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Recording Basics
January 01, 2003

Getting That Major Label Sound
By: Rick Hinojosa - Professional Engineer - Planet Sounds Studio / Chicago

So, you’ve spent hundreds of hours at your home studio tracking ,overdubbing and mixing, but still- there is something missing. Relax, there are reasons why your mix doesn’t sound quite like your favorite major label artist would. It all falls down to two things: Talent and Money.
The major label ‘sound’ starts at the very beginning. From the idea down to the mastering. I’ll break it down to the major components:

  • 1. Idea/concept

  • 2. Production

  • 1A. Arrangement

  • 1B. Choice of instruments(real or synthesize)

  • 1C. Budget

  • 3. Rehearsals

  • 4. Recording

  • 5. Mixing

  • 6. Mastering


History has shown us that a ‘great’ song is a great song regardless of the artist .
Simply put, if you have a great song you already have an advantage in the
recording process. The buying public will buy the song (if it’s that hot) on any format
available to them.


The production process starts with a producer or a band that begins to put the idea together. Starting with arrangment, if the song is arranged or programed nicelly it
will help greatly in the mixing process. This includes choosing the right instruments
that will blend in together. The choice of real instruments ‘vs’ synthetic will be up to the producers. The budget most definetly influence that decision .

For example,a producer decides to use strings in a song , he or she will have to decide how much they can spend on paying the musicians whether they are union or not.
Musicians will get paid and the recording studio will be a factor, because if they do
decide to record real strings, it will take more studio time to do so. If the producer chooses synthesize(or sample) strings, they will sacrifice some quality.


Rehearsals are the most important step to the bands,solo artist,hired musicians,etc,.
It could take place at rehearsal space or, once again,with a big budget. It is possible to rehearse at the recording studio. Let us not forget those three magic words…
Practice!, Practice!, Practice!


The quality of the recording depends on many factors, such as: the engineer, equipment, instruments, etc,. First off, you have to trust an engineer who
knows what they’re doing. The Recording Engineer will get the best signal to tape
(old expression) In other words get someone with experience. Combined with a nice
enviroment (good vibes) and lots of studio preparation, things should sound good.
Budget, once again, has a big roll(no pun intended) we all know studio time is
expensive and you will pay for what you get, including hired musicians.

Tip: Don't Record Sound Effects.

You want the dryest cleanest take at your initial recording. The life of a song (reverb, effects, etc) is created in the mix.

You should almost never print effects to tape unless you are really short of inputs or tracks. Why commit to a sound that you may want to change later? The context around that particular sound may change, and you'll be stuck with something that no longer works. An obvious exception would be when using a device like the built-in reverb on your guitar amp that might be hard to duplicate with an effects box.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't print eq and/or compression to tape. I don't consider them an effect in most cases. If you are just starting out, you may want to reserve most of your compression and eq decisions for your mix. As you become more experienced, you'll find that you'll feel more confident about what you commit to tape.

The information above came from "Studio Buddy -- The Home Recording Helper." It's a self-contained, easy to use database of recording tips designed specifically for people with home studios. If you find this article helpful, you should download the FREE program at:

Mixing :

T & T (taste and time). Mixing is the art of taking all the recorded audio tracks
and making them blend together. Mixes are done by a Mixing Engineer (could be the
same engineer who did the tracking) and/or producer and/or artist, but it does involve
taste and to achieve perfection. It will involve lots of time. Time equals money!
Mixing of a song can go for as many hours as the budget allows, the more the better.


Mastering is the final step in the recording process, it is the icing on the cake.
The songs for the album should be ready in the format (two track reel,DAT,cd-r,
cd-rom,etc,.) that best suits the mastering facility.Once again going to a dedicated mastering facility is the best choice. They will have the right mastering tools for this process and of course Mastering Engineers.

Finally, there is a reason why you see so many credits on an album. It takes a team of experts to get that sound and most definetly, time and money. In some occasions,
you might find producers,engineers,and studios that will drop their prices for up in-coming artists,since they know there is not much of a budget they could exchange their talent for future compensation.

Couple of Extra Tips:

1) NO MILK. Don't eat or drink dairy 24 hours before your recording session. Lactose coats your throat and blocks full vocal potential.

2) Be Prepared. Know what you want to do before you have to do it. Practice ad libs and runs. This saves time, energy and money.

3) Don't bring a fan club. Unless you have money to spend on extra food and distraction time, leave your friends and fan club at home. Only bring those who can add to your productivity. A writing partner or professional coach or producer.

4) Expect the unexpected. Don't stress yourself about mixing and technical difficulties. It happens to everyone ALL OF THE TIME. Take the time you expect to spend on your material and multiply it by 1/3.

5) LISTEN. Play your finished recording on several different sound systems - Home stereo, Car stereo, Walkman or Disc Man. The playback mix and overall sound should be consistently good. Then, play your song right after you've listen to your favorite national act. You shouldn't be able to tell a difference in the volume or quality. If you do, take it back to the mastering technician and tell him to work it out.

6) CRITIQUE. Don't get your family or friends to critique your work. It will always be the best thing they've heard, sweet or "straight." For honest opinions about your works potential, take it to the streets on a walkman. Get some random people to listen to it and record their feedback. OR submit it to Ism's A&R box for review.


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