drugstore - music recording tips
for amateur lovers of fine audio
Here's a short compilation of tips and tricks I've picked-up along the way whilst recording our latest album.
So you don't have to make the same mistakes I've made.

Beware of the techno-able engineer.
Digital technology is a great tool, but should never overshadow the music and feel of a good performance, and at best, I think it should be used alongside good 'ol analogue recording.
A Drugstore tale:
I'd just recorded 'blackholes & brokenhearts', live acoustic and vocals, everything sounding just lovely.
The following day I'm listening back but something didn't quite feel/sound right. So I asked the engineer:
'Hey, something's sounding weird here - sounded good yesterday, have you done anything to the track?'
his reply: 'No, nothing, it's exactly like you've left it yesterday'.
Hummm, suspicious, I pressed on: 'It's definitely sounding different, something must have happened since I've left...'
Engineer, then finally concedes: 'Ah, well, I did move some of your guitar strums to the correct beat.., sounds miles better now.'
'You did WHAT?! You moved my guitar playing to match a click track?! No wonder it sounds wrong, it completely lost its natural groove.
Delete everything, let's start again, but this time, do NOT touch/change or move anything without my agreeing to it'.
So I've re-recorded the whole track from scratch, with the natural groove back in place.
And here's an extract of the 'offending beat'. It's on the little 'strummy riff', that follows straight after the word 'again' -
The last strum is just behind the beat ON PURPOSE!
It's part of the whole 'feel' of the line - if you move that last strum to 'right on the beat', the whole phrase loses its charm.
See if you can spot what I mean.
Arg. yes, be prepared for quite a few 'arg' moments, when you're gonna have to stand your ground, be polite, while secretly wishing you had a loaded gun.

If like miss m, you love singing with the headphones level really high, inevitably you'd also get a lot of unwanted backing track spillage, which can be a nightmare afterwards.
tip: move the backing track to a single headphone channel, say 'left', then your own live vocals to the 'right'; when you're singing, angle your left side slightly away from the mic. You'll get a lot less spillage.
I mixed some of the album tracks using headphones. Why?, 'cause I didn't want to annoy the neighbours.
Nice to be considerate, but not the best mixing move.
Headphones compress the sound, and particularly the 'stand-out' frequencies, like main-vocals, get their volume knock-down considerably, so they sound quieter on headphones, and you're tempted to push their volume up more than you really need to.
Learnt my lesson: on the forthcoming 'Aquamarine' single (told ya I woz gonna mention it...) - I made a point of listening to the mix on different stereos, and it's definitely one of my best efforts, I think.
Mixing on speakers doesn't have to be loud, in fact, lower volume will give you a better representation of the overall mix.
VOCAL BOOTHs / SING IN THE NUDE (if you want to)
I didn't realise but mic leads can always be jointed together (male-female).
Handy if you fancy doing a take beyond the 'vocal booth' and not facing the grumpy engineer or flirty drummer.
Some of the 'best takes' I've done were in some unexpected places, even under the bed covers.
A cool, unusual place may not deliver the same control and technical perfection of a 'padded booth', but it's all about getting a good performance.
One of the coolest things about a live studio performance is that it captures a real, breathing, unique moment in time.
I often despair when I see engineers applying too much 'Mr.Sheen' and completely erasing all the humanity away from a track.
I understand getting rid of a 'burp', but it's good to keep some organic elements in.
Here's an example: the track is 'Sinner's Descent', Yuuki McLure was playing acoustic and I was singing live. We did a few takes, and the one we chose had a few 'unexpected' noises.
You can hear Yuuki's intense breathing throughout the track and here, his nails hit the acoustic guitar, as he's changing chords.
To me, this is part of the magic - every time I hear this, I'm back in that room, surrounded by red fairy lights, with a bottle of wine at my feet.
See if you can spot it, finger-thumping just before 'find a place':

I've often had to delete tracks, to make way for new ones, because of lack of storage. Don't.
It's one of the most depressing and difficult things to try to re-record/re-create a demo or a particular 'take' you've lost.
Murphy's recording law: the original, now lost forever, is always going to be better than the one you're desperately trying to re-create.
Avoid future disappointment and despair: keep everything you record.
And that also extends to bits and bobs of music gear: don't chuck, sell/give any away, you just never know when you're gonna need it.
I used to have one of those mini Yamaha QY70, had a really great drum sound - Tricky recorded a whole album using it. I've lost track of mine, lost, sold, can't remember - badly miss it, never got drums on my demos to sound as good.
What could be more depressing and disappointing than a musician turning up late and/or unprepared for a sesh at the studio?
I guess it's easy to take things for granted and become
blasé about it all, but everyone, pop-tarts included, should look at studio-time as the greatest privilege an artist can have, and therefore it should be treated with evangelical respect.
Approach each day at the studio as your last, because, who knows, it could well be.

Give clear, written-down instructions of what you want and, more importantly: what you DON'T want doing to the tracks.
It can be quite hard to hear exactly what's happening at the mastering studio itself, written instructions are your safeguard.
Hate to say it, but even today, it's a little bit harder if you are a woman-girl, as some old skool engineers can be a bit patronising (not all of them, of course!) - and assume you probably don't need to know what they're doing, 'cause you wouldn't understand it.
Don't be intimidated by this and never forget that it is YOUR music - to get it roughly right, you're gonna need to be involved and stay tuned at every step of the way.
A word of warning: without clear instructions, you might be increasing the chances of ending up with all sorts of extra effects, from vari-speeding, auto-tuning and extra-shit you never planned to have on your record in the first place.
Having said all this negative stuff, I need to add that 'mastering' is a very important part of the process, and a good engineer will enhance and give depth to your track, without affecting the essence of the sound and mix.
You're gonna miss the artwork deadline, however many days you were given.
My advice: don't worry, it's preferable to take an extra day and make sure the artwork is mistake-free, then to do what miss m did:
'I uploaded everything in a mad hurry, loads of files, late friday afternoon - bad move - as instead of speeding the process up, it only meant that monday morning everything was sent back to me, for corrections.'
Artwork is not just a band logo and a few bits of graphics, it also contains vital info, like barcodes, and you defo don't wanna get these wrong.
So, take time away from the computer screen and double-check everything the following morning with fresh eyes.
well - that's usually the plan, isn't it?
Last, but certainly, not least, I think it's good to try to listen to feedback and let people around you share their views and opinions about the music you're trying to make - but, ultimately:
you wrote and arranged the little bugger, it's your christian name above that track - you've got to make sure you're happy with it, above anybody else.
This way - whatever everyone else, space-invaders, martian music critics and the rest of living-kind thinks about it, won't matter that much.
They will soon move on to different things and forget about it - but your music will stay embedded in your life, like a scar, and like your own patched-up self, it's not meant to be perfect or flawless, but when its made with the heart in the right place, it will truly reflect who you are, sharper than your bathroom mirror.