Since the pandemic hit, remote recording oneself for film/TV/Video Game scores has become very common. I wrote a detailed blog entry about Home Recording Basics that may be of interest, and most musicians I know have some sort of recording setup at home these days. I think this trend is here to stay. For composers, the ability to simply have soloists record themselves and send back tracks is a wonderful convenience. With that in mind here are some thoughts on how to make the process work as smoothly as possible.
First, my top recommendation for musicians is to get Pro Tools, and use that for your recording sessions. Pro Tools is the industry standard audio software, most of the time that’s where your audio will end up, in a Pro Tools session. Furthermore, there’s a good chance that the person preparing things for you is already working in Pro Tools, in which case s/he can provide you with a Pro Tools session so all you’d have to do is open it, add your empty record tracks and go – so much less work than having to setup sessions manually on the DAW of your choice. And when you’re done you can simply send back a session of your new tracks (more on that below). So working in Pro Tools is the most efficient way to go.
I know the subscription model sucks, but for most, if not all of you, Pro Tools Artist is all you need. At 9.99/month or $99.00 a year if paid annually, the cost of the software should be covered by your first hour of recording. Most musicians I know charge from $100-$250/hour. Even if you chose to get Pro Tools Studio, which gives you more features (which you likely don’t need for home recording) it’s just $31.99/month or just $319 if paid annually (at the time of writing this blog post, it’s on sale for just $199 if paid annually). Once again your first session should cover the cost for a full year. Either way, I think that’s a very minimal investment.
If you’re working in Pro Tools, the composer (or his/her asst. or music editor or whomever is preparing your materials) can create a Pro Tools session for you. This means that you don’t have to deal with setting up a new sessions in the DAW of your choice, importing MIDI or audio files, worrying about correct settings & correct timecodes (in my experience receiving audio recordings timecode is not setup correctly more often than not). Opening an existing Pro Tools session ensures all the settings are correct, and it takes you seconds, all you have to do is open the session, setup some new tracks and you’re off to the races.
When recording in Pro Tools, I recommend using playlists for different takes. Simply go to the little caret (the small triangle) to the right of the track name, click it and then either duplicate your existing playlist to make a copy of it, where you can then keep recording, or make a new playlist, which will create a fresh empty one instead. If you think of a track being a notepad, you can think of playlists as pages on that pad. Creating new playlists is like adding pages to the notepad, changing playlists is like flipping pages. Simple.
When you’re done recording hit save. Then highlight your track(s), go to the File menu, click Export and then Selected Tracks as New Session… This will bring up the Save Copy In… popup window. Make sure you check the Audio Files checkbox and that Selected Tracks Only is checked (it should be by default). Then click OK, name your sessions and you’re done. You’ve just created a new Pro Tools session of just the tracks you recorded, which you can send back to your client. Zip it and ship it. No need to consolidate audio, rename audio files. Importing those tracks on the receiving end is super-easy, it takes seconds.
If you’re using a DAW other than Pro Tools, you’ll have to setup your own sessions. Again, I highly recommend using Pro Tools, it’s faster and more efficient, but if you are on another DAW here are things to double check when setting up your sessions:
- Import the MIDI file first. When importing MIDI it tends to automatically change the frame rate in some DAWs, so by doing this first you’re making sure that the frame rate won’t accidentally change at any later point in the setup process.
- Set your project’s frame rate to the correct frame rate (you need this information from your client).
- Set your project’s timecode start time. This ensures that the timestamps in the files you will eventually export are correct. Once again, you’ll need this information from your client. If you don’t have the timecodes from your client, set the project to start at 0:00:00:00. That way if the client looks at the timestamp, it’s obvious that there isn’t one.
- Set your project’s sample rate and bit rate. Make sure this matches the specs the client requested. Their guide tracks should be in those specs, which is a great way to double check.
- Import the audio guide tracks.
- Setup your empty recording tracks.
And here are considerations when delivering your files back to the client:
- Make sure you clean up your work, trim any noises on the track.
- Do your own comping. If your performance is made up of several takes, edit them together into a single continuous performance that plays as you intend.
- Consolidate the audio starting at Bar 1. Different DAWs use different terminology, it may be called merge, or something else, but what you’re looking to do is create a continuous audio file that begins at bar 1, even if your take doesn’t start until much later. This way when the client receives the files they can simply put them in their DAW of choice starting at bar 1 and everything will line up correctly. I recommend using the duration of the guide tracks to determine the start and stop of the new audio files you’re creating. That way when the client brings them in they’re exactly the same length as the tracks they sent you.
- Clearly label the consolidated audio files. This is crucial, make sure the files are clearly labeled. Make sure the project name (or shortcut for the name) is at the beginning of your file name. Enter the cue name exactly as it appears in your parts, then the instrument you recorded. If there are multiple tracks add 1, 2, 3. If you’re using multiple mics indicate which mic is being used. So if you’re working on My Awesome Project cue 3m12 Best Scene Ever and recorded with a close mic and a room mic you’d want to label your track like this:
MAP 3m12 Best Scene Ever Close
MAP 3m12 Best Scene Ever Room
If you’re sending multiple takes add tk1, tk 2, tk3, etc. to the filenames.
Dos and Don’ts
- Unless you’re sending back a Pro Tools sessions, do make sure all your audio files start exactly at Bar 1
- Make sure if you have multiple audio files within the same session (same cue) the audio files are all the same length. When your client imports your tracks that consistency is reassuring that nothing is amyss.
- Make sure your filenames have all the necessary information and are consistently labeled.
- Don’t forget to check your session settings before you get started. Don’t send files in the wrong sample or bit rate.
- Don’t send audio snippets that don’t start at Bar 1
- Avoid using special characters like # or & in your filenames. Some people like using underscores instead of spaces, I personally hate it. I think it’s a remnant of the earliest days of computing, when spaces weren’t allowed in file names. Spaces are fine. However, if the client is using them, then go ahead and use them, too, you want to be consistent with the client’s preferences
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have any while recording. Better to email/text/call and ask the question, than make the wrong decision, which would inevitably result in having to redo things.