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Context:

Next year I'm going to record an album, and due to packed schedules of all the musicians I'm considering booking the studio for a few whole days (instead of a few hours a day for a month).

There are some benefits, say after whole day of playing the band will be in a very good sync. However, when people get tired they are usually more sloppy, less creative and so on.

This less important when recording individual tracks, but I would prefer to record "live", that is, all the musicians at once.

Question:

Is recording for a whole day (a few days in a row) a good idea?

Are there any ways to mitigate the drawbacks, for example make an extended break in the middle (people need their lunch anyway)?

  • Having not done it this way before, you might try to book one day and go in with the band and see how it goes, then plan out the project based on that. You may find that there are unplanned, unwanted "break times" involved with technical problems, mic placement, level setting, drum tuning, tube/fuse replacing, etc. The studio is a strange place. Sometimes to only way to really know what it's going to be like there is to go there once briefly before planning out the "real" sessions. No matter how you do it, you can't be too well rehearsed before recording. Practice practice practice. – Todd Wilcox Dec 18 '15 at 19:37
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Before spending a lot of money in a studio (as studios can be expensive) it's a good idea to demo a few songs yourself beforehand. You don't have to be an expert mixing engineer, all you need is just enough to get an idea of how your band and songs sound. Listening to yourselves back on recording and performing live is as different as night and day. So you'd be doing yourselves a disservice to go into the studio totally blind. You need to hear your stuff from a listener's perspective so you can work on anything that needs to be fixed before you are on the clock in a studio. And you can also take the time to experiment with different sounds, effects, instrument parts, etc and see how they come out on the recording.

This is the best way to prepare for a studio, know exactly what you're getting into before you go in. When you're on the clock you do not want to be experimenting and trying to fix things that you noticed when you heard yourselves back. You can also give your demo to your engineer and talk with them about the sounds and feel you want so he knows what you are looking for before you start recording. Even if you couldn't get sounds perfected in your demo recordings you can still give your engineer the vision you have for your songs.

And I know you said you want to record live as a band, but this is rare even for very skilled professional musicians. Recording one instrument at a time really does make things easier to be able to fix minor mistakes through overdubs that will be much harder to do if you're playing live and especially if you're not playing to a click track. Minor mistakes are forgivable live and then they are gone and forgotten, but on a recording those mistakes will linger there forever. Recording is different than playing a live gig. Mixing is also much easier when recording one instrument at a time and the production is a very important part to how your album turns out. Badly mixed tracks because (for example) there was massive cymbal bleed in the lead vocal mic which limited the volume or the processing on the vocals will have a very negative effect on the overall recording.

And finally, going all day long is probably a bad idea. Your stamina might be fine for instruments, but vocals is a totally different beast. Your singer's voice will likely get warn out eventually and the vocals is a key focal point so you want them to be very strong. You don't want your vocalist on the verge of loosing their voice from singing all day. So at least you should split up the days your vocalist records.

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    These are some good suggestions, but I'm afraid that when recording individual tracks I will loose the synergy of instruments that make jazz what it is (it will be instrumental, so the vocals are not the problem). – dtldarek Dec 18 '15 at 16:28
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    Ah, if you're doing jazz then that's totally different. Jazz is probably one of the few exceptions where recording one at a time would not be preferred because there is so much interaction between the musicians. And if you're playing jazz then you're likely at a level of musicianship to be able to pull off live recording really well. Without recording vocals then it's really up to you and your band to decide whether to go all day or not as you'd be more likely to know if you can keep it together all day performing. If you do go for it, then take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. :) – Tekkerue Dec 18 '15 at 17:02
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    I think recording all together is great for all genres in terms of making scratch tracks. Give the drummer headphones with a metronome/click track, go into the practice space, and play all together and record that like a demo. Then take that to a studio and overdub and replace the scratch tracks with the final ones. That seems to give the best of both studio sound quality and "live feel". – Todd Wilcox Dec 18 '15 at 19:39
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    @ToddWilcox - I wonder why the click track would be so important - or important at all - to a jazz drummer. Dance music, yes, but jazz is far more creational, and will, or should, move off the beat. having a click track could very well ruin the creativity in that sort of situation, I feel. Good musos ought to be able to keep time - or move time - without falling apart ? – Tim Dec 19 '15 at 13:04
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I would say more important than that is to have a goal on each recording session. Based on experience with your band you could say: We record one song per day or We record 3 songs per day.

I think you should try it. When you set a goal for the first session and you see that the bands concentration is gone after 2 hours, then set sessions with 2 hours. If you see they get good results even after a 8 hour session, then you can set sessions this long, though this may vary with motivation, results and daily fitness.

