With the option of going to someone else’s studio or having the client come to your studio, more and more of us are doing online sessions.
I’ve been doing them for a good few years now: Here’s how I go about it:
1. Check format, bit-rate and sample-rate of the files they sent me: if I get this wrong, my guitars may play back at the wrong speed or the client will have to convert them to their original format when they arrive at their end. This will not please them. They will not use me again. Therefore, I do this with great care! The trick to doing online/remote sessions is to make it easy for the client to drop the tracks you record straight into their session (whether they are using Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, or anything else) without having to do any converting, juggling of start-points, etc.) Logic users: watch out for a common Gotcha with Logic: If you set a 2-bar roll-in, every file you record will have 2 “hidden” bars at the beginning!
2. Start a new Pro Tools session at the correct bit-rate, sample-rate and file format and import their tracks. Hopefully their tracks will line up at the beginning of the session: as long as mine start at the same time all will be well, but to be safe I’ll put a click onto the front of each of my tracks that I send back to them: what could possibly go wrong?
3. Write quick charts and enter locators into the Pro Tools sessions. This has a double-function: it means I listen through at least three times to each song as I’m charting it and setting up the locate points, so I have an overview and the song is embedded rather than just reading it from the chart straight away.
4. Strew a few mics around in the studio in front of the amps that have been warming up all morning while I attempted a new fastest lap on the Nurburgring Nordschleife in the wet. Leif Mases (engineer for Jeff Beck, ABBA, and a billion others and maker of the finest mastering EQs and compressors known to man) showed me a great trick once: we’d been tracking drums, and when the drummer had packed up and gone home, the assistant engineer asked Leif if he should break down the mics. “No,” replied Leif, “leave them all where they are.” He then close-miced my amp and started flicking through the drum mic channels one at a time until he found a combination of close and room mics that we liked. The secret is to be random: just stick the mics any old where. UPDATE: or just fire up the Kemper.
5. Brew a pot of strong coffee.
6. Start work! I try to vary the amp/mic combination a bit on each song: it makes it easier to separate the guitar sounds on the mix. Basically, for rock stuff a Shure SM57 as a close mic and an AKG 414 on omni in a corner near the ceiling seems to work well in my live room, and a 414 close and a ribbon as a distant mic are effective for T-Bone Burnette-style Americana clean sounds, but today I’m just close-micing. If I <em>do</em> use distant mics as well, I send the client each mic as a separate recording. They can then do their own balance or just use the close mic if they wish.
Police yourself! Don’t let minor errors slip through just because the client is not in the room:-)
7. Give the client more than they asked for. I usually do whatever it is they asked for, then a version of that with a bit more improvisation, then a track of my own ideas, then a “wild” track of effects, swoops and glides, whatever. I also offer the direct-from-the-pickup sound so they can rea-mp if required.
8. Make sure all the files I’ve recorded are consolidated (bounced) as single files starting at zero on the session timeline, name them properly (nothing more annoying for the client than a folder full of files called “Audio 1_01.aif, Audio 2_05.aif…..” and so on,) zip ’em up and send ’em off!
9. Have your team of highly-trained, vicious and psychopathic accountants invoice the client mercilessly.