Preproduction is a very important part of the recording process and is one of the areas where an artist can save money by being able to record at home. A good way to start is by recording all the songs that will be included in your project with a vocal and at least one instrumental track to solidify your song arrangements and to create guide tracks that your collaborators can work with.
SONG FILES VERSUS AUDIO FILES(TRACKS)
Its important to understand the difference between song files and audio files and to know where all these files reside on your hard drive. A song file is the application file that contains all the information regarding your song. Track set up, edits, sync information etc. The format of the file will depend on what recording software you are using. Protools, Logic, Digital Performer etc, all have their own song file format. The song file is what you are actually looking at when you are recording. The tracks, the mixing board etc. It may help you to understand that the wave forms you are seeing on the screen are just “pictures” representing the actual audio files and the edits you have made to them, they are not audio files themselves. Somewhere within your program there will be a list of the actual files the program is using and you’ll recognize the extensions, .wav, .aif etc. In Digital Performer it’s the Soundbites window, it may be called the Soundfiles or Audio files window depending on your program. This is a very handy window to familiarize yourself with.
WHERE ARE THE ACTUAL AUDIO FILES?
By default, the audio files will actually reside in a folder labeled “audio files” which will reside alongside the program file in a parent folder, labelled with the song title you designated when you created the song file. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing where the actual audio files are for everyone of your songs. The single most common disaster to befall new recordists is the loss of the audio files, either because they failed to back up, or they backed up the program files but did not back up all the audio files with them. Another common mistake is that for one reason or the other, the audio files that the song file is referring to have gotten spread out between 2 different drives, and now one of those drive is not available. Know were you’re files are, and check the audio files folder every once in a while to make sure the latest files you have either imported or created are in there. Particularly when you’re pulling files off a collaborators hard drive. And back up those files regularly. PEACE OF MIND IS KNOWING YOU HAVE A SOLID WORKING BACKUP.
SETTING UP YOUR SONG FILES
1) Determine who you will be sharing files with in advance ie; producer, outside studios etc. Get your technical specs discussed with them in advanced regarding audio file formats(sample rate and bit depth) and make sure you start all your song files with the same specs. If you’re on your own, I recommend you use the .aif or .wav format at 44.1 khz or 48 khz, and 24 bit. Set these as your preferences in your recording program before you start recording.
2) Be sure to include enough time at the start of each track for a count off. I always have 2 measures of click in front of every song. Small consistencies like these from song to song will really speed the process up, especially for your collaborators.
3) Once you have established your technical specs and set up a your song file, it’s time to get work on your arrangements. Record every song with your vocal and your instrument until you find the key, tempo and arrangement that sounds best. Shoot for the arrangements working well in this bare bones format. Bounce these ideas off your producer or engineer. Through the years I’ve found that arrangements that sound good in the pre-production stage sound better further down the line. Flaws in the arrangement only get worse and more obvious once more players join in.
4) Back up often! Set a regular schedule for backing up, and make sure you are not only backing up your song files but your audio files as well. And be sure back up to a different hard drive than the one you are working on.
Plan ahead. Make sure that when you first start your song files, you have thought through the technical aspects that will make it easier for you to collaborate with others later. You don’t want to record that “magic take” only to have to rerecord it later for technical reasons. Make sure you fully understand where all your files are located, both song files and audio files and back them up often to a different drive.