Taylor Sappe Music Production & Instruction
BMI affiliated published songwriter since 1979
Producer/engineer and A&R for Captain Blue Records since 1980
Instructor at DeMelfi School of Music since 2005
Frequently asked questions
Recording and production
Q. How long will it take to record a song?
A. It depends on many factors. How skilled is the person doing the recording? What instrumentation will be needed? Will you bring your own backing musicians or do you need studio musicians? If you, or musicians you bring in, are recording in my studio for the first time, allow an extra 15 to 20 minutes per instrument track to optimize your sound. Once we have decided the best EQ and plug-ins for your instrument, we can create a template to keep your sound consistent. The template will save you 15 to 20 minutes on each new recording of the same instrument each time you record a new song.
Skilled professional musicians or well rehearsed musicians can usually get a good take by the 3rd pass. If you allow about 15 minutes to get the musician set up with optimized levels, you can estimate the time by multiplying the running time of the song by 3 and adding the 15 minute setup time for each musician that will be recording.
Q. If I use multiple musicians, should they all record at one time or should they record separately?
A. It depends on how you intend to use the recording when it is finished. If you are using it as a demo of your live sound, then it is best to record all at once. If you are recording for an album or sync licensing, then it is best to record each track separately. Be sure to let your engineer know your intentions ahead of time.
Q. How long does it take to mix a song?
A. Mixing can take anywhere from a half hour to up to 20 hours. It depends on your intentions and your budget. The more time put into a mix, including editing, the more professional that mix will sound. Often times a mix is done in one session, then listened to for several days while taking notes of what needs improvement, coming back into the studio and continuing the mix. This may be repeated several times before a master worthy mix is created.
The best way to save time during the mixing process is to bring in a copy of a commercially released song that is similar to what you are recording. It should contain the same instruments if possible. This will give the engineer a target to shoot for and will save you many hours of mixing time.
Q. How long does it take to do a master?
A. The better the mix, the less time it will take at the mastering stage. A mastering template contains most of the plug-ins used in the mastering process. Each plug-in should at least be tested to see whether or not it will improve the quality of the mix. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it does not. Testing each one will optimize your sound. After plug-ins have been tested and used where needed, EQ (when necessary) and RMS levels should match that of your commercially recorded reference track.
Q. How do I make my practicing or playing or singing stronger?
A. In an earlier post, just below this one, I mentioned that you get the most out of your practice with the fewest distractions. There is however, an exception to that rule, depending on your goals. When you are learning something new, the fewer the distractions, the faster you will learn it. But if have already learned the material, and your goal is to strengthen your performance, you can do this by creating controlled distractions. Start by running through the material once with no distractions. Next, turn on the TV and keep it at a very low volume. Now run through the material until you can do it flawlessly. Make the TV slightly louder and repeat. Continue to do this until the TV is louder than your performance, and you can still perform it flawlessly. Next, do the same thing with your stereo or radio playing music other than what you are practicing. Each time you can perform flawlessly, turn the music up until it's louder than your performance. If you have trouble keeping time while listening to the timing of the other music, use your metronome until you can do it with no metronome.
Q. Is there a best way to dress for practice or performance?
A. First, understanding the difference between practice and rehearsal will make it easier to answer this question. Practice is when you are concerned with form. You are either working on exercises that will help you to develop, or working out difficult parts for your performance. For practice, the best way to dress is in as little clothing as your privacy will allow. If you have no privacy during practice, then it is best to wear loose clothing. You want to be as comfortable and free of distractions as possible. If you are practicing singing, you want your entire body to be able to breathe, and the more clothing you wear, or the tighter clothing you wear, the more your body movement for that breathing is restricted. When you are performing, you are not as concerned about form as when you practice, so whatever attire fits your performance is fine. When you are rehearsing, you are running through your performance. When doing this you will want to dress the same way and duplicate everything that you would on stage. For instance, if you wear tight leather jeans on stage, you will want to rehearse in tight leather jeans. If you play guitar, you may want to sit without a strap when practicing, but if you stand and use a strap during a performance, that's the way you want to rehearse.
