Frequently Asked Questions

What's the Role of the Producer?
What can I do to get my band ready fo the studio?
What do I need to know about song licencing?



What's the Role of The Producer?

Who's driving this bus anyway?

By Neil Meckelborg

Your band has decided to record an album. Great! You’ve decided which studio to record at, because you’ve heard a few other bands recorded there and you like what their discs sound like. The guy behind the mixing desk is easy to work with and gets the sound you want. You’ve found your producer, right? Wrong! This is a common misconception that people have about the recording business. A lot of bands go into a studio thinking that the RECORDING ENGINEER is the PRODUCER. There is a big difference between the two.

A recording engineer is responsible for getting the best sounds possible out of the instruments in the studio, and mixing them so that they will sound the best they can in his/her opinion. This means a good working knowledge of the equipment at his/her disposal, and how to get the best results from it. That is basically the extent of a recording engineer’s responsibility. Most recording engineers however, do take up some of the roles of a producer. I’ll explain a little more on this later.

A producer is responsible for the content of the album as a whole, what the album sounds like in the end. This entails (to varying degrees with each producer) everything from choosing which songs will be recorded, to what tempo they will be, what the instrumentation will be, whether the tune will be a rocker or laid back, how loud the guitar solo will be in the mix, and every step in between. Each producer/band relationship is different. Some producers are in complete control of the project, and others are more of an additional member of the band. The producer is the person who is responsible for making sure that the band gives the best performance possible for each song. This may mean standing in the studio directing the band during the session, it might mean telling the singer a moving story just before they do their lead vocal on a particularly emotional track, it might mean making the drummer play to a click track in order to keep his tempo consistent, it might even mean hiring a different player to play a part that the band can’t pull off. The extent of a producer’s responsibility is individual with each project. A producer is also paid a fee for his/her services. This is on top of studio time. This may be a few hundred dollars for someone just breaking into producing, to millions of dollars and a percentage of album sales for guys like Bob Rock or Mutt Lang.

A good producer is usually someone who has done some recording, or has done some engineering. Both are invaluable experience for a producer. It is much easier to know what the band members are feeling when they are recording if you’ve been there yourself. That’s the key to getting the best performance out of a band, to make them feel as comfortable as possible while recording. In order to know how to get the sound he is after, or how to tell the engineer what he wants, he has to have a good working knowledge of the gear in the studio too. That’s where the engineering experience comes it. (To get this sound you use this mike with this preamp, and plug it into this effect pedal)

When you are hiring a producer for your album you are handing over control of what the album will sound like to that person. A producer should be someone that you feel enough confidence in to hand over that control. The reason for hiring a producer is because that person has enough experience in a your type of music that you feel they have something to add to your project. You are willing to trust that their decisions will be best for the project. This is a very scary proposition for most people! Finding the right person to produce your album is a crucial decision! A lot of people go into an album project feeling that they are the ones that wrote the songs, and therefore they are the ones that know what’s best for the songs. Being a songwriter is a very parental thing! It isn’t easy to imagine allowing someone else the power to possibly cut limbs off of your children! However, it is almost impossible to be objective about your songs after you have been so close to them since their inception. This alone is a good reason to hire a producer. If you want the songs to be on the radio, there are certain things that work, and certain things that don’t. A producer can help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can turn a promising record, into a bargain-bin dust-collecting coaster! Is the song too long, does it get to the hook quick enough, is it mixed for a radio release, and hundreds of other points that will make or break the record as far as radio is concerned. There is nothing worse than seeing a potentially successful song miss it’s mark because the band missed one or two vital issues while recording.

A well-known producer can have a profound effect on an albums success after the recording studio too. Having a recognizable, successful producers name on your record will open a lot of doors that you couldn’t have opened by yourself. An A&R rep for a record company might take an interest in a record that otherwise wouldn’t have been listened to because of the producer. The producer may know a publishing company that is looking for your particular sound, and so on…. The producer has his reputation on the line too, so he will be doing everything he can to make sure it’s successful. Having someone with some experience in your corner can be an invaluable asset!

Some bands will produce their own albums as their career progresses. After doing a number of albums with an experienced producer, they feel they have learned enough to do it themselves, and have specific things that they want to do. Other bands find that producing the album, and recording it can be too much to deal with. They would rather work with someone they trust, and concentrate on making music.

As I mentioned earlier, most recording engineers will take up some of the roles of the producer if there isn’t one hired. If the guitar player is horribly out of tune, and can’t tell, it’s in the recording engineers best interest to tell him so. If the song needs a second guitar part to sound as full as the band wants, he might suggest that. After all, if the band wants a huge guitar sound, and has only one guitar part tracked, it is almost impossible to create what they want with the material he has. His reputation is involved in the project too. He doesn’t want bad recordings out there with his name on them. If the guitarist decided to take the advice is entirely up to him. Each engineer will have their own limits as to how much “producing” they will do for free. After all, it is a separate title with separate responsibilities, and deserves a separate payment. (Most recording engineers are paid out of the studio rate that the studio charges). If they are asked to produce the record, they are taking on a much larger responsibility. Maybe your recording engineer is a producer as well. If that is the case, then you might have both jobs filled with the same person. A lot of engineers are producer too. After all they have to do a little of it on most projects they work on.

