Kim Lajoie's blog

A non-musician’s experience in the recording studio

by Kim Lajoie on February 28, 2013

Rick Bennett:

Alex, the lead vocalist, spent 40 minutes on the first line alone. There were many times that he heard something in a recording that he didn’t like, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, hear the issue. I also felt a bit of loneliness for Alex–all alone in the isolation booth, and he couldn’t even see the rest of the band. It was just him, his demons, and the microphone.

The whole post provides an interesting perspective of a photography in a recording studio, but it’s this paragraph that stuck with me. In particular, it’s the part about re-recording to correct performance problems that non-musician’s can’t hear.

When recording performances, you can’t escape human limits (much). Each take will usually be better than the last, but after a while the performer will become tired (either physiologically or psychologically) and subsequent takes will suffer. Thus, there’s usually one ‘best’ take from a session. It’s usually wise to identify this as soon as you can, and move on to the next step of your workflow.

When making sequenced music (and with multi-day recording projects), however, there’s a law of diminishing returns. You can always come back the next day and make a small improvement. There is always room for a small improvement. But each day the improvement gets smaller and the time needed to make it gets longer. All the while, people get tired, bored, restless or disgruntled.

At some point you have to make a call. You have to be prepared to say ‘This is good enough’. Despite the folklore dichotomy that live performance is ephemeral and lucid while studio recordings are perfect but sterile, the reality is that perfection in studio recordings is an asymptote. You can approach it, but you’ll never get there.

So how do you decide where to draw the line between ‘good’ and ‘good enough’?

Sometimes it’s Potter Stewart approach, and you rely on your gut instinct. Sometimes it’s available funding, and you’ve only hired the studio for a set period of time. Sometimes it’s your project schedule, and delaying production would push out your release plans. Or maybe it’s psychological, and you find yourself getting bored with tweaking the same track over and over again.

-Kim.

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