So you think you’re ready to enter a recording studio? If you’ve done any research into what it takes to record a song then you’ll know that the process can be quite time consuming and expensive; especially if you are not prepared. A lack of preparation can lead to a weak performance, frustration for everyone involved, more time, and thus more money out of your pocket… not to mention a bad recording.
Recording your music can be challenging, but it should always be fun and rewarding.
When I first started recording artists out of my house a number of years ago, I had a number of them who had very little recording experience – if any. This didn’t bother me as it was kind of the point of my studio at the time. However, I quickly noticed some common issues from project to project. So if you are looking to book time in a recording studio and you have very little experience with the recording process or expectations, then this article is for you.
1. If you aren’t ready to play virtually flawlessly in front of a crowd, you aren’t ready for the recording studio.
I truly believe if you can achieve playing a song flawlessly in front of a crowd, then the recording process will be much faster and smoother for everyone involved. You will clearly be rehearsed, know your parts, and be ready to give a solid performance in the studio. That being said, I wouldn’t rush to play your first show either.
I’ve always kind of half joked how
recording is where you find out how much you still suck. I remember the first
few times I started recording myself and immediately thinking, “Wow those drums
are sloppy as hell”. Same would go for my other band members or other musicians
who I worked with that seemed to be great live performers.
Recording is About Capturing a Great Performance
At the end of the day recording is about
capturing a great performance and that starts with being able to actually play
your song well. However, in the studio you can’t get away with as much as you
can in a live performance. You will really hear those sloppy chord changes, those
off time kick drum hits, or those flat notes in the vocals even more.
Don’t assume the recording engineer can fix it in the mixing or editing process. Focus on giving a great performance because no amount of editing or signal processing can fix a weak performance. Polishing a turd doesn’t make it any less of a turd.
And for the love of God, have your song completely written and practiced before you even book your sessions. Writing and changing your song in the recording studio is a huge time and budget eater. Not to mention painful for everyone else.
2. Practice to a click track/metronome.
This is a must for drummers but I highly recommend it for everyone in your band. Before you even start laying down tracks the engineer will set up a click track 99.9% of the time. Deviations in timing are very noticeable in the recording process and yes, occasionally not using a click track does make sense. However, being comfortable playing along to one is essential as there is a high probability it will be worth using.
The first thing I usually did with a band
was set up a click track then get the guitarist and/or bass player to lay down
some scratch tracks in preparation for the drum tracking. This way the drummer
had a decent reference track of the song and could focus on getting a solid
performance. After that we could then shift our focus to bass, guitars, and
I usually kept the click track playing all the way up until it was time to track the vocals. Then depending on how the vocalist’s timing was I could turn down the click track if not off completely.
3. Know everyone else’s parts.
This doesn’t mean the drummer should know how to play the guitar solo. It means everyone should know who is playing what and when in a song. This may not seem like a major thing but it can certainly make the process vastly easier. It can prevent conflict between members during the recording process, minimize unpleasant surprises, and it can help the engineer execute the session effectively.
4. Make sure strings and drum skins are fresh and tuned.
If your strings or drum skins are a year
old, spend the cash and replace them before you get to the studio. Old strings
and drum skins lose their tonal quality over time, even when not being played.
I should clarify that the “year old”
statement is more tongue-in-cheek. I’m not suggesting strings and skins are
good up to one year. I’ll admit I don’t change my drum skins as often as I
should, but if I’m going to be recording a song with the intention of capturing
a great sound, I’m going to make damn sure my drum skins aren’t old and
battered. Same should go for strings.
With regards to tuning, you should be checking it on a regular basis throughout the tracking process.
5. Don’t expect to bring your friends or significant other to the recording studio. Ask first.
Seriously. This became one of my biggest pet
peeves and I’m not the only audio engineer to have this issue. Guaranteed.
There is virtually no reason for your
friends or significant other to be in the recording studio unless they are
actually in the band or somehow involved in your performance (like a vocal
coach). So bare that in mind if you do decide to invite someone to the session.
First of all, in my case I didn’t have much
room to accommodate the extra people.
Secondly, my recording studio is really more of a basement with recording capabilities, so it’s wide open. People had a hard time keeping quiet when we are recording so their talking, shuffling around, and glasses chiming all get picked up on the recording.
Drama In The Recording Studio
Outside of my personal situation, the other
issue is that it can start to become more of a social gathering than a
recording session. In the worst cases drama ensues and puts a major damper on
the whole experience which is supposed to be fun, challenging, and rewarding. In
cases that border on being annoying, people can begin to socialize instead being
able to work on the task at hand.
I had more than one occasion where a friend or relative of a client got drunk, knocked my external hard drive to the ground, broke glasses, spilled their drinks, or decided to tell me how to run the session and how things should sound, clearly not knowing what they were talking about (see point six below). I also had someone get into a fight with their significant other during a session. It wasn’t major, but it was bad enough that it really made things awkward for the rest of us, delayed the process, and killed the vibe for a while.
Afterwards I learned that if it came up, I
always made it clear I usually didn’t want anyone in the session who didn’t
need to be there, only making the odd exception.
I’m not saying this happens all the time, and the reality is I dealt with it on a case by case basis. If you want to bring a friend to the session, ask the engineer and have them adhere to the next point too.
As another reference, this recording studio did a similar blog post with some other good points – one of which is bring food, not friends.
6. Don’t get wasted.
I’m not against having a few drinks in the recording studio. Recording music should be fun, relaxed, but still productive. When I had a paying client I virtually never had a drink, mainly for my own personal reasons. However, I didn’t hesitate to offer my clients a few drinks here and there – if they were of age of course. I usually tried to keep my mini fridge stocked with beer. Sometimes they brought their own.
There were times however, where someone
would clearly have too much to drink. For a number of reasons this can be a bad
situation and it all depends on how the person handles their alcohol. Sometimes
they get belligerent. Sometimes they break stuff by accident (or on purpose). Sometimes
they’re a happy-go-lucky drunk and it’s not that bad at all. The common thread
however, was that in all the cases an artist had too much to drink, they
couldn’t play their instrument any more. Referencing back to the previous
point, if a guest of the band had too much to drink, they usually disrupted the
session in some way.
You’re Sabotaging Yourself
You are paying someone to capture a great performance for you. Don’t sabotage it by getting loser drunk and not being able to play. Or worse, getting loser drunk and being disrespectful and ruining a potential working relationship. I did not hesitate to ask someone to leave if they were too drunk. A recording studio really isn’t the place to throw a party.
7. Show up on time.
I couldn’t believe how big of in issue this
became. Though admittedly it wasn’t as bad with bands as much as it was with
hip hop and rap artists. I could write a whole other blog post about my
experiences with the hip hop and rap culture and I probably will. Don’t get me
wrong, some where an absolute pleasure to work with, but there was a common
thread in that scene that made me very hesitant to work with artists in that
genre. Anyways, I digress.
If you’re going to be late, at least
communicate to the engineer that you will be late. I’ve had clients not even
show up to sessions without so much as a text message. It’s extremely
disrespectful and a waste of the engineer’s time… and they’ll probably charge
you for the wasted time.
Communication Is Key
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting you better be there right on time all the time, but the key is communication between you and the engineer. If you need to reschedule, tell them as soon as reasonably possible. If you’re going to be running late, let them know. A recording studio typically charges by the hour, so running late can cost you.
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