When I first started recording acappella groups 7 years ago, I searched for anything I could find about how to record a group. I scoured the many discussion forums and blogs out there focusing on recording. So much of what I found spoke in absolutes.
“This is the way to record this type of group.”
“Use this microphone for this type of singer.”
Reading all this, I thought, “Oh… I have to do it this way or that way.”
But when I read some great discussions about scheduling recording sessions and how you should build the song or what you should record first, I started to notice that some things didn’t seem absolute. Maybe this recording thing wasn’t so absolute.
Record the soloist first, record the drums first, record late at night, set aside a block of a few days, record during rehearsals or pick one day every week to focus on recording… Hmm. There seemed to be different opinions.
So, after 7 years of doing this, I can tell you that the answer to the question “What should our recording schedule look like?” is ALL OF THE ABOVE. Different things work for different groups. We’re all in different situations. You’ve got classes, work, location issues, relationships, children, etc. Some groups are really focused on the group. Others are more casual. I can confidently say that different schedules work well for different groups.
“But there have to be some things that work better than others right?”
Oh yeah… DEFINITELY!!! Just keep in mind that not everything will work best for your group. So… Here are some things that I’ve noticed seemed to work well for most of the people I’ve worked with over the years.
1. Remove distractions. If your group wants to record an album, you have to get the entire group to buy-in. A recording project is a process and it takes time. Everyone involved has to agree that it’s important to your group and commit. Whether that’s committing to a recording retreat(s) where you all go away for a few days or weeks and focus solely on the recording or if you are going to use one rehearsal each week… Everyone should be on board.
2. Be in good health. If you can avoid it, try to record during times of year when people do not tend to get sick. In the time leading up to recording, remind people to hydrate more than they normally do. Recording requires lots of repetition and you may sing more than you normally would over a short period of time. Get enough sleep. Going to a party the night before and staying awake all night are bad for singing. Drinking, smoking, etc. All bad for singing in a recording session. Common sense right? You’d be surprised at the number of hungover singers I’ve recorded over the years.
OK… so those were more general things. Here are some more detailed recommendations.
1. When you start a song, it helps to have the soloist or lead vocalist or someone who knows the solo, record a version of the solo so that the backing vocalists, backs, group, etc have an idea of where they are in the song when they record. Hearing the solo in your headphones seems to help people feel more comfortable. People get nervous when recording and this can really help put them at ease.
2. Likewise, have the vocal percussion or beat boxer record early in the process. The drums help establish the groove or feel of the song. This will help the majority of the singers feel comfortable with how they are singing.
3. Basses in the morning. Basses (men and women) tend to have a slightly lower range in morning (or just after waking) and also seem to have more low resonance at that time of day. This is great for your recording and also give the higher voices time to warm up before having to record.
4. It’s always good to have enough people around so that you don’t have to stop and wait for people to arrive for the session. I find that it’s also good to have people of the same voice part around at the same time just in case you are recording 2 people at the same time. Some singers are more comfortable when singing with the people on their part. It also has some benefit in the editing process (which I’ll explain in the future).
Other than that, it really is ALL OF THE ABOVE. You can try anything you want. I certainly have and I still try different things with different groups to try and get the best result.