Sketchy solutions

Hello. My name is Kern Ramsdell, and I post recording info, mixing ideas, and video gear reviews/demos all over on my website, Home Recording Weekly.

I want to start this whole affair off with what most “recording folk” consider to be the most important stuff to perform each and every time you record.

I want to talk about a method I use for helping me spot potential problems for future recording sessions. I try to think of everything that I will need to bring with me, just so we wont have to stop once we get recording. But how do we know everything that we will need?

I like to sketch things out on paper and find hidden problems, way before I place myself in trouble. Taking a little bit of time, way before a recording session ever starts, to roughly sketch out what you plan on doing will often times pay back big.

We all like to “look professional” when we record with other folks. It does not matter if we are working with new clients or old friends, we want things to go as smooth as possible. If possible, we want to try and figure out what is going to go wrong before the session even starts. Nothing puts a damper on a recording session like a trip to the local music store for a fresh battery, or a trip back home for a silly power cable that we forgot to pack.

So, how can we prevent problems from popping up?

I like to draw things out, on good ole’ paper, days before I ever show up for the gig. Again, this helps minimize potential issues that might show up during the gig. I like to make different types of sketches that help detail different situations that I plan on recreating. I sketch out things like audio signal flow, gear set up or placement, microphone placement, and even the room layout with my gear in it.


You might be suppressed at what a simple drawing or two will show you. I find things all the time, like a possible lack of cables, a lack of microphone inputs on an interface, and even a lack of headphones for the band.

Would you believe that sketching things out, for a simple interview that took place in my home, once saved my butt? True story. This interview was with a local celebrity rapper named “Spose“, whom actually has a gold record. He agreed to be interviewed for my podcast, and I knew I wanted it to go right the first time. There might not have been a second chance to interview him, so the sketching started.

I sketched out a few different examples of sessions, and for a few different types of things. For example, one sketch was for the actual audio signal routing, and another showed things where I would place things like my gear and my sound deadening blankets that was too hang from bulky “backdrop hangers”. I quickly realized that I needed a way to allow “Spose”  to hear what was being recorded, too, as he would be sitting across from me. What if he brings in some of his crew? They will also need to hear what everyone else is saying too. I rushed out and purchased a headphone amp/distribution unit that allowed for up to six headphones. That sketch saved my butt and helped to make the interview go as smooth as silk. Plus, the small room was set up in a fashion that we all had enough room to move about.

Let me ad that (when shooting video content) I also find sketching out my video signal path very important too. Not only do I draw in my subject matter for the shoot, but I also draw in things like the lighting, and even the camera angles too. These things will need to be sorted out so why not make those decisions well in advance?

When you listen to a great recording, or when you find yourself watching a great piece of video, think about this: If “they make it look easy” then you can bet it was not easy.

They probably put a lot of planning in before hand. They probably practiced things out in advance, over and over again. The simple idea of sketching things out before hand could potentially save you from what mixing engineer Kevin Ward called, “getting egg on your face”. Sometimes, looking and acting “professional” comes down to removing issues and problems way before they can even happen. Sketching things out will help greatly.

Having answers right up front, right when you arrive at a new session, will help the client to relax. When they realize that you have figured everything out, well in advance, they will know that they are in good hands. Heck, let them know you are serious. Plan for things in advance.