What should I know about buying studio time for my 10 yr old daughter?
October 26, 2018 7:34 AM   Subscribe

My 10 year old daughter loves to sing and has taken voice lessons in the past. For Christmas, I am considering buying her time in a recording studio. I know nothing about the process or the people and want to be respectful of the studio as well as create a terrific experience for my daughter. So what do I need to consider?

We live in Chicago, so access to any number of top level studios is at least a possibility. I'm less concerned with the product than the experience my daughter has, but would still like to have her be able to take something away to remember it by.
Some specific questions:
1)She will want to sing other people's songs. Is this an issue with copyright for the studio? We obviously won't be selling these, its just for fun.
2)What do I need to ask for from the studio? Assume we are bringing nothing.
3)Will recording studios feel silly working with a mature but still 10 year old girl?
4)Our budget looks to be available to cover 2-3 hours. What should we be able to expect in 2-3 hours? 1 song? 2-3 songs?
5)How can you envision this process working?
6)Is this a terrible idea? How can I make it happen?
posted by blackjack514 to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Every small studio records vanity projects. They have probably done this before. If you make it clear that you're just looking for a "fun" experience, you'll probably get a better response. Nobody wants to deal with angry stage parent or diva child who thinks that three hours of studio time is going to be their "big break." But a kid who just wants to have a fun project? Less stress, everybody's happier. They can probably suggest an engineer on staff that would be most appropriate.

Talk it over with the studio, but you'll probably need to source your own karaoke tracks. Buy these so you get high-quality files. Your engineer will not be happy if you bring audio ripped from YouTube (although it has certainly happened to them before).

Set expectations ahead of time; if you or your daughter are "producing" the session, you decide when a take is "good enough," when to take breaks, etc. Recording in a studio can be stressful.

Think about the final product: if you want the vocal tuned and edited, mixed with the backing track, and mastered, that's going to cost extra, but is worth it (otherwise you're just left with a bunch of vocal takes that you can't really use).
posted by uncleozzy at 8:00 AM on October 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

Sounds fun!!

I googled "recording studio gift certificate chicago". There are at least a couple of places that specifically offer this sort of service:





for starts.

I expect the folks at the studios can answer questions 1 through 5 for you, maybe better than someone not at the studio.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:00 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

uncleozzy has good advice. Generally speaking, the more prepared you are (songs selected, backing tracks in hand, etc.) the better the experience.

If your daughter wants to have friends come along (this is a vanity project, remember), be sure she is focused as much on fun as final product. Friends can mean distraction and time-wasting so fewer songs are recorded during your time slot.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:16 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

uncleozzy said most of the stuff I'd say, yeah. I'll echo and expand a couple thoughts, trying to think about what stuff I didn't know before I did recording stuff.

So part of the good news is this is a very simple setup compared to what a recording session with a band would be like; instead of a couple hours of setting up and micing instruments and yadda yadda, this is pretty much set up a mic, load up the backing track, give her some headphones, and start getting vocal takes. If you book a couple of hours, you should be able to spend most of that couple hours recording and listening back.

Getting good quality karaoke tracks should be a priority. Someone else already spent more money than you're planning to spend creating 'em. Find 'em, buy 'em, and when you're setting things up with your studio get those to them ahead of time so they can have the recording session files set up before you walk in the door; that's another way to not burn time you're paying for.

For recording vocals, there's basically two ways this could go:

1. Your daughter does maybe one or two recordings of the vocal track for a given song, start to finish, and is basically nailing it and feels happy with either or both. One of those takes will just be used as is as the whole vocal recording for that song (with maybe some little cleanup edits and tweaking, see below). This is a common approach, and has the advantage of being fast, which means more songs in a given span of recording time.

2. Your daughter does a bunch of takes on a given song with the goal of putting together one best-of-the-bunch vocal from the pieces of those various takes. That's more of an editing process, is often called "comping" in recordist/editing lingo. This is also a very common approach! You'll get through fewer songs this way but have a better chance at getting an especially polished vocal track if your daughter isn't super consistent about doing full takes.

You might do one approach and then the other from song to song, too, depending on how she's feeling or how challenging a given song is. This isn't a strict dichotomy, just the two end points on a really normal spectrum of recording flows.

