While several of the tips below may come across as stating the obvious, you’ll likely find a gem or two. As someone who’s done recording sessions in high-end pricey studios, crappy studios and home recording environments, I really appreciate this list. It serves as a bunch of great reminders.
- Has the studio produced recordings that you like? If yes, will your sessions be engineered by the same person who engineered those recordings that you like?
- Make sure you have the budget for not only tracking, but also mixing and mastering. Many bands don’t realize that the budget has to cover mixing and mastering, on top of tracking. Tip: Wanna keep your mixing budget low? Have as few people involved in the creative input part of the mixing process as possible. This will make the mixing phase much quicker. Mastering assumes that you’re planning to distribute your music, thus you’ll want the finishing touches that mastering provides.
- Be ready to setup your gear, and do so efficiently. It’s going to cut into your first few hours of studio time. No…setting up and tweaking the sound of your gear is not free of charge. It counts as part of your studio time.
- Recording is 10% technical and 90% physiological. Your drummer may be super comfortable performing live, but may freeze up in the studio. The best advice here is to record in a demo environment using Garage Band or whatever you’ve got. When you’re recording, dynamics can change. Practice recording before going into the studio to help ensure that everyone is as relaxed and confident as possible. If you’re planning to record with a click track, you should practice with one ahead of your session.
- Know your material! Know it backward and forward. Know it in your sleep.
- If your engineer makes a suggestion, please listen. Your engineer will know what’s going to sound best on a CD.
- Don’t bring friends, significant others or family to the studio. It didn’t work well for the Beatles, and it’s not likely to work well for your band. Remember that you’re on the clock.
- Guitar players, write your solos before setting foot in a studio.
- It should go without saying, but you’re paying for recording time. No special privileges assumed, check with the engineer about policies on
- Know and agree with the engineer on what you get to walk away with. They’ll typically store your music on their hard drives, possibly in the cloud. If you want you’re own copies of those files, you’ll likely need to provide your own disc or cloud drive space. Make sure you’re studio has a backup routine in place, and have your own as well.
- If you’re in a home studio you may have unlimited time for recording overdubs and backing vocals. If you’re renting studio time, budget two to four hours for this process. A word of caution if you think that you have unlimited time because you’re in a home studio: don’t take forever to finish your project, lest it all become irrelevant over time. Music, like the Internet, social media, gaming and other forms of entertainment is constantly changing, and fast.
- Be open and welcoming to accidents, mistakes and discoveries. If your engineer says your mistake sounds good, keep it. Maybe it sounds better than what you’d originally planned to play. Perhaps the song sounds better without the complex bridge you worked so hard to perfect. Maybe the awesome bass fill you’d planned on using, doesn’t translate all that well in the recording. Let the session and the engineer be your guides.
- Have a set list of songs that you want to track. If something’s not working, drop it; but don’t introduce new tunes after the sessions begin, unless everyone knows the song and arrangement really well.
More on #13:
Mike Gold, Engineer and Proprietor at Sound Service is a big proponent of production meetings. Here’s what he more or less offers on the subject.
Before rolling tape, you like to hold a production meeting with the all members of the band. The production meeting is kind of like putting together a business plan, with doable goals. If a band is unwilling to have a production meeting, I’m reluctant to work with them. The exception is if budget is a non-issue; however, this is a recipe for disaster and an unhappy client. The production meeting is basically a project plan for tracking, a road map of sorts. While a production plan is important, flexibility is equally important, because unexpected things can happen. Without this road map, the project could be a cash cow for the studio, but a recording project without a road map is less than ideal. Without a plan, the client is likely to be unhappy with the end result, and I’m likely to be equally unhappy with the project. I’m more interested in a happy client than money.
- Do not assume that you can fix problems with mastering. Strive for the best possible mix and strong performances, vocally and musically. Let mastering provide the final touch that makes your product shine.
- Don’t worry about perfection! Obviously, the players on your recording should have a good foundation in technique and musicianship, but there is such a thing as exerting too much time and energy on perfection. Your recording time should also be a time for feel, zen, and letting your raw talent shine.
- Listen to your band mates. Work on elevating the performance of your band by listening to each member and the collective. Leave the showing off at home. You’re not going to help the recording by placing too much focus on your individual contribution.
- If you’re recording in a home studio, remember that it ain’t gonna be fast. If you’re recording in a pro studio, it ain’t gonna be cheap. If it’s all done too fast and too cheap, it ain’t gonna be good. You can thank Tom Waits for this bit of wisdom. Pick two (fast, cheap, or good) and stick with it. Find a balance of proficiency and quality.
- Ask yourself if you’d be better off focusing on the music, as opposed to doing the project in your home studio, where you’re going to need to be knowledgeable about mic placement, room acoustics, recording software, latency, etc. Maybe you’re better off going to a studio. If you go that route, remember to find one that has the sound you want.
- Recording at home and then turning your project over to a studio for mixing can be a great way to get quality on a budget. You may also consider doing it the other way around. Give careful thought to what makes sense for your project, and consider mixing it up (i.e. home recording + studio Or studio recording + plus home studio)
- If you’re unhappy with something, speak up. Perhaps it’s your last take, the level of the vocal mix, or a particular bass sound. If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, speak up early. The more layers a track has, and the more time that elapses in a project, the less inclined your engineer and band are going to be to re-track. It’s much easier to re-track something right away, than weeks into the project.
- Consider touring any studio that you plan to use. Have you ever been there or recorded there? If not, ask for a tour. Meet the staff. Does it have the right vibe? If you don’t connect with the staff and engineer, consider looking at other studios.
- Less is more! That awesome pre-chorus may be the thing you’re most excited about for your forthcoming album, but the truth is, nobody cares about your precious pre-chorus as much as you do.
- Relax. The studio and recording can be very intimidating. Keep it in perspective. Be prepared, but relax and have fun with it.
- Compromise, compromise, compromise. The song is bigger than you or anyone else in the band, unless you are Billy Corgan. In all seriousness, nothing will fuck up your sessions quicker than egos. Leave the egos in the parking lot, and work with each other.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse your part before pressing record. It’s easy to edit the crap out of anything with today’s recording technology, but you’ll capture so much more in a recording if you nail your parts during the actual take. Know it by heart, and you’ll sound like you played it with heart.
My band mate Kit Bragg, founding member or Redwood offered this on home recording.
Track together as a band, and rehearse the songs together as a band. Go in with 15 songs and be prepared to whittle it down to ten. Know your material, and track the rhythm section together. If in a home studio, experiment with rooms and mic placement to discover sound preference. Record source tracks with minimal effects. You can always add effects later. Schedule all sessions for the sake of developing consistency in setup–this echoes Mike’s advise on the production meeting and plan. These days, you can do low-run / high-quality CD production, which is great. He also suggested hosting on CD Baby for iTunes accessibility.