Lessons Learned From Remote Recording 82 Musicians


Recently I invited some friends and colleagues to help me remote-record what I thought would be some sweetener & some vocals to a MIDI mock-up for a video I made in support of the Motion Picture & Television Fund COVID 19 Emergency Relief Fund. The response was overwhelming and 82 professional and amateur musicians (myself included) answered the call providing 136 tracks! So much for sweeteners, I had a full symphonic orchestra and choir + rhythm section and lead singers.

Trying to put this all together and make it sound as close to the real thing taught me quite a few lessons, which I think might be helpful to anyone who wishes to record remotely or incorporate remotely recorded musicians into their music. First, watch the video, and please give to MPTF if you can. Then keep scrolling for what I learned.

Before I continue I have to thank each and every musician who participated in this video, the people who helped in various ways, and especially Pam March who edited the video. The picture part of it was a mammoth task of its own, which I’ll discuss ever so briefly at the end of this blog entry.

I’ve divided this blog entry into sections over several pages – the first aimed at musicians who are recording themselves. The next for composers/music editors/producers/mixers who are working with the tracks they receive from the musicians. And finally I briefly touch on video issues for those who want to create videos like this one.

Part 1: Recording Tips

Audio considerations

  • This is probably obvious, but use the best gear you can afford. The better your microphone, your mic-pre if you use one, your audio interface, etc. the better your recording can sound. And remember that just because it’s more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better. An amazing and expensive mic that’s great for recording brass might not be ideal for recording guitar. A great mic for guitars might not be the best choice for vocals…
  • Another no-brainer, record in the quietest environment you can. Turn off the A/C, shut the fan, make sure the laundry isn’t going in the other room. If you have kids, often it’s best to record after they go to sleep. If you have pets, especially dogs that pant, give them some love and then shut them out of your room. The less extraneous noise, the better the recording will sound.
  • Unless you’re recording a solo, don’t get too close to the mic. Actually even if you’re not recording a solo, don’t get too close to the mic. Depending on the kind of mic/setup you have what too close is can be vastly different.
  • Don’t get too far from the mic. If you’re too far you’ll introduce more noise into your recording as well as more of the sound of your room, which can make your recording sound hollow.
  • Check your levels, you don’t want to be too loud or too soft, though personally I’d rather you be too soft than too loud. I can always raise the volume, but if it’s recorded too loud and has a bit of distortion or no headroom (room to get louder) it’s harder to work with. The problem with too low is that as I raise the volume I’m also raising the volume of the noise floor – that is the room tone or any other noises that may be in the recording.
  • You don’t have to nail it in one take. It’s OK to do multiple takes and stitch them together afterwards. If you’ve ever played in a session on a scoring stage you’ve heard “pickup from bar ___”. We stitch together multiple takes all the time, you can, too
  • Don’t rely on pitch correction. If you were pitchy or your intonation was a little off (it’s OK, it happens to the best of us), do another take. You don’t even have to do the whole thing, you can just punch in for a few notes.
  • When punching in or doing pick-ups always start a few bars before the are you’re re-doing and keep going a few bars past it. I find it’s best to start and end on a musical phrase. You can later only use the bars you need, but trust me it’ll make stitching it all together later easier and sound more natural.
  • If you’re a singer, listen for breaths and other mouth noises and reduce them if they’re loud. I don’t recommend eliminating them, that can sound unnatural, but certainly turning breaths down a bit can help. If you don’t do it, I will when I get your track. If you do I either won’t notice, meaning less work for me, or I will and will be grateful for it. But take care not to overdo it. If you’re not sure, leave it alone and let the person receiving the track deal with it.
  • When sending your finished tracks back to the composer/mixer/producer, whomever you’re sending them to, make sure they always start at Bar 1. Even if you don’t sing or play until bar 50, make the final audio start at Bar 1. It makes it easy for the person receiving it to handle.
  • Always record at the sample and bit rate the project requires. Hopefully the person who hired you told you want. If they didn’t specify, look at the materials they delivered to you and see what settings they used. It’s a pretty safe bet those are the setting they want, but rather than guessing or assuming, ask them.
  • Once you’re done stitching together you track bounce it/export it and make sure the settings are still correct. This is a step where if you’re not careful you can accidentally export your track at different settings. Also make sure you export mono recordings as mono tracks. While usable, I find receiving mono recordings as stereo track to be annoying and unnecessary. If you don’t know how to properly bounce out/export mono tracks from your DAW do a Google or YouTube search for “bouncing mono tracks in Logic (or DP or Cubase or whatever)” and you’ll find plenty of tutorials.
  • Clearly and succinctly label your tracks. If the person who hired you asked for things to be labeled a certain way, make sure you follow their instructions exactly. If not, I recommend including the project name (usually abbreviated or coded) your name (or initials) the instrument and where the file begins (which we just discussed should be bar 1). For example: MAP Jane Doe – Violin 1 B1.wav (MAP = My Awesome Project, or whatever the project abbreviation is). If you don’t know the project code, initials often work, or just shorten it yourself (i.e. My Aws Proj JD Vn 1 B1.wav).

Video Considerations

  • Consider your background. You may want to tidy up a bit. Make sure there’s nothing in the shot that you don’t want others to see.
  • Consider the mic placement – you don’t want it to block your face.
  • Consider how far away the camera is – if it’s for a multi-box video like the one I made and so many others remember that if you’re far away from the camera you may appear tiny in the final video (I had a picture editor help me and she cropped and zoomed in on most people, but that may not be a possibility)
  • If you know how to adjust the video settings on your phone (or GoPro or whatever) ask whomever is receiving the video what their preferred settings are. Find out the frame rate, aspect ratio, image size, etc.
  • If you have the ability to trim the video so it begins exactly at bar 1 that can be extremely helpful for whomever will edit a side-by-side style video.
  • This next tip may seem silly, but I think it’s probably my most important video note – smile! Hopefully you’re having fun, show it.
  • And finally there’s usually time before you start playing to say hi to whomever you’re doing this for, wave for the camera, when you’re done give a big smile or wave, do something. I really appreciated it from those who did and included a bunch of them at the every end of the video. It’s fun, and remember people like to work with you not just because you’re a wonderful musician but because you have a wonderful personality and they enjoy working with you. Since you’re isolated, this is your small opportunity to let that personality shine.