Whether you are in the studio for the first time, or a band doing their second or third album, a producer is a good idea. A lot of bands will try doing an album on their own and find that there is more to it than just recording your songs, especially if you want radio airplay. Without a producers input, their disc might be relegated to sales from gigs, and the occasional local station airplay. Having a producers input might have made it a legitimate commercial success. Having a producer with you if you are doing a first time demo is a great idea too. You will learn a ton of things that will help you write better songs when it’s time to record your album. You’ll save time, money, and disappointment later.

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What can I do to get my band ready fo the studio?

Tips that will save you time and money!

By Neil Meckelborg

Many artists don't really know what to expect when they first utter the phrase, "Lets record an album." It involves a lot more than playing ten songs a few times each and going home with a shiny new CD. Depending on the style of music you're recording, the sound you're after, and the budget you have to work with, it could take anywhere from a few days to several months to complete an album project. The first thing you need to do is to make sure your songs are REALLY ready. Although you may think your songs are sounding great and you're ready to rock, you may discover little problems once you get into the studio. For example, perhaps you will discover that your bass player plays an E note while your guitar player plays an F. Perhaps you've even noticed that it always sounded kinda funny at that spot, but not bad enough to stop playing. Once you start recording, these little things that tend to go unnoticed can jump out at you and cost you a lot of extra time (and money). This is why pre-production is so important.

Pre-production takes place before you head into the studio. One good way to pre-produce your songs is to borrow, rent or buy a 4 track recorder. Record the drums, bass, guitars, and vocals on separate tracks. Then listen to the bass with the drums. Check to make sure they're together and that the bass player is playing "with" the drummer, and not just playing in the same band as the drummer. The drums and bass are the foundation of all popular music, whether it be country or metal. Then listen to the bass and the guitars together. Make sure there aren't any of those spots where one instrument is going to an E, while another is going to F. Check the vocal with the guitar, bass and drums individually. They should all work with each other. Now you're ready to record.

While the recording studio can be a blast, it can also be an intimidating environment if you're new to it. When you're practicing in the basement, you can't always hear everything at once, and mistakes often go unnoticed. When you're playing live, the show runs more on adrenaline than concentration. In the studio, mistakes can take you by surprise. Most little mistakes can easily be fixed by "punching-in" the right note. But, the most important thing to remember is to relax and concentrate more on the groove. Singers are especially vulnerable in the studio - (I know, I'm a singer). My first time recording in a studio was a humbling experience! I was in a band that was doing great as a live act and I began to consider myself a pretty good singer! When we went into the studio, all those flat notes and mumbled lyrics came back to haunt me. I remember thinking, "jeez, that rocks when we play live, but this sounds terrible!" It took me a few sessions to get the hang of being a "studio" singer.

For the purpose of discussing the recording process, I'm going to use a rock band as an example. Many of my clients are rock groups and this same formula is used for most "pop" music, from metal to blues or folk to country. Generally you start by recording the "beds" (drums and bass). As mentioned earlier, these instruments are the musical foundation of the song and the first instruments to be placed under the microscope. This usually involves the entire band playing in the studio and being recorded "live off the floor". However, the main instruments you need to concentrate on are the drums and bass. Depending upon the band and the ability of the players, the other instruments may be recorded as "keeper" or "scratch" tracks. It may take quite a few takes before you get what you're after - especially since players often feel more relaxed after playing through the song a few times. The drums are almost always recorded in a single pass (no overdubs) because the cymbals will ring out so long. Also, "punch-ins" seldom work on drum tracks because the sound is continuous from beginning to end. The only exception to this rule may happen if there is an audible break in the song, or if the drums cut out for a section. The drummer has a lot to concentrate on. He or she needs to be consistent in tempo, volume, and feel before you have a "keeper".

The bass is the next instrument to go under the microscope. If the bass part that was played along with the drums isn't quite a keeper, you can still keep the drums, and either "punch-in" rough spots or re-record the entire bass track. This is commonly done, and many players prefer to record their tracks in this way since it allows them to concentrate more on their own part. Once the bass and drums are done, and you are happy with how the two parts work together, you are ready to add rhythm guitars followed by keyboards. All these parts can be played along with the original "scratch" tracks for the sake of reference.

After you have all the instruments down, the vocals are most often the last thing to record. This can be a fairly painstaking and lengthy process. Aside from the expected problems (pitch, enunciation, etc.) you need to be aware of what has already been recorded, and what will go down next. Did the guitar player come up with a brilliant new lick during the chorus? Will it fit with the vocal melody? If the singer comes up with a brilliant new idea, will it work with the harmonies that the bass player has to sing next? It is important to keep all this in mind, otherwise, you could be backtracking later or wasting precious studio time trying to figuring out different parts. A very common studio trick for recording vocals is to "double-track" the vocals. This means singing the same line again on a different track and playing them back together. This can make a thin vocal sound THICK! For example, a lot of Led Zeppelin's vocal tracks are doubled. Background vocal tracks are often doubled as well.

