Top Tips

Recording your first demo CD

For some, the prospect of recording themselves or their band for the first time may seem a daunting one. Even with advanced ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ digital editing techniques, there is still a limit to what a recording engineer can rescue from a poorly executed demo. So, what’s the answer? Well, think like a boy-scout and be prepared!

Try thinking about the following:

  • Decide on the purpose of your demo CD – Think about what you want to achieve. Is it to give a CD to venues to get more gigs? Perhaps you want tracks for downloading off of your myspace page to build-up your fan base? Knowing what your objective is will help to determine which tracks you record and their recording style. Some of the reasons you may want to record a demo include:

- To send a CD to venues to get more gigs

- Produce downloadable songs for your band website or myspace page

- To produce a CD to sell at future gigs

- To demonstrate your technical music ability

- To send a CD to a record company or radio station

- To sell your music on iTunes or other online retailer

  • Select your material to record – Your first demo CD may only be 2 or 3 songs – so make them count. Remember to select the correct material to meet your objectives. A more technically advanced piece of music may impress future band mates, but that simpler track with a killer hook could be just what the kids want to hear!
  • Think about your sound and recording method – If your CD is intended to demonstrate how your band sounds at a gig, try and achieve a hi-fidelity recording of your live sound using the same arrangement you usually play at band practice. If you want to demonstrate your versatility and technical ability, think about a multi-layered approach and develop your tracks to include additional effects, instrumentals and backing vocals perhaps not possible in your live setup.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Although recording at BlackFrog Studios is inexpensive, arriving on the day well rehearsed will maximise your studio time and ensure you walk away with the best possible results. Ensure that everyone knows the songs inside out and can play their piece with minimal mistakes.
  • Talk to your recording engineer – It is well worth taking the time to speak to your recording engineer in advance to talk through what you want to achieve from your session. If they know what your expectations are, they can better plan your time in the studio and ensure that you walk away with a result you are happy with.
  • Sticks, strings and things – New strings give a bright and clear sound to a guitar, so restring a couple of days prior to your studio session – this allows enough time for them to settle. Make sure guitars are setup correctly – check the intonation and action, this will help ensure a consistent sound and reduce unwanted noises such as fret buzz. When tuning, tune all instruments to each other… sometimes, different electronic guitar tuners have different interpretations of sound! Invest in new batteries for effect pedals (if used) as even a slightly flat battery can reduce sound quality.
  • Have a clear plan on the day – Ensure that all band members arrive in good time and get setup quickly. BlackFrog Studios has a warm-up rehearsal room away from the main live room. If you arrive early (and its not in use) you can use this room to practice before your recording session. Make sure that everyone understands the recording process and the agenda for the day. Remember to have fun, but also, to take it seriously… after all, you want to end with a good result.
  • How long does it take to record a demo cd? – This depends on many factors such as how many songs are being recorded, competency of musicians, complexity of the tracks and how much post-production work is required. REMEMBER: Actual instrument recording often only accounts for 1/3rd of the process. Editing, mixing and finalising needs to be factored in and budgeted for.
  • What is the recording process? – The recording process differs depending on the band recording and the song. Often the song is built up in layers – very much like the clichéd sponge cake. First, if necessary, a click track is recorded to set the rhythm, this is then deleted at a later stage. The drums are recorded next sometimes with the rest of the band accompanying live – although they are also recorded, this ‘scratch’ track is erased during editing. The main rhythm sections of guitars, bass and keys are laid on top with filling accompaniments of solos etc added afterwards.

Once the backing track is complete, lead and backing vocals are added plus any additional tracks that are required.

  • Editing, mixing and finalising – Never underestimate the time required for the post-production of your demo CD. Your engineer will need to clean each and every one of the audio tracks you recorded. He will be looking to remove unwanted sounds, unused space and balance the tone of your sound, possibly adding reverberation, compression and effects.
  • The mixing process involves balancing the volume levels of the different elements of the tracks to achieve the desired sound. This phase of the process requires just as much of your ‘creative energy’ as writing the song in the first place. This is the time to get involved in the post-production process, sit with your recording engineer and ask questions and make suggestions.
  • Mastering will add the ‘polish’ to your performance. It is important at this stage to double check that your engineer understands the desired format for the finished product… this will determine the setup for the finalised CD.

If you want to find out more information about the Mastering process, BlackFrog Studios recommend reading ‘Mastering Audio – the art and science’ by Bob Katz

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