Collaborating with Other Musicians, Studios & Producers
As recently as 20 or 30 years ago, it was standard practice for album projects to be completed in a single studio. Tracking, overdubs, vocals, mixes — all were done in the same room, often in an unbroken block of time. That’s not the case today, though. Basic tracks can be recorded in any number of different studios (as time and budget permit); overdubs can come from anywhere in the world; and vocals can be recorded whenever and wherever the vocalist is comfortable working. And, finally, it’s possible to send tracks to yet another studio for mixing.
For artists, the benefits of using multiple studios are pretty obvious: they can work wherever they happen to be, and they can use the musicians (and engineers) who are best suited to their specific project — wherever those musicians might live. Besides, while a studio with a large tracking room and a great microphone collection might be necessary when tracking a live band or overdubbing a string section, a smaller — and possibly less expensive — room may be perfect for overdubs, editing, or mixing.
But collaboration benefits studios, session musicians, and engineers as well as artists — at least those who can position themselves to take advantage of the ease with which data can be sent around the world. If you’re a studio owner with a client who wants uncommon instruments like pennywhistle, steel guitar, accordion, a full horn section, or even a string orchestra, you can keep your client happy by collaborating with a studio that has access to the musicians who play those instruments, or, in the case of string or horn recording, the space to record a large group in one room. While many studio musicians these days have a recording setup at home, a surprising number of well-known session folks would rather not handle the recording themselves; instead, they’ll use a local studio for overdubs. Engineers who have a reputation for creating great mixes often work with clients from around the world, with multi-tracks sent to them, and finished mixes returned.
Here at Sweetwater Studios, we embrace the use of collaboration and regularly work with studios and musicians in other parts of the country and around the world. Projects may originate here and go elsewhere for overdubs, or they may begin elsewhere and come to us at Sweetwater Studios so our in-house musicians can add parts. Some of our clients do all their recording at home, but have us mix the project, while others will have us record some (and sometimes all) of the instruments, then record their vocals and mix the song at home. We have clients who send us MIDI files of their piano parts so we can play those MIDI files through our Yamaha C7 with Disclavier, and record it, giving them a real grand piano on their songs.
Here are our suggestions for preparing files for working online with other musicians.
Prepare a Rough Mix
When you send tracks to an outside musician for overdubs, you should start by creating a rough mix of the song with any vocals mixed fairly low and the drum track turned up a bit to make sure that the musician will be able to lock in to the feel of the rhythm section. The rough mix will likely change to suit specific circumstances — for example, if you’re sending the song out for background vocals, then the lead vocals will need to be turned up, and instruments that will help the singer find pitch should be strong in the mix while those instruments that might confuse the pitch (flanged guitar, organ, chorused synths) should be turned down. If your song was recorded with a click track, go ahead and print the click and send that as a separate mono audio track.
When you print mixes to send to collaborators, your mix should start at the beginning of the session. When your collaborators send tracks back to you, they should send back tracks that are continuous audio files that start at the same point that your mix starts — that is, at the beginning of the session. The reason for starting at the beginning of the session is that it makes lining up the new tracks simple; we simply import them into our own session, and they line up perfectly from the beginning of the song.
When clients send songs to us at Sweetwater Studios, quite often we’re asked to replace older parts that don’t meet the needs of the artist or producer who’s sending us the song. If we’re replacing a part (like guitars or bass), we like to have two mixes — one with the original part and one without it. This helps us know what you have in mind. Which reminds me — when we add drums to a project, a rough mix with either old drum tracks or programmed drums helps us know what direction you want, but we’ll definitely want to play with a track that does not have the old drums.
When you’re sending out a rough mix to a musician for overdubs, make sure that you tell them the format that you’d like them to send back. This should include the sampling rate and bit depth of your own multitrack session. For example, our standard tracking sessions are 24-bit/96kHz, so we ask our musicians to send us consolidated mono 24/96 WAV files. “Consolidated” means that the file is a single, continuous audio file that starts at the beginning of the session. When we get audio files that are at the same sampling rate as our session, those files can be imported into the session without having to convert them.
One last helpful item — when you send out rough mixes (again, starting from the beginning of the session or project you’re working in), you don’t have to send out high resolution WAV files; we typically send out MP3s since those can be emailed rather than uploaded through a service like Hightail or Dropbox. When the overdubs are sent back, however, those are high resolution and, therefore, too large to send via email.
We’re interested in helping out studios and musicians when we can, and we’re interested in what you can do that will benefit our projects. Reach out and let us know what you think!