So once you have your lead vocal tracks, followed by the background vocals and the guitar solo tracks recorded, your album is done...right?

WRONG! Once the tracks are all recorded, you begin the tedious process of editing and mixing. When you Edit, you clean up all those count-ins and fade outs and "fix" a few other things. A computer-based recording system allows you to "fix" a lot! I emphasize the work "fix" because different people have different ideas about what should be fixed and what shouldn't. With a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) (aka: computer), you can change words, move words or phrases, fix pitch, fix almost anything. But this all takes time and time costs money. Too often, the editing phase can wind up taking a lot longer then you first thought which is why it's so important that you're satisfied with the tracks you've recorded. Even though modern technology allows you to copy your fist chorus and paste it in to all the choruses, it may still be wiser (and less expensive) to simply sing it again. That's why you should always exercise caution when using the phrase, "we'll just fix it in the mix". It could end up costing more in the long run.

When you think of the word "mix", think of it as being the decision part of the process. Personally, I find (as do many other engineers), that it is often best to only have one or two band members in the room while mixing. Otherwise it could become a battle of opinions and end up taking much longer than necessary. When most engineers mix a song, they listen to it on everything from a large set of speakers to an itty-bitty mono speaker. This is because an important part of mixing is to ensure the songs sound great on everything from a large house system to a "mono" am car radio. Mixing can take anywhere from one to 10 hours per song. Again, It depends on how picky you want to get and what you've budgeted for. Often, before settling on a final mix, it is wise to take a few tapes home, listen to them on a variety of different stereo systems, then come back the following day to make any changes.

Once the mixing process is complete, the album is ready to be mastered. This is the one aspect of recording that people seem know the least about. Mastering is the process in which you take all the songs, put them in the right order, insure consistent audio levels, use EQ, compression, and a number of other tools to clean up any unwanted frequencies, insure the right amount of silence between cuts and have it all sound great on your ghetto blaster as well as your car stereo. It can be a tricky part of the job. With mastering, one of the end goal is to try and make the album as good as any thing else on the radio (if the recording is to be aimed at getting radio play). This statement has different criteria depending on the style of music involved. A jazz record has far different mastering criteria than a punk record will. The LOUDNESS factor has become the most obvious (but not necessarily the most important) aspect of mastering lately. Recordings (for radio use) have been in a constant competition for volume to the point where they are today. Today's radio friendly mastering tends to focus very intently on VOLUME. However, keep in mind that the louder you go, the less dynamics your music will have. If it's a punk record, that's not generally a problem. It becomes more of a problem the more dynamic you want your record to be. It's good to have your record LOUD, people (and most people are susceptible to this, whether they admit or not) will perceive a louder recording to be a better production. However, you have to be careful how far you go. You don't want all those wonderful emotional highs and lows in your songs to be squished out in mastering!

Now you recording experience is complete. You leave the studio with that shiny new master CD to take to the CD manufacturer....and the printer....then to the record stores....and the radio stations.......but that's another story.

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What do I need to know about song licencing?

When Do You Have To Pay?

By Neil Meckelborg

People are generally unaware of what is involved with licensing songs to record on an album. It really isn’t a complicated (or expensive) procedure. It just involved a bit of paperwork. We can take care of this for you, but it’s a good learning experience for anyone recording other writer’s material.

Music licensing does no apply to your own original music. This is a misconception some people have. When you record a song written by another artist (could be Aerosmith or the band’s old bass player), you will have to pay a licensing fee. Duplicating companies (and recording studios) are legally obliged to make sure that this happens.

If you are recording a song written by someone you are able to contact directly you can work out whatever agreement you like (free or a payment). All you need is a signed agreement stating the terms. A duplicating company is required to have a copy of it. If you are licensing a published artist’s song, you will have to go to and search their database for the song you are using. They have a series of forms to fill out as well as a payment of 8.5 cents per song per CD. They also have a handling fee of 6% and gst (7%). You’re looking at 9.64 cents per song.

So if you are doing an album with all original tunes and one cover, you’ll need to pay $96.40 for 1000 CD’s. It’s not a lot of money, just a bit of paperwork. If you are doing an entire album of cover songs (songs written by another songwriter), you are looking at a bit more money. (12 songs x 1000 CD’s = $1156.80)

Not all songs require payment. A song becomes "public domain" 50 years after the death of the songwriter. This would apply mainly to old folk songs. There aren’t many popular tunes that the songwriters have been dead for 50 years (this applies to ALL the songwriters, if one writer died less than 50 years ago and a co-writer dies more than 50 years ago, you’re still paying). The most notable exception to this is Hank Williams Sr., since he wrote by himself (no co-writers) and he’s been dead for over 50 years his tunes are all public domain.

If you have any questions regarding licensing please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Neil Meckelborg

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