As if the Philly Geek Awards weren’t enough excitement for one weekend, I woke up on Saturday morning to face the daunting task of setting up our dining room as a drumming room for recording Filmstar.
After shopping around to some fantastic local studios last fall we realized we weren’t quite ready to drop major cash on pro recording for our first EP. To make studio time worthwhile you need to be playing solid takes of songs, know what you want them to sound like, and understand what you want to add.
Our first pass at that preparation was the Live @ Rehearsal style recording sessions for The Desperate Times EP last winter. For that session we recorded the band live with scratch vocals, going back to recut lead and backing vocals (plus acoustic guitar) on top of our full band takes.
I outdid my prior bests in mixing the EP, but I was flummoxed by the limitations of our recording process. Particularly, it was impossible to stitch together the best parts of multiple takes because we hadn’t recorded to a click track.
Thus, the mission for our new double A-side single: record perfectly in-tempo, click-tracked drums, as many times as we could withstand.
We went with seven mics on the kit – one on the kick (shrouded by a blanket), a Shure SM on the snare, dynamics on both toms, a condenser on the hi-hat and a matched condensed pair for overheads on the cymbals.
Rather than build from a click embedded in our mixing file, we wound up buying a Tama Rhythm Watch digital metronome and routing its click track into a scratch track that also had our direct-to-board scratch band takes compiled onto it. We could always sync up to a file-based click later, but now we had it as part of our audio reference. Meanwhile, nothing was audible in the room to bleed into the drums.
(Most bands would probably track the bass live as a direct in rather than as a scratch, but we’re new to click tracks and I didn’t want all of my rhythmic hiccups captured for posterity.)
We had rehearsed the two tunes to click earlier in the week, and knew that on both we tended to really drag on the choruses and fall apart around the bridge. Our plan going on was to try to hang on to the click through the bridge and then restart from there.
We slaughtered the plan – we made it through over half a dozen takes of both songs before breaking for sushi and coming back to take a stab at some potential B-Sides before breaking for the day.
From set-up to strike it was an eight hour day just to capture drums on four songs. In a studio that would have run us at least $500, and that wouldn’t include mixdowns of all the drums so we could choose the takes to move forward with – oh, and recording the rest of the band.
All told, a double A-side recorded to this level of meticulousness at a studio would likely add up to $2,500 or more, and that doesn’t even include duplication.
Cost to record DIY?
$0, and a little of my sanity.
It’s a bargain.