StringSection Blog

Posts Tagged ‘adding strings to a pop track’

Making the most of studio time

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Very often we are asked by clients to book a recording studio ourselves (or to recommend one) and although the cost of hiring a recording studio can vary enormously, we always try to keep within a sensible budget to maintain cost effective recordings. It is sometimes hard to accurately estimate how long it can take to record strings in a studio as things may run very smoothly with the recording being finished surprisingly quickly, or hiccups can arise which slow things down. With session musicians and studio engineers usually paid on an hourly rate, it’s important to make every minute in the studio productive. From the players point of view, any professional will make sure they turn up a little early, with their instrument ready to play and any tricky parts to the music already prepared. A studio can organise things beforehand too – with chairs set out, microphones in place and everything set up ready to record straight away.

But what are some of the factors which (in our experience) can improve the efficiency of studio work?

Firstly, it’s absolutely essential that any string parts which are to be recorded are composed or arranged and agreed with the client beforehand, ideally when other instruments and vocals are already in place so that strings can be written to enhance the rest of the track. Turning up at the studio and being asked to improvise or collaborate is likely to waste time whilst players agree on how and what to play, and it’s always a risk that the client might not like the results, having envisaged it sounding entirely different. A properly prepared score can save literally hours of time in the studio.

Likewise, if strings are to be added to a track with other instruments and vocals already recorded, it’s important that no ‘last minute changes’ are made to this after the string arrangement has been done – because the score the string arranger has prepared may well differ meaning the string parts don’t line up with the rest of the track. This can cause confusion and delay as the players try and work out how the score needs to be amended before recording can resume.

A string arranger can make the score very detailed with bowings, articulations, dynamics and other subtleties written in so that players can simply go in and play the music right at first reading. Sadly this is not always the case and can be a major bugbear of session musicians. Even in the case of top film and television soundtrack recordings if an orchestrator or arranger has not been very detailed in their scoring, much time can be wasted in the studio.

So when seeking a quotation or estimate for session musicians, so much can depend on the quality of preparation done beforehand and this is the responsibility of the client as well as the orchestrator / arranger. Poorly written parts can take literally double the time to record and although many bands or songwriters think that money can be saved by doing it themselves, it can often be a false economy.

My Favourite Time of Year (Studio footage)

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Thanks very much to Leigh for uploading this video of the various musicians who contributed to ‘My Favourite Time of Year’ – by the Florin Street Band. It has little snippets of the strings in action and gives a good idea of the studio processes involved in co-ordinating various session musicians, recording live strings in the studio and making a pop record.

Cutting and Pasting

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Earlier this year, I completed a string arrangement for a client who commented that he liked the way that every ‘verse’ of the strings had changes and variations in it. He said that many string arrangements he’d heard had made use of ‘cut and paste’ with the same string parts returning in an identical way later in the track. This struck me as quite odd as it hadn’t occurred to me to ‘cut and paste’ anything in a composition or string arrangement for a pop song – when you have a 3 or 4 minute pop song, the whole thing grows naturally and will benefit greatly from variety in all of the writing, a theme can develop with variation and add real interest to the track, even if it’s low down in the mix. Changes between sections can be subtle but ideally need to keep some continuity (rather than introducing a brand new melody every time).

In classical music, a composer would usually take the opportunity when a melody returns later in a piece, to transform it with different use of instrumentation but retaining the clear melody or theme which had occurred earlier on. The idea of a later section being ‘cut and pasted’ has an anti-climactic feel for the listener – if this technique is used too often, the music becomes predictable and unmemorable.

With modern music writing software, there can be a tendency to simply highlight a given area and with the click of a mouse, repeat it later on in an unchanged form. Although that might seem like an easy option, it may not be using the full potential of the strings which could have enhanced the track far more with a little creativity.