Recording An Album
Posted by Alex Goodman

U of T Jazz alumnus Alex Goodman shares his thoughts on recording an album.

The Music

Your CD represents you and your music. Unlike a gig, a record will be around for years, so ensure that you have a cohesive repertoire and a band that does your music justice. Think about creating an album that flows from track to track and showcases your band’s strengths.

Finances

Recording a professional quality CD isn’t cheap. Grants are extremely helpful and learning how to write a grant application is an invaluable skill. If you aren’t able to obtain a grant, you will have to finance it and/or secure funding from private organizations or individuals. If your CD has a theme, try pitching it to organizations that have a vested interest in your material to raise capital.

Some of the approximate costs typical in recording a professional jazz album are:

$1750 – CD printing $2000 – recording (two studio days) $2000 – mixing and mastering
$1000 – Album art/Design/Photography etc
$1000 – producer $1000/musician ($500/studio day)- sidemen costs
$1500 – $5000 – publicist
$200 – $1000 – postage for CDs
10 cents/CD – royalties

Some tricks: the more original music you record, the less you’ll spend on royalties and the more you’ll get back when your music is performed or played on the radio. Also, remember that students in art programs may be interested in designing your album.

Choosing the Studio

Gear – Every studio has different equipment and ways of recording. The more you know, the better. Do research – read books and talk to people in the know.
Isolation – Some studios will be able to isolate each instrument, this can make the editing process much more flexible.
Engineer – Each recording engineer will have specific techniques and sounds they go for. Listen to their recording output to understand their style.

The Big Day

Show up prepared – bring sample recordings that sonically appeal to you so that the engineer has an idea of what aesthetic you are aiming for. Find pictures of various recording sessions so you have an idea of how they were microphoned, how the musicians set up and what kind of rooms they recorded in.

Do your best to make sure that the band is rested and well fed. Try to get two or three great takes of each track and don’t worry about choosing which ones you want until your ears are fresh. It is a great idea to take notes for each take so you have something to reference when you are trying to choose your tracks. A good producer can do a lot for your group during the session.

No matter what, stay calm and don’t worry if things aren’t going as planned. Often, the music sounds much better than you think it does, and if not, there’s a lot you can do to fix mistakes in the editing process. Treat every take the same and don’t let previous attempts affect your performance on any track. Also, if you think you may need to do a lot of editing later on, make sure all your takes are at the same tempo.

Mixing, Mastering and Editing

Make sure that you have solid notes regarding mistakes, level issues and tonal qualities for each mix to bring to your engineer. Notate specific timings to minimize wasted time in the studio.

The most valuable resource you have in getting a good mix is your peers and mentors. It is impossible not to be emotionally connected to the music you’ve recorded and having objective sets of ears can prove invaluable. The more you know about recording techniques, the more control you will have in the outcome of your mix. Read books on the topic and talk to people with experience in this part of the process. It’s a great idea to listen to your favorite sounding albums and take note of how they are mixed.

Publicity

Radio stations’, magazines’ and newspapers’ contact information is easy to find on their websites. It’s usually more effective to develop a personal relationship with jazz writers and DJs than it is to send out e-mail blasts. Read previous articles that your media contact has written and show interest in their work.

When trying to get press attention, look for a spin that relates your project to the media outlet you are targeting. Draw on local connections if possible.

Find radio stations that play your style of music and make sure they all receive your album. Get in touch with their musical director, or with specific radio hosts. Follow up after sending material and make sure to target campus and satellite stations.

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