The Challenges of Making a Recording, PART 1: Prescreening Recordings

08 October 2013

An interview with Richie Hawley about prescreening submissions and his own experiences with being part of big budget classical music CD production.

By Richie Hawley with LeTriel White.


LeTriel White: It seems as if every school and orchestra requires the submission of a prescreening recording these days.  Why has it become so pervasive in the current classical music environment?

Richie Hawley: I believe that professional orchestras require prescreening recordings as the result of being flooded with more applicants than they have time to hear live. The elimination process is starting one step earlier these days.  Schools often require a prescreen recording for similar reasons.  I feel that it is a fair process so an applicant doesn't have to waste many hundreds of dollars and valuable time traveling to an audition only to discover that their playing is not what the committee is seeking. 

LeTriel White: When listening to prescreened audition recordings, what are some issues that may hurt the applicant’s chance of getting a live audition. If your recording doesn’t get accepted you can’t even get an audition, right? 

Richie Hawley: Yes, I think its critical to put your best foot forward right away.  You have to take it seriously as if you traveled to another city and were playing that audition live.  Some people just throw together a recording and they don’t realize that making a great prescreening recording is not a simple process. This should never be a last minute project.  It takes careful planning and preparation. 

LeTriel White: Can you list off some general “Do’s and Dont’s”

Richie Hawley: DONT’s:

-Do not record in a church or super live space

-Do not record (video) in your bedroom or personal spaces

-Do not record (video) in front of the xmas tree with lights blinking

-Do not record (video) wearing shorts and flip flops

-Do not put the microphone more than 10 feet away. 

-Do not add reverb to simulate a hall as it is usually obvious

-Do not use your ipod or iphone for a recording device, they have very limited microphone frequency response.  (dynamics and colors will not be picked up)


-Buy, borrow, or rent the best equipment possible

-Hire your institutions’s recording engineer to do it all for you

-Record in an acoustically neutral space 

-Set the mic up 6-8 feet away 

-Set the mic up 6-10 feet high angled down towards you

-Dress like you would for an audition(if its video); after all, it is a performance! 


LeTriel White: When recording standard orchestral excerpts by yourself, what would be your best advice in terms of the mindset that you should have in order to get as many good takes as possible?  Are there any other things that can help the musician to remain calm? 

 Richie Hawley: I think that when you’re doing multiple takes to record solo orchestral excerpts you have to expect that some of the excerpts are not going to go as well as you wanted them to.  When that happens, the worst thing you can do is start retaking that excerpt right away over and over and over and over again.  A great example in the clarinet orchestral excerpt repertoire is an excerpt like Peter and the Wolf.  The climax of that solo rapidly builds in ascending triplets which portray the cat climbing up the tree.  Its a finger twister!

If that doesn’t go well, the immediate reaction is to halt the recording process and do it again over and over again.  This never works as you haven’t had a chance to recuperate from the trauma of not laying it down the first time. Most likely it is only going to get worse at that point.  

I always recommend that people try to record all of the audition repertoire in one take.  It gives the honest version of your playing and it will come across as a live performance.  If some things don’t go well, do not focus on those mistakes.  Repeated “do overs”  are not good for the psychology and musicality of your performance either.  Its frustrating and saps your musical energy. 

It’s much like when child gets a cut on his/arm.  You put a band-aide on it and then the child goes back outside to play again without a thought about the boo-boo that just happened.  

Everyone making an audition recording will almost certainly have an excerpt that doesn’t go well. Just keep going with the other excerpts and then perhaps go back and try to fix that one problematic excerpt after some careful thought and reflection.  It is essential to budget enough time for making a recording.  With enough time, you can record , listen and then rerecord.