Another common element of that, especially for approach 2: redoing individual bits of track without doing the whole thing start to finish. Maybe she felt good about a take, except second verse; maybe she messed up one line of the lyrics and wants to fix it. That's totally fine, just tell the engineer you want to go back and redo that bit. This is usually called "punching in"; tell them where you want to punch in and how far you want to go (e.g. "let's go back to the second verse, where the song goes 'lorem ipsummmm', and punch in right before that, and then stop after 'carthage deleeeeenda est'...") and they'll queue it up, let it run from a little before the punch point, and then start recording with a point or a nod or whatnot at the spot you wanted.

In all of this—whether to do another take, whether to fix stuff, whether to try and tweak x or y with another punch in—the engineer is probably gonna defer to her/you on it. Different engineers will be more or less engaged with that, just depends on the person (and talking to the studio about wanting to work with someone who can help a newbie 10 year old and a clueless parent along is a great idea to set their expectations and get a good-fit engineer), but the main thing is they're working the machinery for you, not acting as a producer or a decision-maker. This is your project, they just want to get the mic levels right and record the bits you want to record.

Another thing from what uncleozzy said:

Think about the final product: if you want the vocal tuned and edited, mixed with the backing track, and mastered, that's going to cost extra, but is worth it (otherwise you're just left with a bunch of vocal takes that you can't really use).

If you don't have any experience with recording or studio experiences, I'll unpack this a little bit.

So you go in, you do your recordings, and then what you walk away with depends on your needs. Which in your case is probably just a CD (or digital .wav files) of the finished version of each song. Often bands will come away from a studio session with actual session files that have all the separate tracks and can be tweaked and edited further on their own or with another engineer, but that's not really the situation you're in at all so you don't need session files, just a final mix.

Vocal tuning and editing means stuff like fixing small issues with the tonality and timing of the vocal takes your daughter made at the mic. If she's a little pitchy, if she rushes a phrase here or lags behind a little, that can be nudged by an engineer after the fact. Likewise if a final vocal track gets comped together from a bunch of takes: it's editing work after the fact. That stuff is all normal but it does require time and depending on how much work that is it might be something that comes into the cost of the project in the form of another hour or two of time. (If it's just a liiiittle bit, they might just lump it as part of the price of the session. But you should ask, to not be surprised!)

If your daughter just goes in and nails it in full takes, that's not likely to be a cost issue, which is nice. But don't tell your daughter that, obviously. She'll get the takes she gets; even if she is rock solid in normal circumstances, she may be intimidated or weirded out by the studio process and stumble or struggle a lot. It sure as heck happens to adults. Just talk to the studio and budget it in so everybody has reasonable expectations.

My suggestion would be to just aim to keep it reasonably simple: plan to be able to do several songs, plan to be ready to only do a couple if it's slow going. Ask for a final mix as a CD or .wav files; don't expect to have that instantly in case they do need to do a little editing after the fact, though it's not impossible things will go so lickety split that they can turn it around right away. And, given your budget and the first-time experimental nature of this, don't worry about getting everything juuuuust right; without dismissing the cost of a few hours of studio time, let me assure you that if your daughter actually likes this and wants to keep at it you will have the opportunity to spend a looooooot more money getting it more right in the long term as you get familiar with the process.
posted by cortex at 8:50 AM on October 26, 2018 [16 favorites]

Since you're not interested in making a perfect product (eg to market her work), some studios have "party packages" that are really abou tthe recording experience. They book sessions geared towards making recordings (generally karaoke-style) as a family project or team-building or kids birthday party, as well as similar solo experiences. That seems like it might be exactly the type of "pro" but low-pressure environment she'd enjoy.

The studio ManInSuit linked earlier seems to have that type of thing: Mystery Street Recording Karaoke
posted by aimedwander at 11:58 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think cortex's advice is outstanding, but it made me think of one little thing: if it doesn't cost a lot extra, you might want to ask for BOTH the final mix AND the source tracks, so if your daughter ever wanted to play with those herself for a better understanding of the recording process (or just for fun!), she could.
posted by kristi at 1:28 PM on October 30, 2018

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