But most important, don't book a studio, go there and then try to figure out what to do. Set your goals before, talk it over with the band and see how it goes.

  • Unfortunatelly only a part of that group I have played with before, and I think that all the available studio slots will be gone at the time we get together. – dtldarek Dec 18 '15 at 15:24
  • I believe this is the best answer so far – Shevliaskovic Dec 18 '15 at 22:14
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I don't have extensive experience with recording, but what I've done has been 80% multi-tracked live. And I prefer it. The style of music you are recording certainly dictates how "acceptable" and "possible" this is. But in general, recording a track/instrument at a time is more common.

If you're worried about longevity and stamina for the band, why don't you try 1/2 an album at practice? This is a good way to see how far you can go and whether it sounds like everyone can take it.

In the infancy of recording people had to track live, and doing so was expected and nothing too demanding for most musicians. But everyone needs to be on board for that.

  • We are all professional musicians, playing once for a few hours straight surely won't be a problem. Doing this several days in a row might be. And it would be a shame if different tracks would differ much in quality. – dtldarek Dec 18 '15 at 15:29
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    "Doing this several days in a row might be" - I think that's your answer then. Because you're definitely going to go through multiple takes. – user6164 Dec 18 '15 at 15:31
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There are some good answers with good advice. I can think of a few things to add to what the other answers have said.

You did not mention if booking the studio includes booking an engineer or technician who will be running the studio equipment or if you are bringing your own engineer and simply renting the studio time/equipment. I am going to assume that there will be someone connected with the studio who will act as an engineer and/or producer.

If this is the case, you should solicit their advice after clearly articulating your goals and the willingness and capabilities of your band mates. Ask about how much time in the studio makes sense. The engineer/producer will know from experience how much time will be spent getting set up to record the entire band at once. They will probably have some insight based on experience as to how many takes will be needed to get the desired end result.

He/she will also know their own post production capabilities with regards to post production mixing, tweaking, editing, "splicing" and mastering. Depending on the way you set everything up (a click track is important) the engineer/producer may be able to take the best parts from several different takes and seamlessly blend them together so that playing a song over and over and over trying to get the perfect take may not be needed. But only the engineer/producer you will be working with will know if that is a viable option given the equipment used, skill of the producer/engineer, and the set up.

Another thing that will be important is for everyone in the band to get plenty of sleep the night before each session and be sure they are well hydrated before going in. Regular breaks should be included in the session. You might want to decide you will take a break between songs instead of a set time. You don't want to interrupt the creative karma once you get rolling, just because it's time for a scheduled break.

If everyone gets tired and starts getting sloppy, it might be time to stop playing and spend the balance of the booked time planning for what you hope to accomplish the next day and/or talking about what you are working on that day, or listening to the various takes. In fact when I have been in the studio, the first half of the time is spent performing and recording the various takes and at least as much time is spent listening back to decide which parts of which takes I like best. If this is the approach your producer will take, then by the time your band mates start to get tired of playing, it will be time to do some listening to what you have played.

There may also be some listening between takes so you can talk about what you like and didn't like about that take. So if you are in the studio for 8 hours, it's likely that you may only actually be performing and recording for half that time, with the rest of the time spent listening.

Finally, be sure the band members are committed to treating the booked period of several days like a serious job. Since they have to go to work the next day, they should refrain from staying out late partying after the work day is done.

Good luck and have fun.

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This really depends on the musicians. There are people that can play/record for many hours or days on end, without getting tired and get an excellent result. There are others that might get tired sitting all day for a few days on the studio.

What I suggest is to talk it over with your band. See how they can work. If you have a person (or more) that might get tired doing this, you might have to work it a few hours per day.

My suggestion would be the latter; working a few hours a day (thus it will take more days) This way all the musicians can work hard at the studio and then go home and relax and be ready for another session the next day, but this is just me knowing my capabilities and my weaknesses; the other way might work better for you and your band.

for example make an extended break in the middle (people need their lunch anyway)?

Τhis will surely help the musicians relax, but me personally, I would prefer to work a few hours and then call it a day. (By a few hours I don't mean 1-2; a session could be 4-5 hours)

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    You are correct, but there is also a set up time, warm-ups, distractions, perhaps there will be a new idea and some member will need to practice a bit, etc. Only a part of the 5h session will be recording. Thus, perhaps recording at a studio for a whole day is not as exhausting as me practicing by myself for the whole day. – dtldarek Dec 18 '15 at 15:35

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