Following a recent thread on CD recordings, I was asked to assimilate some of the material I'd written into one post - here it is. Mods, please feel free to move it as appropriate.
A Short Guide to Preparing to Record a Brass Band CD
Brass Band CDs come in two distinct flavours. There are those which are commissioned and the Bands in question are paid for recording them, and there are those that are self funded. This guide is intended for those of us who fall into the latter category. It contains information on repertoire, preparation, venues and so on that can be critical to a successful product. If this document raises more questions, or if you require clarification of anything it contains, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are you recording?
There are three main reasons for making a CD:
1) For the experience of making a recording.
2) To make money for your Band.
3) To raise awareness and the public profile of your Band.
Due to cost constraints, the first is becoming increasing uncommon (at least when taken in isolation) and in my experience, all three are intrinsically linked.
Once you’ve decided that you’re going to record a CD, you have to make some decisions about your target market, which include:
1) Who is your target market – does it include your regular concert goers, family members, friends etc or is it being made for something more specific like Brass Band aficionados or to send as part of an advertising package.
2) How big is your target market – this has a profound impact on costing later on, and whether or not it’s a financially viable project. For example, if you only think you’ll sell 100 CDs at £8 each you may be surprised to find that you’ll be in the red when all the costs are taken into consideration. Obviously, if you’re making the CDs as a promotional tool, then different rules apply. We’ll go into this in more detail later.
3) What does your target market like to listen to? Remember this recording is really for them to listen to, and the experience of doing the recording is what you take away.
1) Select material that is appropriate for your proposed target market. If you want to sell you CD to the general public like your concert goers, then it’s likely that they’ll want to hear the same kind of music that you play in your concerts, not a collection of your favourite testpieces.
2) Choose material that is within your capabilities. The music you record has to stand up to repeated listening – the rule of “we can get away with it on a concert, even if it’s a bit rough round the edges” does not apply. It’s much better for your audience’s ears as well as for your reputation if you produce a CD of well played popular favourites than an interesting interpretation of Blitz!
Finding a Suitable Venue
It’s not unusual for your chosen recording company to have specific venues in mind when it comes to certain kinds of ensembles. Indeed, some companies can be quite specific about the venues in which they will work, sometimes requiring the Band to travel a long way and occasionally incorporating an overnight stay. This can be a double edged sword – whilst the recording company will be intimately familiar with the venue and any associated foibles (and so be able to get the best out of the room), it can also put costs up considerably. Ultimately, always ask your chosen recording company for advice before you hire a venue.
A perfect venue is a very rare find indeed. With this in mind, should it be required that you find your own venue there are several factors that you need to consider.
1) Is it big enough? The sound of a brass band takes time to develop, and can be very loud – you don’t want to be saturating the room, as this will be apparent on the final CD. Conversely, you don’t want the room to be too big, or the sound will be too reverberant – hence large churches are seldom used unless you are looking for a specific kind of sound. An oft quoted figure is a reverberation time of 1.6 seconds being ideal, but as with most of these things that’s open for discussion.
2) Is there capability for the Recording Engineers and Producer(s) to be in a separate room? As already mentioned, brass bands can produce very loud sounds making it very difficult (although not impossible) to balance from within the same room.
3) What’s on the walls? For example, square and rectangular buildings which only have reflective surfaces can cause all sorts of problems e.g. nasty slapback and / or flutter echoes. The ability to curtain of some of the wall space would then be desirable to minimise such things – if in doubt, consult your engineers. A typical example of a workaround would be to avoid having any percussive instruments on the midline of the Hall.
4) What’s off to one side of the Hall? An illustration would be a typical 1960s or 1970s Civic Hall, which have a bar off to once side and a smaller function room to the right. If these rooms can be screened off, then that’s OK. However, if the small function room is open to the main room, then the positioning of the Band within the room become all important. Having a small antechamber off to one side can draw the reverberation tails off to one side which can sound very odd.
5) Check the roof and window construction. Make sure that you can’t hear, for example, rain falling. Some buildings have plastic roofs which can expand and contract depending on the weather – and from the inside may actually look like a normal roof.
6) Check for other extraneous noise sources – e.g. air conditioning units, automatic drink chillers (i.e. coke machines!), fridges and freezers. If the building contains anything like this, ask if they can be switched off for the duration of the sessions.
7) Check the outside of the building. Is it near anything like building sites, playing fields or sports grounds and if it is near the latter, are there any organised events taking place when you wish to record? A local football match just outside may be good if you’re recording the Match of the Day theme, but not in the middle of Aurelia…
8 ) Check that there are adequate levels of lighting for all parties.
9) Check the availability of the keys and / or access. The engineers will need access to the building some considerable time before and after the Band is required, so the total room hire time will be longer than the recording time. Some buildings hire rates change for long days, or after a certain time of day.
10) Check with the owners of the building as to whether any licensing or certification is required from the recording company. For example, certain venues will require current PAT Certification (Portable Appliance Testing) for all the recording apparatus in addition to proof of Public Liability Insurance (PLI) before the recording can take place. Also be aware that the level of PLI required for venues can vary – for example, some Local Authorities are now requesting a minimum of £5 million cover before you can lease the building. Obviously, your chosen recording company must be compliant with the standards set out by the venue owners.
