Tips for Creating Musical Magic in the Studio
Having recorded my new CD Sacred Love with Grammy-award winners Will Ackerman (producer) and Corin Nelsen (recording and mix engineer), here are 6 sure-fire ways to make musical magical happen on your next recording session and take your CD to the next level.
1. Make a Budget and Stick to It
Records cost lots of money to make. If you’re recording in your home studio, you’ve probably spent thousands of dollars for a computer, software, audio interfaces, speakers, microphones and musical instruments. Whether you’re recording your CD at home or working with a producer at independent studios, you want to make a budget and stick to it.
My budget included fees for producer, studio, travel, musicians, mastering, PR and Radio promotion, duplication, and distribution. Make sure you know what you expect to spend and over how long, so that you can raise the money.
Producers get paid hourly or by the song, or a custom deal plus points on a song. If you are co-producing, you can split the points.
Musicians get paid different fees from free to sky’s the limit. The more famous and accomplished musicians get larger fees than your friend might – unless your friend is Sting.
Figure all the possible costs of your recording and put them into your budget. Then try to spend money according to the budget.
And even if you do, it’s more likely than not that you’ll go over budget. So add a 10 per cent contingency right now. Then when it comes time for you to professionally master, and design, duplicate and promote your CD, you can have the cash you need once the recording is finished.
2. Surround Yourself with the Best
Whether you’re planning on a solo or group recording, bringing together neighborhood musicians, or recording with the best producers, musicians and production staff, you’re only as good as the company you keep. As an acoustic guitarist and a composer of conscious Music, I approached the legendary producer and guitarist Will Ackerman who I felt had the experience and expertise to help me take my music to the next level. As the founder of Windham Hill Records, a gifted creator of acoustic guitar music, and producer of artists like George Winston, Michael Hedges, Alex DeGrassi, Shadowfax, and Jeff Oster, Will brought his vast expertise and a unique sensitivity to my recording project.
His own Imaginary Road Studios in Windham County, VT also features customized state-of-the-art microphones and preamps that helped make me sound my best. Grammy Award-winning engineer Corin Nelsen is the resident recording and mixing engineer. At Imaginary Road I felt comfortable because the studio was situated in the Nature on 100 acres of spacious beautiful Vermont woodlands. So I was in a great place surrounded by accomplished production people, and I was able to focus on creating The Music I needed to create for the recording.
Preparation in the studio means you’re making an efficient use of costly studio and staff time. If you’re working with a producer, get together before you get into the studio to discuss and agree on a gameplan for the recording. How much time do you need to spend per song, how many total days in the studio for recording and mixing, which musicians are you planning to add to your tracks, and when are you scheduling the sessions, etc.
If you are bringing together musicians to perform on your CD, write out lead sheets and chord charts beforehand. And practice your Songs. Make sure your own performances are so tight that you can deliver your best in the studio the first take. I practiced the songs on my CD, and recorded them in my home studio, so that I could perform them well in a studio-like environment. It really helps to be prepared and you’ll likely save money as a result.
I was really impressed when my studio musicians contacted me before the sessions for copies of the lead sheets and recordings, so they could practice. Tony Levin played bass on five songs and he was totally prepared.
4. Build Time Into the Process
Sometimes in recordings, you’re pressured to record and mix without a break. When that’s due to budget considerations, you have to go with it. I suggest building time into the recording process. Time is your friend.
I scheduled about 2 weeks between the recording of the guitars on Sacred Love, and layering of other instruments. That gave me time to familiarize myself with my own performances of the songs on “Sacred Love.” From there both Will and I heard specific instruments playing melodies, leads and harmonies on the recordings, and we had time to line up the instrumentalists.
Building in time for reflection was necessary for ideas to form, crystallize and then emerge. We added violin, drums, cello, bass, sarod and other instruments, and we sought out the most sensitive musicians to create with us. These artists included Eugene Friesen on cello (Call to Spirit, Edge of Eternal, Revelation), Jill Haley on English horn (Edge of Eternal, Revelation), Premik Tubbs on windsynth (Together) and flute (Nirab Amare), Ravichandra Kulur on flute (Humility and Call to Spirit), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Celso Alberti (drums) and Todd Boston (sarod).
I also scheduled about two weeks between the final recording session and the mix session. And then two weeks between the final mixes and Mastering, and a few days before mastering, we did the ‘final’ final tweaks.
5. When You’re Done Recording, Then there is Post-Production
Congratulations…the recording is finished. Now you need to think about mastering, design of the cover, duplication, copyrights, digital rights management, etc.
Mastering adds the simonize to ’shine’ the recording. A good mastering engineer can match the volumes and tone of the various tracks so your tracks soundåßß like they belong on the same album. I was fortunate to work with Adam Ayan, mastering Engineer at Gateway Mastering in Portland, ME, and Corin Nelsen was on hand to make sure we got the sound just right. Most major duplicators offer mastering services for 10-20 per cent of the cost of a Gateway. If you can afford the best, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
CD duplicators can deliver 1000 CDs to you in a few weeks. You get to design the cover and can work with your duplicator on all aspects of the recording. This includes design of cover and CD art, writing of a booklet or insert and inside and outside sleeves, and they can also help set up electronic distribution to iTunes, Amazon and other online retailers.
Copyright your sound recording with the U.S Patent and Trade Mark Office.
Set up your publishing with BMI or ASCAP. And if you’re expecting to get radio play, sign up with Sound Exchange.
6. CD is Done? You’re at the Beginning.
When you have your finished CDs in hand then you’re at the staring line again. Now comes the challenge of promoting it and engaging with listeners and buyers. And you might want some help. There are people who specialize in radio promo, public relations outreach, social media and retail distribution. If you have the cash and budgeted for experts, hire them now. And if you want to get your songs into major chain stores, work with a music distributor who can help.
Sacred Love features Shambhu on guitar with:
Will Ackerman – guitar
Tony Levin – bass
Michael Manring – bass
Jeff Haynes – percussion
Eugene Friesen – cello
Jill Haley – English horn
George Brooks – sax
Ravichandra Kulur – flutes
Todd Boston – sarod
Premik Russell Tubbs – wind synth and flute
Celso Alberti – drums
Charlie Bisharat – violin
Jeff Oster – flugelhorn
Rocky Fretz – piano
Claytoven Richardson and Noah Wilding – vocals
About the Author
Shambhu is an acclaimed guitarist and composer who performs an exquisite fusion of contemporary acoustic, world, Indian and jazz styles that engender feelings of tranquility, harmony and fulfillment.
Shambhu’s technical mastery of the guitar enables delicate expressions of nuance and subtlety while engaging audiences in deep spirit. His music has been called ‘magical,’ a ‘journey’, and ‘opening a space within’.
Shambhu has performed with Carlos Santana, Narada Michael Walden, Premik Russell Tubbs, and played on Whitney Houston’s multi-platinum album, “Whitney.” He studied meditation for three decades with the renowned mystic Sri Chinmoy.
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