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How to be an Online Session Musician: Part 2

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In the previous tutorial How To Be An Online Session Musician: Part 1 I looked at what’s involved with this line of work. In this tutorial I’ll show you what you need to get started. 

The Studio

It is not necessarily the case that you'll need a purpose-built studio but it does depend on the work you do. 

Recording keyboards, for example, don’t require microphones and that means that they can be used almost anywhere. 

If microphones are involved, however, such as for work involving acoustic instruments or voice-overs then you’ll need a dedicated space. A dedicated space could be somewhere reasonably isolated and acoustically-treated that will further improve the probability of quality recordings.

The other advantage to having a work-space is efficiency; if everything’s set up, you can get started quickly and get more done.

About Recording and Production

Knowledge is power. The more you know about related topics then the more quickly, productively, and efficiently you will work. 

If you don’t know your way around the most basic DAW, then this probably isn’t for you. If you don’t know what DAW refers to, then this definitely isn’t for you just yet, but keep reading, because I'll explain later on.

File Formats

In terms of quality, CD standard is what you’re aiming for as a minimum. In technical terms, this is audio sampled at a rate of 44.1KHz, and to a depth of 16 bits. My default setting is 44.1KHz at 24 bits. 

You can use higher settings than this but there’s little to be gained by doing so. Furthermore, the file sizes balloon accordingly and increase subequent upload and download times.

Export work as .wav files; mp3 is fine for demos but not good enough as a finished product.

Hardware, Quality and Cost

You should consider the sort of hardware you’ll need as a minimum to get started, assuming that you haven’t got some or all of this already. Important for any musician is budget.

‘You get what you pay for’ is an age-old maxim meaning that higher cost implies higher quality. There’s still something to be said for this, but it’s not as true as it used to be. 

Companies such as Behringer and SE Electronics produce great gear at very reasonable prices so don’t worry if you can’t afford hideously expensive high-end hardware. Ultimately, what you need is good quality, reliable equipment.

When looking to buy, ensure that you research, read reviews, watch videos and buy the best that falls within your budget. You can always upgrade later.

Here’s a basic, albeit extensive, shopping list.

Laptop or desktop computer

The more powerful the better. Consider the processing power, memory and hard drive. A solid-state drive will be faster and quieter,

Ensure it has a decent set of inputs and outputs. Mac or PC doesn’t matter as much as it used to as most DAWs are now available for both systems.

Storage

Music projects are memory-heavy things, and will eat up your computer’s on-board memory. A 1TB drive may sound huge but you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll fill it. 

Buy an external hard drive to store work there. Not only will it keep space free on the computer, helping to ensure it runs efficiently, it means that if it crashes all of the work is safe on an external drive. 

As always, go for the biggest drive you can afford.

Backup

Before a catastrophic failure occurs, and you lose all of the work, consider how you'll protect the work produced. 

In addition to my work being stored on an external drive, everything’s backed up to a further separate drive. It’s like insurance, you don’t need it right up until the moment that you do.

Recording Interface

Consider how many inputs you’ll need and then buy the best one you can afford. If you’re using condenser mics ensure it can provide phantom power.

Microphones

The sort of work you do determines the mics you’ll need. For example, use large diaphragm condensers for voice-over work, small diaphragm condensers for acoustic recording and dynamic mics for speaker cabinets.

Monitor Speakers

The speakers in a laptop won’t do the job and neither will in-ear buds. If you want to produce quality work you must be able to hear with clarity what you’re doing. Invest accordingly.

Recording Software

A Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) is a must. Choose the one that best suits your needs and budget. Here are some examples:

  • Logic and Pro Tools are industry-standard, and good all-rounders, but take some learning
  • Reaper is well worth considering as a cheaper alternative, and is easier to learn
  • If you’re more into producing beats, look at Reason and Ableton
  • If you’re just getting started, and/or your budget’s limited, GarageBand is amazing for the price

Plugins

DAWs come bundled with these. If, however, they don’t cover the sort of thing you’ll be doing, invest accordingly. 

For example, I do a lot of guitar work, so I use BIAS FX by Positive Grid to provide my sounds. If you’re not sure what to get, web-shops such Plugin Alliance and Plugin Boutique allow you to browse by brand or type.

Internet Connectivity

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a must. And the faster, the better. Though this will depend on your location and local broadband infrastructure.

Online Storage

Some files will exceed the limit of the online session service employed; for example, Fiverr’s limit is 150MB. 

Such files are also far too large to email, so an online storage facility is ideal. A way that works is:

  1. Upload files to online storage
  2. email a link to the client, and 

When the client’s downloaded the files, you can remove them, thus freeing up your account.

I would therefore definitely recommend using Google Drive or Dropbox; better still, their basic accounts are free.

Conclusion

Being an online session musician requires more than just instrumental skill. In summary, you’ll need the following:

  • A dedicated workspace
  • Recording and production knowledge helps
  • Reliable equipment
  • A decent computer
  • Lots of external storage
  • File backup facility
  • A suitable recording interface
  • Quality monitor speakers
  • Microphones for acoustic work
  • An appropriate DAW
  • Specialist plugins
  • Online storage

In the next tutorial, I’ll describe how to deal with clients, managing orders and overseeing the whole process.

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