The Sessions and Expectations
Considerations for the day (and before) would include:
1) Hire or use a Producer – preferably one with recording experience. Perhaps their most important job is to listen with the engineers and Musical Director to the sessions in order to make sure all the pieces are recorded to an adequate standard and to find edit points if needed. In consultation with the editor(s) they are also responsible for which takes are compiled to give the final tracks. In my experience, just using the MD as a Producer is much less successful than having a separate pair of ears.
2) Make sure you give enough copies of music to the production team in advance – it’s nice to have it along with a copy of the proposed running order a couple of weeks ahead of the sessions.
3) Be realistic about the outcome. Even the best engineers and Producers in the World will not make Eccleswick Colliery Silver Band sound like YBS!
4) Sessions usually last for a total of about 6 recording hours per day. This would normally equate to 3 hours, then an hour for lunch, followed by another 3 hour session. Bear in mind that the first half hour or so will be taken up for sound and balance checks. Please be patient during this time, as it’s entirely necessary for the engineers to obtain the optimum sounding recording even if it does seem to take time away from your recording.
5) As the recording sessions are much longer than normal rehearsals and concerts, structure your rehearsal prior to the sessions to gain stamina – for example, you may wish to add an extra hour to the usual two etc.
6) Plan the order of recording with the Producer(s) prior to the session. For example, you may wish to schedule some of the bigger pieces earlier in the day or put soloists after a piece in which they’re not that busy to “save their lips” a bit.
7) During and following the soundcheck, make sure that those that are in control of the project listen and agree to what they are hearing. This is especially important if the recording is going straight to stereo – if you change your mind later, there will be no going back on what was committed to tape!
8 ) Don’t be tempted to split pieces between sessions, as you may change things when you get up and sit down again making the job of editing very difficult ((for example, even small changes in seating position can play havoc with the stereo image). Particularly important is not to split pieces overnight – especially if an equipment reset is required (as it may be for insurance purposes).
9) Make sure all the instruments are well maintained – it only takes one slightly clanky valve to destroy a fantastic performance. This is especially important for soloists.
10) Get your artwork ready, including photos, writeups and biographies. The late submission of this material is responsible for a lot of hold ups in the production process. Artwork requirements should be discussed with your recording company, unless you’re arranging your own manufacture.
Things to remember during the session
1) Dusters for the floors so you don't get mute taps.
2) Remind any foot tappers to not do it when you're recording.
3) Avoid jangly jewellery - that goes for both girls and boys.
4) Make sure all mobile phones are switched - that's off, not on vibrate.
5) Make sure you've got an adequate supply of water - room temperature is normally better than chilled.
6) Watch out for intrusive items of clothing such as large buttons etc.
7) Be aware of the red light etiquette – the tape is rolling when it’s on, and remember to stay silent following the end of the recording until it goes off.
Following the Sessions
The Producers will assimilate an edit list that the editors will use to compile the takes into the final tracks. You should then be issued with a CD for your approval (my terminology would be 1st Edit Master). If you wish any changes to be made, you should tell the editor and Producer at this point. Depending on your contract with the recording company, any changes you make may be chargeable (i.e. if you’ve booked them on a “What you hear is what you get” basis) – typically, further editing may be charged at £35 per hour.
If you make changes, these will be actioned if possible (please bear in mind that not everything you may ask for can be achieved!) and you will receive a second CD (the 2nd Edit Master). This process may go through several iterations until you are happy – again, be aware of hidden charges. When you approve, you will get a final CD (Final Edit Master) along with some paperwork which gives the company permission to go to manufacture. When you’ve signed this agreement, nothing can be changed. During this process, applications for the MCPS AP2 agreement should be made (see below).
A few weeks later, you should receive the fruits of your labour!
Economy of Scale – Duplication or Replication?
At the outset of this document, you decided on the size of your target audience. This number obviously determines the total number of CDs you will get manufactured.
CDs can either be duplicated (i.e. burnt onto CDR) or replicated (pressed from a glass master). There is a slight risk with CDR copies that they will not play on all equipment (particularly older CD players). However, for numbers less than 500, your CDs will be produced in this way – so be prepared for some returns. For numbers greater than 500, you should get your CDs pressed – in which case there should be no problem playing them in any equipment.
There is a further complication. Getting CDR copies is more expensive per unit than pressing – sufficiently so that if you require 250 copies, you may as well get 500 units pressed as it’s actually cheaper!
Licence Considerations – MCPS
The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) is responsible for the collection and distribution of royalties to its members. In order to duplicate CDs that contain Copyrighted material you need to have an agreement with the MCPS in place – you should need a copy of the completed application form at the very least in order for the manufacturers to proceed.
Details of the MCPS Licences can be obtained from their website at http://www.mcps.co.uk – check for the AP2 Agreement. Under certain circumstances, you may be entitled to apply for a Limited Use Licence. However, the restrictions on this licence are quite stringent (e.g. no more than one piece by the same composer or arranger), and you cannot apply for a top up licence (the maximum allowance you can get is for 500 units). Check also about allowances for Promotional copies, if that is your intended purpose.
I hope you find these notes interesting and of use. Above all, enjoy your recording sessions, and I hope your CD is well received! © KMJ Recordings 2005
Keith M Johnson B.Sc.(Hons)
30/10/05 Revised 31/10/05