We live in a wonderful age where we can record musicians on the other side of the planet, opening up opportunities we never had before. But with those opportunities come some challenges. When we’re in the room together we have the benefit of immediate feedback and easy communication, we can jump in to fix problems that may arise. But with remote recording, whether we’re across town or across the globe the lack of proximity creates some challenges that need to be addressed. Whether you’re recording a full orchestra or just a single musician playing a solo there are unique considerations to recording remotely. The key to a successful remote session, in my experience, is in the preparation for the session.
The first challenge can be finding the perfect musician(s) for your needs. As with local recording, you’ll naturally start with your own contacts. But if you don’t know someone who plays the instrument you need, you can reach out to colleagues or to a contractor to help you find them. Or you can post on social media for what you’re looking for, or you can go to the Remote Recording Database website (www.remoterecordingdb.com) and search for musicians there. The site is free to use and allows you to easily search for musicians by instrument as well as other helpful criteria. The site actually offers much more than just players including composers, orchestrators, music editors, music prep, ensembles and more.
Once you’ve found your musician(s) the first thing to do is have a technical conversation.
Find out what they need from you. Some may work in ProTools and prefer a ProTools session. Others may work in Logic or Cubase or DP or a different DAW. So make sure you know what they need and how to deliver it.
In my experience most people will want a MIDI file, a stereo WAV or AIFF file of your mockup as well as a stereo WAV or AIFF file of a mix-minus, which is your mockup minus the instrument they will be playing. Others may want a mix-minus along with a solo track of your mockup of their instrument so they can isolate it and listen to your demo of their part more closely.
Make sure you discuss what they need so that you can provide it. Also make sure you discuss sample and bit rates for the recording. They aught to be able to accommodate your needs, but make sure this is worked out ahead of time.
When creating your files make sure they are clearly labeled so there’s no opportunity for confusion. For example:
- 1m1v1 Main Title-STEREO MIX
- 1m1v1 Main Title-MIX MINUS
- 1m1v1 Main Title-SOLO VIOLIN
- 1m1v1 Main Title-MIDI
And it is crucial that all your files start at exactly the same spot. Maker sure your audio files all start at bar 1. Don’t give them files that start at different places with a road-map of how to line them up, that invites problems. Even if the music doesn’t start until a later bar, have the audio file begin at bar 1 with silence. That way it’s easy for the player to import it into whichever DAW they are using and correctly line it up.
Make sure your parts are clear and well laid out. Make sure the staves and notes are large enough so they are easy to read and try to arrange your measures and staves in a way that makes reading phrases easy. If you’re not going to be able to participate in the session remotely you may want to add a little more dynamic and articulation information than you might otherwise. But don’t over-do it. Try to put yourself in the player’s shoes and give them as much information as you can without overwhelming them since you won’t be able to give direct feedback in real time.
If you can participate remotely, discuss how that’s going to happen. I’ve done Skype sessions where the player is sending an output from his/her DAW into Skype, I’ve done Skype sessions where a notebook computer is simply capturing what’s going on and the sound isn’t great, I’ve done sessions using Source Connect (http://source-elements.com/) where I can monitor things almost as if I were there. And have a backup plan in case the connection is lost. I once recorded an orchestra in Europe using Source Connect and we lost our connection. We moved to Skype but we had a lousy connection and so I ended up simply calling them and being able to communicate by phone. Not ideal, but we got it done.
Make sure you discuss delivery method and how the files will be returned to you. It really doesn’t matter what you use – there are plenty of options today (Dropbox, Box, Basecamp, Resilio Sync, Wetransfer, Hightail….) Just have a brief conversation to make sure the musician(s) and you know what to expect and where to find the files. And make sure they deliver them back in an agreed manner and timeframe. Lastly, if you happen to be working with someone in China or any other country where the internet is tightly regulated, make sure the file transfer tool you use works there. I worked on a Chinese project a few years ago and learned that Dropbox, Box, Hightail and Wetransfer were all blocked. I had to setup a qqmail account (which is their version of Google) and that included the equivalent of gdrive where we were able to transfer files.
Discuss the music
Finally, and this is especially important if you can’t participate remotely in real time, make sure you have an in-depth conversation about what you’re looking for in terms of performance. Make sure if there are things in you mockup you want them to replicate or things you want them to avoid and do differently that they know about those things. Discuss what the plan is if you aren’t happy with a performance? Do they provide revisions? How many? How quickly? How quickly do you need to request them? And make sure everyone is clear about deadlines.
The better you prepare and the clearer the lines of communication, the better the result will be.