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Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy

Lesson 16 of 27

Budgets, Time and Planning a Session

Sylvia Massy

Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy

Sylvia Massy

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Lesson Info

16. Budgets, Time and Planning a Session

Lesson Info

Budgets, Time and Planning a Session

So, if you're scheduling a session with, let's say, this four-piece band. You've got a singer, you've got a guitar player, a drummer, and a bass player, and you wanna do... Five songs. Well, there's a formula for that that I usually use to figure out how much time, exactly, am I gonna need to record five songs, properly, and I have this little pencil and a paper, here, because (laughing) I probably want to have two and a half days per song to get that done, so what does that turn into? Let's see, two and a half, and then we've got five, and so 10 days, right? It's about 10 days to do... Five songs. Four songs? Two and half. (mumbling) Maybe five, six. Six, 12, maybe 13 days, comfortably, to do... Five songs. 13 days. Maybe with a four piece, maybe we could cut that down. We might be able to get it done in 10 or 11 days if we're really cranking. And what that includes is tracking drums. Overdubbing bass, overdubbing guitars, and multiple guitars. Doing vocals and multiple vocals, overdu...

bs, harmonies. And mixing and spending a whole day on each mix. So, that's the type of budgeting that I do for time. I, myself, as producer... I'm kind of expensive, so if you're budgeting for your own band to go in the studio, you wanna budget for, let's say, five songs. You want the budget to buy 11 days in the studio and then you want to add a per song fee for your producer, too. Right, so on top of the studio time, you have a production fee. And maybe even an engineering fee, depending on the studio. Yeah. This is like an example if all the band's pre-production is totally done. The song's arrangements are all done and stuff like that. How often do you find bands come to you and say, hey we need help finishing this song or we're halfway through our pre-production. We want your input on it. Does that happen and how does that figure into the, your time calculations? Well, what happens a lot of times is I'll do all the pre-production with the band ahead of time. If we're committing to recording 10 songs, then I'll ask the band a month in advance to send me all the material they have. If they have a hundred songs, great. Then I'll go through and I'll pick 15 of the songs that we'll take into the studio with us and of those 15 that we both agree on, I'll give them notes on how to improve those songs, like adding an intro, or finishing the outro, or, you know, working on transitions, or working on the beat in this section, or I might have them write a new bridge. But I'll give them detailed notes for the songs that we will be recording and then let them finish that. Hopefully, they'll have most of that work done by the time we go into the studio. If not, we will spend some time in the studio working on what I call pre-production. There's changes when we record that we do after all the mics are set up and we start listening. We record some songs, we listen to it, and we go, at that point it's like wow, well this kick drum pattern, now that I've really heard it, needs to be changed, so let's work on that. Or we need a better transition, here, so let's work on that. Sometimes, I'll even have a band go in overnight while we're in the studio and say, I want you to rewrite this entire vamp of the song, just do something completely different, and they'll come back the next day, and we'll have something really much different and better, hopefully. Another thing that, these days, happens is we'll start a project like that. We'll pick the songs. We might record... All the basics for those songs. 10 songs. All the drums. We get the edits done and then, at that point, we might actually, I might actually hand the project over to my engineer, for them to save money, and then they work outside of the studio. Maybe they work at someone's house on their ProTools rigs. And then they save money that way, and then send me the files afterwards and I'll finish the mixing that way. So, any number of ways of doing it. I get, also, a lot of projects sent to me for mixing that I didn't record and I might actually guide the recording while it's being done, just to help, so when I get the files they're not a complete disaster because it's always good to have some direction, you know, when working with an artist, you know, to help them along if they're doing a lot of the recording themselves. Did you have any other questions? Yeah we have a few. When establishing your sounds, which set of monitors are you using? NS10s or a different set? What do you use, what's your ideal setup? At my studio in Ashland, Oregon, I have a set of NHTs. I've been using them since, for 25 years. They're NHT M-100s and they're just like big NS10s. Here at Avast, I'm checking all my sounds on the Yamaha NS10s. They have some nice Genelecs, here, but I found that the Genelecs are too sweet. They make everything sound really good and that will fool you. If you think that you've got a great sound and then later on, you take your files out of the studio and it doesn't sound nearly as good outside the studio, but I can trust the NS10s for getting sounds here today. It doesn't allow me to hear the low, low end, so I'll check back on the Genelecs every once in a while to check and see what my low end is like. Okay. When you're in ProTools, do you record in 44.1 or 48? I bounce between. I bounce between. What are we at right now? 96, so yeah. So, today we're 96. It really depends on what's available. But sometimes I'll go for the lower just to save drive space, yeah. And one more question about the garden hose. How long's this garden hose so the people that heard it know and then, how long's like your garden hose in your studio and what would you prefer? This is a very long garden hose. I think it's 25 feet. Usually, I use a 10 foot garden hose but I'm thinking that the 25 foot might be better. I think any garden hose will do. On one project, there was only, there was not a garden hose available but there was a vacuum hose and I used a, like an accordion-type vacuum hose. Wasn't nearly as good because it's a thinner material. So, a thick garden hose material works really well. Yep. Okay. Is there anything else you wanna add to the budgets and kind of working with the band on budgets and planning? Any other thoughts on that? Well, the one thing that I found in building my studio in Ashland, Oregon, is that it makes a huge difference if the band is able to stay where they're working. Ashland, Oregon is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It's on I5 driving up just north of California, so when I had a studio in California, for years, I had a studio called Radiostar. It was in an old theater and we had apartments. So, bands would come in from out of town. If they were staying in an apartment, then they were completely immersed in the project. If I come to where they are, let's say there's a Seattle band and I'm here at Avast but the band goes home at night, sometimes that's a problem because there's so many distractions in their own personal lives. The band is oftentimes distracted when they come in the studio and they're not completely immersed in the music. I think having a band come in from out of town, stay right next to the studio, and work for a week on a project or two weeks, sometimes we'll work several months on a project and just every day, you know, from noon to 10 pm, work on this music and then after we're done, then they go into their apartment and work on what parts are they gonna work on the next day, you know. They work on setting up for the solos, rehearsing the solos for the next day. Finishing the lyrics or whatever. It's just 100% working on the project. I think that the results are way better, so I suggest if you're building a studio and wanna bring in clients from out of town, provide a place for them to stay and you'll get much, much better results. Maybe final question, one or two more and then we'll wrap. Do you ever use Isotope RX or other noise reduction software to reduce guitar hum? That is really great. RX is a great tool for many reasons. It gets the pops and clicks out of recorded material and it will help with the hum. That's one thing that we could do to fix the problems that we're having with this pedal. However, I wanna go to try to reduce it at the source, first, you know. It's much better to work on it ahead of time and not lean on those plugins later because they do take some of the clarity out of your recordings, later. As much as they're great tools, they do take away something. So, yes, I do use RX. On occasion. Have you used boundary microphones? How often did those play a major role in your mix? Boundary microphones. Yes, I've used some great Shure boundary microphones actually recording the kick drum with excellent results. Also, boundary microphones, if you tape them onto the walls, they are excellent for room sounds within because they reduce the reflection. You don't get the reflection because it's actually on the wall. So, boundary microphones are great. There is some microphones that I saw yesterday. They were... Hydrophones. (gasping) And this is something I don't have and I haven't used before but I was at Microsoft, yesterday, on a tour. They were using hydrophones to create the, some of the foley work for the Halo game series, and they, you know, these microphones you can immerse in water. This is very inspiring. So, I think I'm going to, not on this session, but on my future sessions, I'm gonna get a big water bottle, a hydrophone, put it in the drum room, and have that hydrophone in the water while we're tracking drums. Yeah, right? Sounds awesome! Yeah. (laughing) So, yeah, microphones. They're exciting and fun, and making your own is also fun and exciting. Well, any final thoughts as we wrap this segment up for people? Well, I think... I'm lucky today because I've got a great, great little band. They've got a fun song. We're pretty much set up and the hard work is done. I think, the next time we get together to, to do this, that we will be recording this band and since all this preliminary work is done, we can just have fun and I'm looking forward to that.

