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The series “Anatomy of a Release” will track the progress of a release from start to finish. Part 1 of the series covered signing the band. In this second installment, Sean Crook, label head of The Path Less Traveled Records, talks about recording the album.

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ANATOMY OF A RELEASE
PT. 2
RECORDING THE ALBUM

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Greetings, friends! Last time I "spoke" with you all, we talked about the process of signing a band. Kaliya signed their names in blood, and now it’s time to get a record put together. The first step of this process is the recording. For many record labels of my ilk, it’s a completely hands-off approach. I don't tell the band where or what to record. I don't tell them who to master their record with or what sound I think they should go after. The assumption is I've heard their music, and they’re going to make something similar to what I've already heard. This is all funded by the band. The cost of a decent studio can be by the hour (usually $35 - $50) or by the day (usually $300 - $600) or by the song ($200 - $400). The clock usually starts running when the band walks in the door. It could easily take a couple hours just to set up (or a couple months if you're Metallica). I try to help bands when I can with this expense, but getting the product put together is expensive enough for a small label in this day and age. I can't afford to put them into a studio for a week; however, I hope to be able to do this one day.

Unfortunately, Kaliya are in TX and I'm in IL, which means I was unable to hang out with them while they recorded their album. For a step-by-step of how this works, I asked guitarist Ben Cooper to provide a little insight:

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The first step was to figure out who we were going to record with. We didn't really have the budget or time to go outside of Dallas/Fort Worth and really do the job we wanted to do with the album. When it comes to metal in Dallas, there are typically a few "go to" guys. The demo material that we put out in '09 was with one of those guys that are considered one of the top guys to work with in Dallas. Although we were relatively happy with the demo material and had a great experience there, to do an entire album we felt like the cost wasn't worth the product we would end up with. We started searching around to see what other people were available that we thought might be a good fit for the money. Eventually, I came across a guy named Tim Edmondson (Impact Recordings) out of Fort Worth. A lot of what he had done in the past was more polished metalcore and poppy bands. Although this wasn't the sound that I felt like represented us, I really dug his guitar and drum tones and thought that we would be able to get what we were looking for with him. We sent samples of many albums that we thought painted a good picture of the sound we were looking for. There were some negotiations that took place before putting down a deposit, but we ended up meeting at a price of $200/song, which we felt comfortable paying.

Once we decided on who we were going to record with and which songs we had written that we were happy with, we essentially entered a "pre-production" phase at our rehearsal studio. We would play the album from start to finish with a click track so we could tell which parts should be faster, which should be slower, which parts sucked, we needed to get rid of, etc. I felt like this was a crucial part of the recording process: being able to record, listen to, and critique each song's structure, as well as the album's structure as a whole. Songs played a hair too fast or too slow I feel can really kill the momentum that a song can carry. Also during this process, we began gathering ideas for song transitions, album flow, sound clips we might use, etc.

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After finishing up the pre-production phase, it was time to enter the studio. We would spend about four days a week in the studio driving back and forth from Dallas each time (45 minute drive). A couple days laying click tracks, a few days on drums, a few days on guitars, a few days on bass, a few days on vocals, then a few days on all the finishing touches and filler (feedback, song transitions, audio clip placements, instrument mixes, vocal chants, guest vocals). Overall I would say the album took us a little over a month of 3-4 day weeks in the studio. Some of the main difficulties we encountered were just being able to portray a dirtier, rawer element to the sound. Trying to communicate that to an engineer who really doesn't understand the concepts of what you’re going for was difficult. We felt like we did our best, but in the end the album came out a little more "polished"-sounding than we had originally desired. However, what it lacks in rawness on some of the more punk stuff, it makes up for in clarity on more technical songs. The recording process in general, I felt, was very demanding and strenuous on some of us. Organizing people's schedules, making sure people were prepared to record, making sure everything came out the way we wanted to and working to get it there I found personally to be quite stressful. Having the goal of a completed album that we were going to be happy with I felt like kept us pushing to get it to where we wanted it to be.

Once all the tracking was done, it was just a matter of getting the final mix that we were happy with. Tim would send us a new mix on a couple songs every few days. And with each mix, it would be passed around to the band and everyone would give their feedback on what they liked or didn't like about it. Bass player always wants more bass, guitar players always want more guitars, etc. Eventually we came to the mix that is heard on the album. Overall I'm happy with it, but nothing is ever perfect, hah!”

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So the $200 a song deal is a pretty good deal (I'm guessing there is a drop-dead date to be done, though). If they have 10 songs on the album, that's $2,000. "Shit Sean, if they sell 200 CD's at $10 apiece, they will break even! Why do these bands complain about illegal downloading?" This is not true at all, which we’ll get into in a later post.

There's also a mastering process, which is done after the recording is finished. This is where someone like a Scott Hull takes your final CD and makes it sound way thicker or thinner and much better. The cost for this is usually between $250 and $500. So far, Kaliya has spent $2,500 (not including gas driving back and forth, food, etc.) and has nothing to show for it (other than being on Invisible Oranges, which is pretty cool!)

The next step is the band skipping off into the sunset ready to make millions. They send me the CD, and I take about two weeks to get the CD printed up and the money starts rolling in, right? Unfortunately in this instance, Kaliya lost two members of the band, due to what is referred to in divorce terms as "irreconcilable differences". Now what? They’ve spent $2,500 on a recording and are now down two guys (they’re a five-piece). Do they say "Fuck it" and quit? Do they continue as a three-piece? Do they get some new band members and teach them new songs? These are all things they have to deal with while trying to get this CD out to the masses and play some shows. Keep in mind, they haven’t made any money yet and have no CD to push. These are things the majority of bands I’ve worked with go through and I’m guessing most bands of this size go through. Either that, or I have extremely bad luck.

Thanks again for reading, and stay tuned. Plenty more insight into the wonderful world of the music business!

— Sean Crook
The Path Less Traveled Records

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KALIYA LINKS

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