Guide to a smooth recording process

This guide has been made to make sure the recording process goes smoothly and to make sure you are prepared for your stay in Project Zero Studio.
Everything in this document is a general guideline, exceptions make the rule and deviation from these guidelines are possible and likely.

If anything is still unclear and you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

Let’s dive in!

Preproduction

This is the most overlooked part of the production process and one of the most important ones. If you take extra care of this step your production is almost guaranteed to be successful.

Preproduction is relatively easy to do yourself at home. If you feel overwhelmed and want us to take care of this, let us know well in advance so we can implement this in our planning and quote.

Songwriting

A good mix can only happen on a well written song. Make your arrangements purposeful and really think about what’s going on in your song.

Tempos & structures

The first thing we will need is the tempos & structures. These will be needed throughout the entire process.

Tempo

If your song has a set tempo, let us know what meter and tempo (in BPM) this is.

If your song has a variable tempo, make a tempo map in your preferred DAW, export a midi track and send us that midi track.

Please leave a 2 bar count-off in your midi track before the actual song starts.

Pro Tip: If you use Guitar Pro to write or do notation for your songs, you can convert your GP file to a midi file that works with our DAW.

Structures

Most songs will have a structure (i.e.: riff 1, riff 2, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, …).

Let us know how many bars each part is

OR

Set markers in your preferred DAW and implement them in your midi track.

Guide guitars

Since the first instrument we record is drums, we will need some guide guitars for the drummer to play along with (as well as the click track of course).

There are many cheap audio interfaces and amp simulators available to do this yourself, we advise you to teach yourself how to do this properly.

These recorded guitars will NOT go on the final album, but it’s important that these sound somewhat nice and are tight. This will allow the drummer to focus on getting a good take rather than being distracted by an awful performance/sound.

It goes without saying that these recorded guitars have to be recorded to the same tempo/structure as the tempos you have provided.

Extras

These are not strictly necessary but always nice to have. Remember the first paragraph about being well prepared?

Guide drums/bass/vocals/leads/production

When tracking drums, it’s extremely helpful to be able to listen to a full song rather than some unfinished guide guitars, if you have the time to record the entire album once before you do it “for real”, the second time around can only be better.

This will also already give you (and me!) an idea of what the song will/should sound like. When playing a song at a rehearsal you are often too focused on the playing rather than listening so you have no idea what the song would sound like to an outsider.

Another benefit is that you are able to clear up any misunderstandings. A bassist playing a wrong note/groove, a drummer doing a weird fill, clashing harmonies. It’s highly recommended that you clear these things up BEFORE you enter the studio. The studio is not a rehearsal room.

Tabs/Midi drums/lyrics

Same idea as before, writing down and committing to ideas before the studio is very necessary. This does not mean there’s no room for experimentation, on the contrary, we only have time to do experimentation if there’s already a set “frame” to build off.

Experimentation is for pros, improvisation is for amateurs.

Recording

Now that we have the preproduction down, it’s time to do this for real.

99% of the time we work with an approach that is called “overdubbing”, this means that every instrument is recorded separately. This approach is how all modern recording studios operate and ensures that all instruments get the attention they need.

Following that notion, we almost always record to click track. Practice this at home before coming to the studio because if this is your first time you are in for one hell of a wakeup call.

Drums

Preparation

Practice playing your parts to a metronome before coming to the studio, if you have the ability to record yourself so you can hear (and see) how tight you are that’s even better.

As mentioned in the preproduction section, there is room for experimentation, not for improvisation. Make sure that when you play the song twice, you have played it exactly the same. This is important for when we start stitching parts together.

Instrument & equipment

We have a great Tama Granstar shell kit available for you to use for free if you’d like. You are of course free to bring your own kit.

We do not provide stands, snares, cymbals, pedals, sticks, … so make sure you bring these yourself.

Make sure that all of your equipment works properly and does not make excessive noise (squeaky pedals, broken cymbals, racks, tom mounts, …).

You are obligated to start the first recording day on brand new beater skins. This is the only way to make an acoustic drum sound professional and is more important than what kind of drum kit you have.

We will tune your drum kit on the first day, don’t worry if you don’t know what you are doing here. We have great expertise in tuning drum kits.

Skins

Either Evans or Remo will work fine, you are free to make your own choice and buy these yourself. If you wish to leave this responsibility to us we will buy an appropriate set for you and add them to the final invoice.

Below are some general guidelines:

  • Kick: Preferably a skin without a rubber rim for the beater head, for the resonance head it’s important that this has a large enough porthole to freely place microphones (we have one available)
  • Snare: Always use a coated beater skin, single layer if you want a ‘ringy’ long snare, double layer if you want a dry ‘beefy’ snare.
  • Toms: Pick clear skins if you want the most punch and attack, pick coated skins for more fine details. Single layer for long resonating toms (slower tempos), double layer for a fast attack and decay (faster tempos).

