Why do professional recordings sound, well…professional? There are a number of reasons including high quality microphones, pre-amps, an experienced engineer and a well-designed studio space. In this article, recording engineer Cliff Goldmacher explains why one of the single most important elements in a great-sounding, professional recording is the performance of the session musicians.
Shouldn’t You Be Able To Do This Yourself?
There is a reason that the job of the session musician exists. It’s these musicians whose talent and studio experience contribute in a major way to the polished sound of a recording.
While I am a big proponent of wearing as many hats as you can in your musical career, there are certain areas where it makes much better sense to rely on experts. First of all, it’s extremely important that you take your ego out of the equation. There is no shame in having someone else play on your demo. Remember that a song demo is supposed to put your song in the best possible light in order to “sell” it to prospective artists or place it in films and TV shows. It is not supposed to be proof of your musicianship. Recording an instrument in the studio requires an entirely different skill set than playing live. For lack of a better description, studio recording is more like music surgery than a musical performance. While you might be comfortable playing guitar in your living room or even on a stage in front of hundreds of people, it’s an entirely different ballgame to sit in a four by six-foot booth wearing headphones and listening to a clicking sound. Giving a note-perfect, dynamic and in-time performance in this kind of unnatural setting requires a special set of skills.
Isn’t It Cheaper if You Do It Yourself?
Given that we all have to keep an eye on the bottom line when it comes to our recording budgets, there is the temptation to save money by playing on the demo yourself. The problem with this method is that often it will take an inexperienced studio musician twice as long to get a viable take as it would a pro. One of the many advantages of using session musicians is that they are not only good at what they do but fast. In other words, the price you pay to hire a session musician translates into savings on studio time compared to playing the part yourself. Being fast in the studio is useful for another reason as well. When a session bogs down with take after take, it starts to feel a lot more like work. When things go quickly and smoothly, the session stays musical and fun. Don’t discount the need for a session to stay enjoyable. My experience has been that everyone does his or her best work when the atmosphere in the studio is light and productive.