Class Description

Over the last 30+ years, Sylvia Massy has built a career as one of the gutsiest and most innovative recording engineers and producers. She has worked with legends like Prince and Johnny Cash, and won awards for her work with bands like Tool, System of a Down and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get a peek inside the recording process of one of rock’s legendary engineers. 

While she is a proficient master of vintage gear, Sylvia stresses that great records come not from having the right gear, but from capturing great performances. Join Sylvia as she records a song in the studio with Seattle alt-rock band Thunderpussy, and learn how to work with an artist to capture that magical take in your own work.

Pulling from her years of experience and sharing stories from her newly published book Recording UnHinged, Sylvia will show you:

  • How to get interesting and vibrant drum sounds, using the room and the drummer to your advantage
  • Capturing great sounding guitars at the source, without editing and reamping
  • Pushing vocalists to deliver their best vocal takes 
  • Mixing both in the box and through a console using outboard gear

Sylvia is also known as a prolific educator, speaking and teaching at some of the best recording schools around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s most celebrated A-list producers. 

Ratings and Reviews

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Jimmy Foot

This Studio Pass episode with Sylvia Massey covers a lot of ground. From fundamentals like correct mic placement and phase to experimentation with amps, cell phone delay and a few extra parts, Sylvia makes it fun! I have been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of great engineers and producers. I haven't had the opportunity to work with her, but Sylvia is certainly in that category, and anyone who gets a chance to work with her would be a lucky person. This broadcast is the next best thing. Great job there at Avast Studio and fantastic camera work! And as for Thunderpussy; you guys rock!

Marc Felish

Wow, that was such a blast. Thanks so much Sylvia and everyone else for making this such a fun experience. I picked up so many new ideas that I can't wait to try out! Sylvia is such a creative producer, it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall watching everything. Loved it!!

Marcus Soares

Awesome! A great opportunity to pick into the creative mind of one of the greatest and get that kind of knowledge that you can't acquire otherwise. Highly recommended!