So, you have written and tabbed out the next hit album, you have found a recording studio near you that fits your budget, and you are excited to start recording. That is awesome!
But, if you want to make sure that your album ends up being just as awesome and you don’t burn more money than you ever imagined possible (it happens more often than not), you need to prepare very, very well.
Let’s go through the fundamentals, the critical steps in preparing for a (successful) studio recording session.
Rehearse, Rehearse and then Rehearse Some More
Most studios charge by the hour, which is why you need to avoid more than two or three takes per part.
Ideally, all band members will take no more than two takes each. You can save time and money by practicing before going into the studio. Some engineers will gladly take your money and let you fail for hours, while the more understanding ones will kindly ask you to leave. However, none will let you practice in their studio for free.
Practice sessions include both band practice and solo practice. Nobody wants to rehearse a song with a musician who does not know the layout of the song, the key, and scales for the solos, or the tempo changes. Write all the parts down, remember them, and learn to play them flawlessly.
Schedule Your Practice Sessions and Keep Track of Your Progress
Picking out a time for practice and band rehearsals goes a long way. First and foremost, it ensures that everyone does their part on time and it forms good habits. Even when you are doing things for fun, you can and should take them seriously, especially if it is a project with multiple people involved.
Scheduled practice sessions will help you to remember the things you practiced in the past and will allow you to stay in shape. Having a fixed band practice time will ensure that everyone gets on time with nothing but the music in their minds, which guarantees a better, more efficient practice session.
In addition, try to keep a journal in which you will write down information about your individual and collective progress during practice.
Did you manage to play that complicated solo successfully? Have you decided to play a song 10 bpm faster than what you initially intended?
Such a journal will help you remember what you did and is useful for reflecting on what you know and what you need to learn.
Do a Home Demo
Doing a demo session can have many benefits and it can be very fun at the same time.
First, you will get to hear what your final product will sound like and you will be able to adjust your tuning and tone settings accordingly.
Secondly, you will have something to show to your sound engineer who will get a better understanding of what you want to create. You might also get their opinion on how your music sounds and often enough, this can help you reconsider some of your previous ideas.
Last but not least, you will get some experience and insight into the recording process. Many things like mic placement and acoustics of the recording room will have a tremendous effect on the tone that gets recorded is just as important as editing. This will help you communicate better with your sound technician, improving your cooperation, and speeding up the recording process.
The Click Track – Your New Best Friend and the Most Skilled Member of Your Band
Some will say that using a click track is “cheating” and those are the people that know nothing about music. There is not a single modern band that records – or even performs – without a click track, especially on more complicated songs.
Performing without a click track is indeed possible, as most classical musicians demonstrate. However, their performances, practice routine, and repertoire are vastly different from a rock or pop band.
Regardless of genre, these performances should be reserved only for the most skilled veterans of music and even then it is something most would avoid doing.
Playing with a click track in the background can be hard and annoying in the beginning, and learning to program one requires time. However, it will provide you with more insight regarding studio recording, help you to be more precise, and shorten the time spent in the studio.
Prepare your Gear
Having the correct gear will make a massive difference in the studio. You want to make sure that you have everything you need ready when you get there.
As a guitarist, you might want a guitar with a non-standard tuning or a specific guitar pedal for the best effects.
Most importantly, you want to tune your instruments precisely even before getting there, but you also need to prepare a tuner so you can re-check the tuning at the studio.
Maintaining your microphones and amps is important, as well, and the condition of your gear will impact your final sound, so change your old strings a few days before recording so that they have the time to set in.
Of course, recording studios have a lot of gear as well. Talk to your sound engineer about it beforehand, ask them what they have and what they need you to bring yourself. Bringing an electronic drum set is fairly easy but bringing in a massive acoustic kit might be harder.
If the studio is kind enough to let you use their gear, do not be afraid to accept the offer. We know that you love your Chinese 8″ speaker, but trust us on this one – compared to the 4×12″ Marshall at the studio, it sounds bad. Let your engineer help you out with the tone and make the lives of both sides a little easier.
This is something that your studio should care about more than you, however, making sure that backups are created can save you from an uncomfortable situation.
Please make sure to remind your sound engineer to make backups of everything you record and ask them to give you a copy of the files that need to be edited in advance. You will be able to use them as learning material, as well.
One good way to get at least some form of backup is to record with a portable music recorded turned on. Some of the high-end models offer recording capabilities similar to professional microphones, and while not quite on the same level, they can save you if anything goes wrong in the studio.
Recording an album or even a single song can be a long and difficult process. However, it can be made easier, quicker, and cheaper by following just a few basic steps.
Invest more time into practice and taking care of your gear outside the studio. Your sound engineer will enjoy mixing the tracks far more than having to listen to imperfect performances again and again, especially if you insist on using bad gear. Trust the sound engineers and use their expertise to your advantage.