Music Creation Paul Spong talks about remote sessions in the time of COVID-19, what you need for your home setup, and lessons he’s learned along the way.  

" /> Music Creation Paul Spong talks about remote sessions in the time of COVID-19, what you need for your home setup, and lessons he’s learned along the way.  

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Recording from Home: Working as a Session Musician Remotely

Trumpet player, contractor, and executive director of Music Creation Paul Spong talks about remote sessions in the time of COVID-19, what you need for your home setup, and lessons he’s learned along the way.  

headphones and a microphone for recording
You’ve got to be everybody in the studio space, and keep your head in there because the performance has to reflect what it would do had you been in a studio. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Up until the coronavirus, I’d been performing and booking recording sessions, live events, and various companies’ TV shows. I work a lot with a few composers and Music Directors (MDs) who are all in demand, and we’ve been relatively successful. Things were ticking along nicely. And then coronavirus came.   

Making it possible to continue session work remotely

On the Friday before we were told we were going to be lockdown, I was called by a world famous record producer who said he had a recording to do the following week and that the trip had been cancelled  due to coronavirus, but he still had to get it done. He had to record a large orchestra, of at least forty strings and single woodwind for this project. I suggested to him the option of doing it remotely.  

So I put it together with some top string players. They all recorded from their own individual homes. Ian Burdge put the string section together and they tracked it up to make a larger string section. Then he sent it via Dropbox to David William Hearn, a composer, producer, engineer and all-round good guy, who then put all the tracks together using his musical and engineering wizardry.

We then added the woodwind and brass, with four players recording from their own home setups (Andy Wood on trombone, Andy Findon on flutes, Martin Williams on clarinets) including myself on trumpets. We recorded three tracks all together. We sent it over to the client. That was the first session.   

Since then, I’ve had a couple of small pop type brass sessions, where three or four people have played brass together on a track for UK record labels finishing projects off. Interestingly, a few days ago Steve Sidwell called me about a project called The Isolation Big Band to put together a song for the NHS to say thank you for what they are doing, so that is currently a work in progress. 

Getting set up to record at home

The first thing to say is that it’s not as daunting as it seems. You need a computer, the software, a mic, and an audio interface. 

I use Logic Pro X through a Mac and a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface and I use a couple of AKG microphones – no specific number, they are just a generic microphone. Some microphones you can get for £80 to £100 are great, I have a favourite for trumpet but that’s just personal preference. It’s not my specialist subject, I tend to phone up engineers and ask people I’ve worked with what is the best thing. Normally the rule is the better the microphone you can get, the better the quality recording.   

You’ll need a space in your house - anywhere will do – that you can dampen down a bit or stop echoing. You generally don’t want a lot of room sound. If you’re doing something more pop, commercial side, it will definitely be a closer, drier sound required. If you’re doing something more orchestral, they may want a specific sound. For the project I mentioned earlier, I recorded with a stereo pair of microphones further away giving more room space to get the right sound.   

You do have to know a small bit about recording but there are an awful lot of people out there who can help. There’s been lots of phone calls with everyone sharing information on how to do it better. It’s okay to pick up the phone and ask someone.   

Having a good internet connection makes a big difference

One of the big things I’ve learned is that the speed of getting something back is not determined by how quickly somebody plays it, it’s determined by how fast their broadband connection is.   

There are different broadband speeds in different parts of the country. Everyone is working from home under lockdown. People have to download and upload files, and the more files that go in, the more someone has to download when they join the project. A couple of musicians we worked with recently struggled to download and upload things because of their broadband speeds. You need a good, stable broadband connection.   

Remembering that you’re recording in a different environment

There is also the extra time that it takes to think of all of the things other than playing when you’re doing a recording.   

You have to print all the parts and know what you’re doing beforehand, which is completely different to just turning up and playing what’s in front of you. You’ve also got to be an engineer. You’ve got to be the person who makes the cup of tea for you while you’re playing. You’ve got to be everybody in that studio space, and you’ve got to keep your head in the studio space because the performance has to reflect what it would do had you been in a studio. It’s hard to do when you’re in a home environment that is usually used for practice.  

I try and make my work area a very specific studio-type environment. I have to get the dogs out of the way and close the door. I draw on experience, I sit down, I say “I’m at work now” and my brain will click into the way it works when I’m at work in a studio.

Bless my family, they know not to disturb me! Although I am sure I’m disturbing them by playing the same thing over and over again. As musicians, we have to thank them for putting up with us at times like these.   

Looking ahead

I hope there will be more projects coming through remotely as we won’t be able to get into the studios at the moment. I have outdoor concert work in the summer that is on hold.

The uncertainty weighs on my head of what we’re going to do. But I do believe we will be doing something, because I don’t think the world can exist without music. And we can’t exist without it –  we need to make music, it’s what we do.   

We’ll be publishing perspectives from musicians across the industry, examining the new ways they’re working during the disruption from COVID-19. Keep an eye out for new blogs.


Published: 20/04/2020

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