Preparing for a Recording Session

Earlier this year I mentioned that one major undertaking would be a recording of several works with horn by the Dutch composer Jan Koetsier. With the first of two recording sessions coming up in less than two months, I’ve been working diligently to ensure that I am as prepared as possible. Here are a few details about the August recording session.

1. The producer and engineer for this project is Rich Mays of Sonare Recording in Savannah, GA. Rich came very highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to working with him (image above linked from their website).

2. Repertoire for this session will be:
Sonata for Horn and Harp, Op. 94, Dr. Jaymee Haefner, harp (We performed the piece at IHS 44 in Denton)
Choralfantasie for Horn and Organ, Op. 89, Matt McMahan, organ
5 Selections from 13 Characteristic Etudes

3. Recording venue is First Presbyterian Church of Savannah, GA.

These pieces will constitute about half of the total content of the recording, with a second session covering several horn and piano works taking place later this year (more on this in future posts). For a number of reasons, including the availability of my collaborative pianist, I decided to break this project into two parts. Logistics are more complicated this way, but one benefit is that with plenty of time between sessions I’ve been able to gear my practicing towards those works we’ll be recording first. Speaking of practicing, I’ve been trying some different things over the past few weeks to prepare this music for recording. Recording sessions are very different from normal performance situations, but can be equally if not more demanding of your technique, endurance, and concentration. Here are a few ways I’ve been preparing.

1. Paying special attention to first attacks and articulations in general. Yes, I normally practice first attacks every day, but it’s even more important in recordings that all articulations be as consistent as possible. A flub or mistiming which can go unnoticed in a live performance will be more noticeable on a recording.

2. Practicing in smaller sections. As I get closer to an actual performance, I tend to practice performing a piece all the way through to establish continuity and pacing. After the run through I then go back and fix things. In my experience, recording usually involves the opposite, playing sometimes very brief passages several times in succession. Often this is either to get several “good” takes of a section to choose from later, or to make sure that one particular note, rhythm, or articulation is usable for splicing with another take. To get ready for this kind of playing, I’ve been practicing phrase by phrase, attempting to play each phrase at least two or three times perfectly in a row. This is similar to preparing excerpts for an orchestral audition, and takes a lot of concentration! I normally practice this way, but tend to play longer sections instead of going phrase by phrase.

3. Thinking about splicing. Except in the case of live, unedited performances, splicing is a reality of any professional recording project. Ideally splices should be undetectable in the finished product, but I’ve been told that some engineers can hear them every time. In previous recording sessions, I’ve noticed that as the session goes on, the time between splices gets shorter as concentration and endurance begin to wane. As I practice I am trying to mark several good splice points, either at ends of phrases or sections. These can be adjusted during the session depending on factors such as ensemble, tempo, and reverb.

That’s all I can think of for now, but if you have any suggestions to prepare for a recording session I’d love to hear them. If you’re getting ready to record there are some great resources out there, including this article by Gerald Klickstein at The Musician’s Way Blog, and an article by Dr.Gina Gillie titled “Considerations for Undertaking an Independent Recording Project” in the October, 2011 issue of The Horn Call.

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