Recently our female a cappella group, Fermata Nowhere, began recording a set of songs for their first CD to be released in early fall 2011. We have learned so much about this process and I wanted to share our experiences. We have rehearsed our music pieces all year long, and decided to record in a local, professional studio with a recording engineer. The girls and I worked diligently to be prepared for our studio time to ensure that they were effective and efficient sessions. As producer, I researched the copyright and mechanical license procedures to guarantee that our recording and distribution of CDs would be legal. We are working on CD titles and packaging materials, but more about that to come in future blog posts. This venture seemed overwhelming at first, but as the pieces are coming together, the full picture is truly a phenomenal one.
Our studio time required us to be very focused and efficient. The saying “time is money” directly applies to our process because the longer we take to record, the more expensive our endeavor. One of our goals was to be extremely prepared on every selection we were recording on a given day. The girls could use music, but even a page turn could ruin a take so we worked toward memorization on almost everything.
Our sessions always started with me playing a piano guide track into the recording program. This allowed the girls to hear some of the pitches to maintain intonation throughout a piece. The guide track also played a computerized “shaker” sound to keep tempo.
How to Record Different Parts
There are several ways to record songs, but for our a cappella pieces we decided to have each voice part record separate tracks. Each singer or group of singers would go into the studio and sing through their part of the song following the guide track. As we went along, the song slowly would take shape, layer by layer. By layering the voice parts, the recording engineer has greater control over the manipulation of the piece. He or she can bring up or down volumes, extend phrases, or even auto-tune if necessary. In general, we always would start with the lowest voice part and work our way to the top. Frequently, we have each voice part record their part twice. These multiple tracks (‘mults’) not only provide options for edits, but add depth to the overall sound of a master track. You can incorporate vocal percussion anywhere along the way, but our soloists and added features like duets or echo phrases definitely came last. The ability to control the details within an arrangement offer a very clean final product, but can sound too processed (think of the Glee soundtracks that exist out there- lots of production!). Our other options would be live performance- where the girls all stand around a mic in the studio and perform as a group- or a combination of the live performance with the layering process. It really depends on the type of piece you are trying to record and the skill level of your recording engineer. Luckily our man, Dr. Caw (www.drcaw.com) is not only an excellent engineer, but has very keen ears and great attention to detail.
In order to legally record songs (songs that are not original compositions or in public domain) and sell CDs, you need to obtain a mechanical license for each song you intend to record. This is permission from the original songwriter to use their creative property. A portion of the money paid for this license is then passed to the songwriter through royalties. Most songs are actually held by one agency in the United States, The Harry Fox Agency. For more specifics on Mechanical Licensing, click HERE.
I found this process extremely easy once I took the short video tutorial. Like many other internet-based systems, you create a profile and log-in to search for songs. After submitting information about your intentions for those songs, you pay a fee for each song you plan to use. Watch this great video to see the whole process.