Recording

In general, we will ask you to do multiple “full” takes of the song. Once we have a good full take of the song we will go into more detail and work on a part-per-part basis with punch-ins. If time allows it, we will experiment with changing up parts/fills.

Edits & samples

For a professional production, edits and samples are almost always needed. The degree of this varies greatly for each style of music and the direction you want to go in. We never “mindlessly put you on the grid” and never completely replace your performance with samples. All edits & sampling is done tastefully and the human factor will never be lost (unless it’s needed for the production style!).

Guitars & bass

 Preparation

Know your parts inside out and make sure you can actually play your parts. Commit to a solo before you enter the studio (experimentation, not improvisation!).

Instrument & strings

A well set-up guitar is the most important factor in this entire step. It’s highly recommended that you let your guitar be set-up by a professional luthier (Rammeloo Guitars, J-Axe Guitars).

Choosing the right strings is crucial for proper intonation. Most well-known brands are fine. Use: https://tension.stringjoy.com/ to calculate an appropriate gauge set for your guitar and tuning.

While on the subject of strings, the ideal time to change strings is after 2h of use (really?! Only 2h?!; Yes only 2h). Because this can get expensive very fast we obtain a minimum of changing strings at least every half day for guitars and every day for bass. In most cases it’s also sufficient to replace only the strings that have had the most use (i.e. the lowest 3-4).

To record rhythm guitars, Evertune bridges are king. You don’t have to buy a new guitar of course, but if you were considering buying one anyways I would highly recommend that you get one with an Evertune bridge.

Floating bridges for rhythm guitars are generally not ideal as the tuning takes up most of the day.

Amplifiers, pedals & cabinets

You are welcome to bring your own rig to the studio however we also offer a variety of great tube heads, a Kemper and many great amp sims by Neural DSP and STL Tones. We also have a splitter that allows us to blend up to 6 different amps (which is overkill!).

We also have a great Engl cabinet available with the good English Celestion V30 speakers in it.

Delay, reverb, chorus, effect pedals are nice and we are open to experiment with this. However, we have noticed that we usually get better results using dedicated FX inside the DAW for this (tempo match, automation, …).

Recording

For guitars and bass, we usually record on a riff-per-riff basis. Meaning you will have to play the entire riff for as many takes as we need to get a good and tight take. In some cases, we will ask you to play only one measure to really focus on getting it tight.

Repeating riffs that are exactly the same will be copy/pasted where needed.

We do not edit guitar and bass after the fact, this happens “on-the-fly” while we’re recording.

Vocals

Preparation

Figure out your lyrics and timing and write them down (digitally) before entering the studio. Please also provide them to us so we can follow along while recording.

Some indication of what words/sentences you do in different styles or want special emphasize on is useful.

It’s no secret that alcohol and smoking is bad for your voice, please keep this to a minimum. Do not quit smoking for the recording or do it at least 6 weeks in advance. When quitting smoking, your voice will get worse before it gets better. Not to mention your mood.

We have many different great microphones in our arsenal so bringing your own microphone and/or effect box is not necessary.

Recording

We usually record a full take as a warm up session and then go paragraph per paragraph or even sentence per sentence. Doubles and harmonies are often done on the fly but if switching styles is hard on your voice let us know so we can take a different approach.

Prepare to be singing for about 2-4h per day. This does not seem like a lot but the voice is a very fragile instrument and you have probably never sung for more than an hour at a time. Recording vocals is brutal on the voice and very tiring. If during the recording session you feel like you are hurting your voice, swallow your pride and let us know. It’s much more valuable to be able to sing the next day than it is to get a lot done on this day. We also do not want to feel responsible for any damage that you may have done to your voice.

 Edits

After recording we edit your doubles and layers to be aligned properly with each other and tune clean vocals where needed.

Other

If there are any other instruments that need to be recorded, let us know in advance so we can schedule accordingly.

Mixing

When the recording process is finished we’ll start mixing.

How long this takes varies greatly per project but we usually calculate a 2-3 week period to get the first version done.

While mixing we prefer not to be disturbed by the artist as this is very much a “try until it’s right” situation. Once we are happy with a first version you are welcome for a listening session although this is not required.

You will receive instructions on how to listen and give feedback along with the first version of the mix.

You are allowed to have 3 free revision rounds, after that you will be charged €60/h for every revision after. Revisions are usually sent within 3 working days of the day you send your feedback.

Edits and song changes are not possible anymore while we are at this stage.

Mastering

When also tasked with mastering, this is scheduled in the mixing period.

We always deliver:

  • DDP for CD pressing
  • Digital WAV files (44.1kHz/16bit)
  • Streaming WAV files (44.1kHz/16bit)
  • MP3 files for personal or Bandcamp use
  • Vinyl mastering in FDR (Full Dynamic Range)

All metadata will be embedded in these files. You will receive further instructions on how to deliver this metadata.