no harm in making sure everyone knows what is expected of them during a recording.

A Band Manager has a terribly difficult job at the best of times, but making out an itinerary for players is a good idea. Give them the times you expect them to be at the venue (someone will always be late if you don’t write it down for them!), the bits and pieces they will have to bring (dusters for mutes etc, sandwiches etc) and some idea of when each session will finish will make things go a bit smoother for sure. Also ensure that no one brings in a mobile phone with them as having the theme from the Simpsons blare out just as your solo cornet player is playing a pianissimo top C won’t make for a great friendly atmosphere!!

Also make sure that there are some facilities on site to keep the players happy as well. Tea and coffee, sandwiches, soft drinks etc are great and stop the band from disappearing to the local chip shop and failing to come back on time, whilst making sure the hall is properly heated is a good idea. Freezing cold halls are not conducive to great brass band playing, so make sure someone has ten pence to put in the meter! (Checking out the heating of the hall {especially churches} is another worthwhile part of the preparation. If you're recording in winter you need to know that a) the heating works, and b) when it's working it doesn't sound like the local farmer's tractor).

Likewise, make sure all the players have their music (and know exactly what they are playing on the CD) and that there are plenty of spare parts to go around if someone has left their music at home 30 miles away. Same goes for mutes and especially percussion. Making out a list of exactly what is needed from timps to the kitchen sink will save an immense amount of time!

Inexperienced bands may also need a running order to be put in place so that they know what pieces are going to be done first and soloists especially can ensure their lips are nice and fresh. Discuss this with the producer, so that everyone knows what is going on.

Finally, make sure the producer has a full set of scores for all the music at least two weeks before the recording and that they know approximate timings and whether or not you are making cuts, repeats etc or adding any of your own ideas to any of the music. There may also be a need to ensure you have a “substitute” piece just in case things go totally haywire. Just in case your solo horn player isn’t rushed into hospital to have her baby six weeks early a back up number to cover her solo is a cunning plan!

Now we are nearly ready!!!

Setting Up

The ideal situation is to ensure everything is set up and ready for action 24 hours before the start time for the recording. If you can book your venue for a rehearsal the night before, then a lot of time and energy can be saved. It takes about 2 – 3 hours to get everything set up, so making sure that things like having enough seats for the players to sit on, the right percussion equipment in place and all the microphones and recording paraphernalia set up is a real bonus. The night before is an ideal time to do this and will give the band a chance to get used to the surroundings (especially if your are new to the recording game). It may sound obvious, but it is the obvious things that tend to be overlooked in setting up and a “dress rehearsal” will give you the opportunity to sort out any last minute problems.

Getting someone in the band to make up a list of the “blindingly obvious” is in fact a good thing and there is usually someone in the band who is good at it as well (accountants, council workers etc!)

Things to put on the list are:

Making sure your band fits into the hall in comfort. (churches are great for sound but can be very cramped when trying to fit in 25 players and a host of percussion)

The band is sitting in a formation both they and the producers are comfortable with. (The position of the flugel – next to the horns or with the cornet section may need to be discussed, as does the positioning of the bass trombone and percussion to ensure overall balance)

There is a two way intercom with red light to ensure that the MD and producer can talk discreetly and diplomatically and so that the band can tell when the “action” is about to start. (Your producer will usually rig this up).

With this all done, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of the recording.

The Recording Process

The first thing a producer will require is to make sure the band sound is clear, clean and balanced. A march is usually a good way in which the producer can see if the band sounds great as there is usually a good range of dynamics and the percussion is utilised. A quick run through will give the producer a good idea of what is needed and there may be a few tweaks of a couple of knobs or the repositioning of a couple mics before things can get under way. It is very advisable for the MD to involve him/herself in the process of balancing. Both band and producer need to be happy with the overall sound before you proceed. Most recordings of bands are not 'multi-tracked', so you can't influence the balance of individuals or sections against each other at a later stage.

The percussion section in particular may need acoustic screening to ensure they do not overpower the band sound, so tell the players to be prepared to possibly being behind some screens or even have to wear 'cans' (headphones).

Before the red light goes on for real though, it is essential that the MD and the band are realistic about what is expected of them. Concentration is imperative to ensure a session that could take up to three hours goes without a hitch and doesn’t become a minefield. Even the littlest of things can totally spoil a recording through poor concentration, so try to keep the extraneous noises down. The microphones can pick up the slightest noise, even though they may be perched eight foot above your head.

Timings of pieces are essential, as a CD should have between 60 – 70 minutes of music on it. This should be done in advance, but it is also important to note that it will usually take three, three-hour sessions of playing to complete the recording. That means for every three-hour session, a band will be able to record about 20 – 25 minutes of music that can be used on the CD. Bear that in mind when picking the running order especially, as keeping lips fresh after three hours playing can be very hard indeed.

The Producer will be in charge of the recording from the outset and will ensure that if things go wrong the MD and the band will know when to stop playing. The flashing red light is the usual sign, but remember the producer will be the one making that decision and not the third cornet player or the MD! You may think it doesn’t sound good, but a top rate producer will be experienced enough to ensure that the overall band sound is great. Trust them – they really do know what they are doing!

The MD will of course be in discussion with the producer and there is no harm in making sure the producer knows if you’ve made a real corker of a mistake and you think he should know about it. You don’t want to be remembered for posterity for playing a top C# instead of a top C in a solo do you?

Producers work in different ways, but often they will like to take at least two complete run throughs on any piece before they start picking out the places where they should do a bit of corrective surgery. Therefore don’t be too put off if there are one or two minor blips and blobs, as these will be rectified. Such is the technology nowadays that these minor indiscretions can be “airbrushed” out.

After the initial run throughs, the producer may need to run small sections again to ensure any blips are covered. Usually this is done by playing a “run in” section say of five or six bars prior to the section needed to be covered. It tends to get a bit technical at times, but the end result is well worth it as the editor’s skills will make the final cut as seamless as silk.

Finally, just when you think everything has gone brilliantly with a performance, remember you are not on the contest stage and you can start clapping, take a sigh of relief or congratulate your sop player by giving him a slap on the back. There is always a need for a bit of silence after the last note, so keep still and don’t whatever you do, blow your water out!!

After three sessions then your CD should be in the can and all you have to do now is wait and see what the end result is going to be. Your work may have finished, but it’s just the start for the producer and editor, and that’s what I’ll go through in the next article.

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Trevor Caffull

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