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How Recording Sessions Work

Equipment Needed for Recording Sessions
Recording instruments like drums and keyboards require specialized microphones and cables.
Recording instruments like drums and keyboards require specialized microphones and cables.
© Paul McConnell/Getty Images

A music recording session requires specialized equipment to give the recording artists the versatility to achieve their goals. Sometimes the recording studio supplies the equipment.

In other cases, you'll need to pay extra for the studio to bring in special pieces of equipment, such as musical instruments. Here's a look at some of the equipment you'll need for your digital recording session.

Microphones - You'll need these to capture the sound from any instrument that isn't plugged directly into the mixing board and recording apparatus. Microphones capture sound as it travels through the air, turn it into electrical energy, and then amplify, modify, enhance and record. An obvious use for a microphone is to record a singer's voice. But they also are used to capture sounds coming from amplifiers, such as those being used by electric guitar players. Special microphones are used to capture sounds from acoustic instruments, such as guitars, strings, woodwinds, brass, piano and percussions. Sound engineers have the technical background to select the correct microphone for the job.

Mixing boards - Mixing boards are those large control panels with rows and rows of knobs. Think of a mixing board as a large stereo control board. The mixing board allows the recording engineer and music producer to control the sounds coming from the instruments and singers as they relate to other sounds in the session. In other words, they can decide what is loudest and when. The mixing board also covers many other aspects of each sound in the final stage of the recording and mixing process. These functions include the amount of bass, treble, effects, fade, stereo and delay, along with many others.

Effects boxes - These electronic items, sometimes called "fuzz boxes," are used by musicians playing electric instruments to add a certain quality to their instrument's sound. Often, the musician will plug their musical instrument directly into the effects box and then run a cable from that box to the amplifier. The effects box will have controls on it to modify the amount of effect on the instrument's sound. Effects boxes are what make a heavy metal guitar sound "heavy," for instance. Other common effects include delay, echo and vibrato.

Faders - These devices are usually located on the mixing board. They allow the sound engineer to gradually decrease or increase the volume of the music being recorded. Many songs you hear have a "fade out" ending, with the sound getting quieter and quieter toward the end. This is accomplished with the fader function. Sometimes, two faders are connected in opposite directions, allowing one sound to fade out while the other fades in. This is called cross fading and it can be used in many situations as well.

Miscellaneous music supplies - Your supplies will vary, depending on your plans. But make sure you have plenty of cable (often supplied by the studio, but not always), guitar picks and drum sticks and drum keys, extra guitar strings and any items needed for quick repair jobs. Some studios can supply special instruments that will spice up your recording session as well. These might include a Hammond organ or a 12-string guitar. Ask your recording studio about these possibilities.

Remember, planning well will save you money and enhance your recording session's outcome.

On the next page, we'll talk about the differences between commercial recording sessions and rock sessions.