What Is Remote Recording And Why Should You Care

Remote recording, online sessions, file sharing – while the things these terms describe are nothing new, there are many musicians and songwriters that don’t understand them. Like many developments on the internet, there isn’t a universal nomenclature, and terms are used loosely. Which is why we thought it was worth taking the time to offer some clarity, and shed light on the opportunities that are available to people involved in every level of the music production process.

To answer these questions we’ll need to go back a few years and take a look at where the music industry has been, and where it is now:

How Things Used To Be

Back in the good old days, labels had considerable resources, and the goal of most artists was to try and sign a record deal with one of these labels. The label would help foot the bill for the expensive commercial studio rates, and would help launch artists into commercial success. It wasn’t too uncommon for songwriters to make a living selling their songs to labels and artists on those labels. Session musicians would get hired by producers, artists, and in some cases even get salaries from record labels. The fuel to this whole system was album sales. As long as artists on a label sold enough albums, it could keep the whole system flowing.

How Things Changed

This all changed with the arrival of streaming. No longer was recorded music a high dollar consumer item. Streaming made it more difficult for artists to make millions from their albums. Many labels lost the ability to foot the bill for commercial studio time, it became harder for songwriters to sell their songs to labels and artists, and session musicians were left without a salary.

This might seem like pure doom and gloom, but there were good things happening as well. While technology made recording less profitable, it also made recording much more affordable. While it has become more difficult for a musician to make millions, it has become much easier for a musician to make well produced music.

As attractive as the rockstar lifestyle is, music has never been about leather pants and trashing hotel rooms. While some may think that the industry has died, we like to the think that the industry has matured. There are plenty of opportunities for people that love music for music’s sake, and that are dedicated to the craft. One of those opportunities is remote recording.

Now What?

So what does this mean for you and me? Instead of waiting for a record deal, or pitching songs to other artists with deeper pockets, with a little planning, and a desire to learn, songwriters can produce or co-produce their own songs, and independently release music that rivals big budget releases. Instead of working out of commercial studios, session musicians can work from a home studio that delivers world class recordings, and send files to artists and producers all over the world.

With the ability to share files online through apps like Google Drive and Dropbox, and the ever decreasing cost of recording gear, the possibilities for collaboration between musicians have become virtually limitless. No more do musicians have to book time at expensive commercial studios to create high quality recordings. So an online session is a session that’s booked online, remote recording, is any time a musician records somewhere the artist and/or producer isn’t, and file sharing is when those recorded sound files are sent online to whoever will be engineering the song(s).

This sounds great, but how does this work practically? These claims likely still raise a number of questions to musicians accustomed to in person recording, or new to the recording process in general. Here are a few common questions people have about remote recording:

What does a musician need in order to take part in online sessions and remote recording?

The basic elements that a musician will need to record themselves other than their instrument are:
A computer – the more processing power the better
A DAW – (Digital Audio Workstation) – common ones are Logic and Protools.
Mics – the number of mics and kind will depend on the instrument
Preamps – each mic will need a preamp
D/A conversion – a piece of hardware that will transform an analog signal from a preamp into a digital signal into your computer. There are lots of interfaces that function as both preamps and D/A conversion.

While any musician can acquire entry level versions of this gear for under $2000, some pro musicians have professional grade studios for recording commercial level tracks.

How do takes get performed, and synced up well when they are being recorded at different times and places, and sometimes using different recording techniques and software?

Today, almost all non-improvised music is recorded to a metronome. This helps establish a common grid against which musicians can record. Just like in classic recording settings, in order for parts to work well together they have to be performed with good timing in relation to the click and to the other parts. When a musician records a take remotely, they will create a new project in their DAW at the song’s tempo. They drop the song file(s) into the project, making sure that they are perfectly lined up with the grid. When they are ready to send their take back to the artist, they have to make sure that their take file(s) are the exact same length as the files they received, so that the engineer will be able to line everything up without any guesswork.

How do you find great musicians, engineers, and producers to work with remotely?

There are actually marketplaces out there designed specifically for songwriters and producers to find and hire online sessions musicians. Airgigs is one of the top platforms that people are using. It allows you to browse musicians by service category, popularity, ratings, price, and more. You can message sellers through the site, and hire them on a per song basis. Each musician sets their price per song, the number of revisions allowed, and the time they have to complete the project. You can see each musician’s gear, past work, verified reviews, and experience, and make sure you are getting the perfect person for you project.

How do you make sure that songwriting royalties are handled correctly?

It’s important to define a musician’s level of contribution before hiring them. If a musician is contributing an instrumental part, a “Work For Hire” agreement is usually customary. In this agreement, the musician is payed a one time fee for the session. If a musician is helping to compose the song, or write lyrics, then they may ask for a portion of the royalties as well.

The music industry has changed, but it’s as alive today as it ever was, and remote recording and online sessions are some of the best ways to take part in it.

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