Q. How long should I practice?
A. That all depends on your goals. Please see my article, "How Long Should I Practice", for a chart of goals and the practice time needed to achieve them.
Q. How long do you practice?
A. I once read an article in Guitar One magazine about someone who used to hang with Greg Allmon. He said, "Everytime I see Greg, he has a guitar in his hands." I am nowhere near the skill level of Greg Allmon, but I want to keep improving by leaps and bounds. I know that the only way to do that is to have a guitar in my hands every free minute that I get. Will I ever be as good as Greg Allmon? Probably not.
Q. I have an acoustic electric with a passive pickup. When it is amplified, why doesn't it sound as good as it does unplugged?
A1. If you are playing to small quiet audiences, an easy cure for that would be to add a microphone, preferably a small diaphragm condenser (if you have phantom power on your PA). Place the mic as close to the 12th fret as you can get without it getting in the way, and aim it toward the hole. Gradually boost your direct signal to give you just enough volume for the room without comprimising the mic'd acoustic guitar sound.
A2. If you are playing to large or noisy audiences like the bar crowd, you will need a preamp. Fishman makes a great preamp for certain types of acoustic pickups, including the kind that go across the hole. It is called the Fishman Aura Spectrum. It also contains a built-in feedback eliminator by using automatic notch filters. It takes a bit of tweaking, but you can get a really great acoustic guitar sound.
Q. What should I look for when buying a guitar?
A. There are a number of things to look for:
- The price of the guitar. A good guitar starts at around $300. That is the bottom of the scale of guitar quality that begins with all of the rest of the criteria listed below. From that threshold, the quality continues to get better to around $1,000. Once you begin to go over $1,000, the quality differences are unnoticeable to most people, but you begin to pay for things like mother of pearl inlay, solid gold connectors and tuners, and other expensive stuff that have more to do with the look of the guitar than the sound. Brand name can also make a difference. For instance, you might pay $300 for a nice off brand guitar and get the same quality that you might get from a $700 Martin. The extra bucks you spend in this case would be for the Martin name.
- Check the action. Press the low E string to the first fret and relax your finger in that position. If you can play the low E string at the first fret without any fret buzz, do the same with the 12th fret. If you can do the same with the 12th, the action is good.
- Check the intonation. Play a harmonic at the 12th fret of each string, right over the fret wire. If the harmonic has a long sustain, run it through a tuner. Play the same harmonic through the tuner and bring it into perfect tuning. Then play the fretted note at the 12th fret with the least amount of pressure it takes to get the note to play without any fret buzz, being careful not to bend the string. If the tuning is identical to the tuning of the harmonic, the intonation is perfect. If it is off, your guitar may need to be set up by an expert for the strings you use and the way you play. Now play a chromatic scale from the open string to the 12 fret of each string and check the tuning of each note. They should all be in perfect tune with minimal pressure on the string. If the tuning fluctuates along the way, try a different set of strings. The density of the strings that it comes with may be inconsistent throughout a single string. Also, old strings will vibrate unevenly and fluctuate in tuning. If you find too many fluctuations, it might just need a new set of strings.
Q. What kind of amplifier should I use for my acoustic electric?
A. You need a speaker system with a tweeter, preferably one inch or smaller. Regular guitar amps don't have this feature because they are designed with electric guitars in mind and need to produce lots of bass and mid range. They make acoustic guitar amps that are perfect for this type of situation. You can also use a keyboard amp or a PA system with 2 to 4-way or more speakers, as long as one of the tweeters is around 1-inch in diameter.
Q. When I'm carrying my guitar in its case, should the headstock be in front or behind me?
A. When you're walking on level ground, doesn't matter. But when you're walking up stairs it should be behind you. When coming down the stairs it should be in front. Your main concern should always be the side of the lid. The guitar case lid should always be facing you. This way if it should happen to accidentally open it will open toward you and your body will stop it from opening all the way. If it is facing away from you, it will open all the way and your guitar could fall to the ground and be damaged.