In this article I will give you the top ten tips for piano recording as a pianist.
1. Know the material
This may seem obvious but coming into a session not knowing what you want to record is a recipe for disaster. Not only should you know what pieces to record but also how to play them correctly (even if the material is your own composition).
Of course there’s always room for improvisation, it’s just not wise to come into a session unprepared.
2. Metronome or free tempo?
Depending on the nature of the material, the question of whether to record to a metronome or not should be addressed prior to the session.
If the piece is a solo classical piece then not recording to a metronome allows natural tempo deviations, the material is more contemporary such as pop or rock then a more consistent tempo may be required (especially if there are other instruments to be overdubbed at a later point).
Sometimes complex tempo maps are required in order to have tempo shifts whilst recording to a metronome, hence why this should be decided upon ahead of time to allow the engineer to prepare these ahead of the session.
3. Know the sound you want ahead of time
You should have an idea of the sound you are going for prior to the session, do you want it dry and raw or polished and big sounding?
This decision will affect the way the piano is miked and treated in post production.
4. Allow time to warm up
When booking a recording session, always factor in time to warm up your hands and get used to playing the piano, this will help you settle in and perform to a higher standard when the red light is on!
5. Be aware of limitations
You need to be realistic with your goals, for example if you are recording on a Yamaha, then you cannot turn it into sounding like a Steinway & Sons piano without some heavy post production doctoring, and even then you won’t get what you want exactly.
6. Editing is always an option...within reason
Following on from the last point, editing can work wonders however do not rely on it to solve all your problems, as there will always be a trade off in quality.
For example if you play a wrong note in a chord, technically that can be fixed with today’s plugins, however you will degrade the tone of the piano, so it’s best to fix it at the source and play it again
7. Focus on dynamics and expression
With the last point in mind, dynamics and expression are a lot harder to fix then timing and pitch issues, therefore they should be the focus if you must use editing to fix the other errors.
8. Record in sections if you can’t make it all the way
One way to avoid an abundance of editing, is to record the piece in sections.
There is no shame in this, as it is common place for studio recordings. This process is easier if you are recording to a metronome as there will be a reference point to work with tempo wise, however it is still possible to record in sections when recording without a metronome, it just needs to be done in obvious gaps, such as the climax of a section.
9. No page turning!!
Page turning is a big no-no in studio piano recording, as the microphones will pick up the sound of the page turn and there is no transparent way to remove it in post production.
Instead try to either memorize the piece, use a few loose pages spread out or record in sections.
10. Relax and enjoy the process
If you put these tips in place and are prepared for your session then things should run smoothly (at least from your side), then recording can be and should be a fun and rewarding experience!
Chopin Nocturne Opus 9 Nr 1 played by Juan Rezzuto recorded at WKMT Kensington Studio
on our Yamaha C3 Grand piano
Rachmaninov Opus 23 Nr 6 played by Juan Rezzuto recorded at WKMT Camberwell Studio
on our Steinway & Sons Grand piano