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On a Budget: Working a Project from Beginning to End November 20, 2008

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Mixing, Project Studio, Projects , trackback

Every project has a budget, whether its a 0$ home studio EP up to a $500,000 major label release.  Especially for us towards the lower end of that example, we need to make the most of the budget at every turn.  Figuring out where to allocate funds is a tricky task.  Is it better to spend money on tracking, mixing, mastering, a producer???

In the context of a limited budget recording, you need to do as many things for free (or cheap!) as possible.  At the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice quality.

You have a lot of flexibility in the tracking stage, even on a small budgets.  Many small project studios (or even your home studio) may only have a few channels of input.  On top of that, they usually don’t have a nice big tuned room for drums.  Doing drums at these studios will often fall short.  Therefore, I would recommend allocating some budget to going to a bigger studio to track (at least) drums.  Even one full day at a studio could give you enough time to track drums for an EP (or more).  From there, you can transfer down to a cheaper project studio (or, again, your home studio) for vocals, guitars, bass, etc…  A wall of mattresses can make a nice quiet area to do these single source recordings.

So now you’ve tracked.  Next would be editing and mixing.  Definitely do ALL the editing at your home/project studio.  It doesn’t matter how many walls of preamps and microphones a studio has – an out of time drum hit sounds the same at a small studio.  Not only is editing at your house free, but its also good experience and practice to edit tunes.  Along with editing, I would do things like autotune vocals, sample replacements, (anything like that) at home.

Editing is done.  You have a perfectly grooving recording; it just needs to be mixed down.  I would at least start the mix at home.  Again, this is good practice, plus if you are going to transfer to another studio, you might as well give them a rough mix to work from.  Not only will this save them time (as the “basics” have already been done) but it will also give the mixing engineer a sense of the direction you’d like to see the song go.  Or, if you have the amibition/experience/tools, mixing your own project is obviously a completely viable solution.  Just make sure you are choosing the option that will get you the best sounding record as possible (of course, within the budget)  So what if there are no awesome, inexpensive studios around you to take the files for mixing??

Distance Collaboration!

This two word phrase is becoming the new norm for project studios.  It is very common to send session files out to studios across the country (world) to have them mixed.  There will be another article soon on Distance Collaboration (and how to find studios).  Often people working over the internet can charge less than booking time at a normal studio (since they can work at their own hours and don’t have to physically accomodate clients).

The same trends can apply to mastering (except for that I would not master your own project if you can avoid it).  Mastering is commonly thought of as being an expensive task, when in reality, this is not always true.  There are many fine mastering facilities that can finish an album for a few hundred bucks (or less!).  Again, distance collaboration can be key.  Often the studio that you are sending the files to for mixing can also master them for you (ahem, like Under the Piano Productions, ahem).

Although I’d assume this article is going to be read mostly by people doing the tracking/engineering/producing, this is a great resource for band members that do some (or all) of their own studio work.  I wouldn’t always recommend that a band member do everything (engineer/produce/mix/etc….), but being a part of the process is always a benefit.  Just don’t bite off more than you can chew (and remember, bringing in other talented people can only help the project).


The Studio Files


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