Making the most of studio time

Very often we are asked by clients to book a recording studio ourselves (or to recommend one) and although the cost of hiring a recording studio can vary enormously, we always try to keep within a sensible budget to maintain cost effective recordings. It is sometimes hard to accurately estimate how long it can take to record strings in a studio as things may run very smoothly with the recording being finished surprisingly quickly, or hiccups can arise which slow things down. With session musicians and studio engineers usually paid on an hourly rate, it’s important to make every minute in the studio productive. From the players point of view, any professional will make sure they turn up a little early, with their instrument ready to play and any tricky parts to the music already prepared. A studio can organise things beforehand too – with chairs set out, microphones in place and everything set up ready to record straight away.

But what are some of the factors which (in our experience) can improve the efficiency of studio work?

Firstly, it’s absolutely essential that any string parts which are to be recorded are composed or arranged and agreed with the client beforehand, ideally when other instruments and vocals are already in place so that strings can be written to enhance the rest of the track. Turning up at the studio and being asked to improvise or collaborate is likely to waste time whilst players agree on how and what to play, and it’s always a risk that the client might not like the results, having envisaged it sounding entirely different. A properly prepared score can save literally hours of time in the studio.

Likewise, if strings are to be added to a track with other instruments and vocals already recorded, it’s important that no ‘last minute changes’ are made to this after the string arrangement has been done – because the score the string arranger has prepared may well differ meaning the string parts don’t line up with the rest of the track. This can cause confusion and delay as the players try and work out how the score needs to be amended before recording can resume.

A string arranger can make the score very detailed with bowings, articulations, dynamics and other subtleties written in so that players can simply go in and play the music right at first reading. Sadly this is not always the case and can be a major bugbear of session musicians. Even in the case of top film and television soundtrack recordings if an orchestrator or arranger has not been very detailed in their scoring, much time can be wasted in the studio.

So when seeking a quotation or estimate for session musicians, so much can depend on the quality of preparation done beforehand and this is the responsibility of the client as well as the orchestrator / arranger. Poorly written parts can take literally double the time to record and although many bands or songwriters think that money can be saved by doing it themselves, it can often be a false economy.