Recording can be an expensive and even daunting process. Here are some tips to help you better maximize your time in the studio and minimize your stress and expenses. Some of these tips are universal, while others vary from studio to studio.
– Have all songs written and parts figured out and assigned before coming into the studio. Don’t waste valuable studio time and money on things you can easily do at home or at your rehearsal space. This point cannot be stressed enough.
– If you are sequencing tracks or using beats, have them ready to go on a CD or hard drive before coming in.
– Practice, practice, practice! The tighter your songs are, the smoother the recording of them will be and the better the end result.
– Prepare a minimum of 25-30% more songs than you plan to actually use on the final product. Allow yourself a few throw-aways for the songs that aren’t up to snuff with the rest of the album.
– Come into the studio well rested, clear headed, and ready to work. Recording is a physically and mentally demanding process. Bring plenty of water and food.
– Change guitar strings and drum heads the day before coming into the studio and bring extra sets of everything, including drumsticks.
– Bring in your own rig. If you are a guitarist and want to capture the sound you get from the daisy chain of your guitar, pedals, and amp then be sure to bring your entire setup in. Experimenting with studio instruments, amps, and pedals is fine if you’re not set on what you want for a sound, but put a time limit on it. Let the engineer and producer, who are much more familiar with their own gear, assist you in finding the sound you are looking for.
– If you are working with a producer, give them a demo of the songs you want to record in the studio. Discuss production ideas ahead of time, and set aside reference Cds that serve as good examples of production styles you are striving for. Map out track assignments if you are recording to tape.
-Make a budget of how much money you have to spend on your project. Estimate how many hours you think it will take to complete your project in its entirety. Most musicians grossly underestimate how fast they think they can record their project. Depending on the band, a full length CD could take anywhere from 50 hours on the low end up to 250 hours or more on the high end. Variables to consider are how much recording experience the band has, how long the band has been playing together, and how elaborate of a production is desired.
– The drummer should arrive 2 hours before the rest of the band to allow for proper set up and undivided one on one between the drummer and the engineer. Good drum tone is crucial to a good sounding record.
– After the drums have been set up and sound checked, if it is a live recording situation the rest of the band will set up and sound check one by one in an order set by the engineer or producer.
– Stow all instrument cases and other items not needed for the session either back in your car or in an out of the way nook of the studio. Keep the floor space as uncluttered as possible, and set up allotting a comfortable amount of space between band members.
– Wait in the control room while each member sets up individually and is given their sound check. Keep talking to a minimum to allow the engineer to focus and hear everything that is going on in the soundcheck.
– After everybody has been soundchecked, a headphone soundcheck will be conducted. In a similar fashion, the engineer / producer will proceed one by one inquiring what each person needs in their headphone mix.
– Mentally block out all of the microphones and gear surrounding you. Stay relaxed and play naturally. Put emotion and feeling into your performance.
– Stay focused. The studio is an expensive place to party. Refrain from drinking and other recreational activities. Don’t invite guests to your sessions – they will only serve as a distraction and may try to inject their opinions. Avoid unnecessary phone calls. Stay focused on the task at hand.
– Do more than one take of every song, but limit it to 5 takes. Odds are if you haven’t hit the performance you are looking for in 5 takes, you are not going to. Move onto another song and come back to that one if time allows.
– LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! When you think you have a song in the can, come into the control room and listen to each take of it before moving on. Do not assume a take was good enough without listening to it just because “it felt right”. Get the sound and performance you are looking for. Don’t assume that you can fix things in the mix.
– Tune up in between each take.
– Consult with the engineer and producer before recording with effects.
– Defer to the engineer / producer in terms of recording process and performance quality. They are much more experienced in a studio setting than you are and have finely-tuned, objective ears that can hear things you may miss (i.e. flat notes, bad chords, tempo changes, etc.).
– Bring in Cds that you like sound of for references.
– Mix at a moderate volume.
– Don’t mix on the same day you record.
– Keep chatter and noise to a minimum. Listen attentively to what is coming out of the monitors. Don’t distract the engineer and producer or one another.
– Take small, five or ten minute breaks between songs. Go outside or to another room where it is quiet to give your ears a break.
– Mix down sessions should be limited to 8 hours to ensure your ears stay relatively fresh.
– Listen for random noises, such as lip smacking, foot tapping, digital “crumbs”, etc. These annoyances will be amplified when compression is added. Listen for them with headphones and remove them as you discover them.
– Listen for the overall balance between instruments. Think about the song as a whole. Not every instrument can be front and center. Mixing is about compromise. There is a natural tendency for musicians to want their own levels to be raised even when it may not be what the song calls for. Do what is best for the song as a whole.
– If the entire band is present at mix down sessions, appoint a spokesperson to be the liaison between the band and the engineer / producer. Discuss your mix ideas amongst yourselves before coming into the studio and convey them to the engineer at the beginning of the session. Work out differences as a band, and don’t put the engineer in the middle as a referee.
– Trust the engineer / producer! They are much better trained to mix your record than you are. Don’t expect to get each mix right the first time around. Bring home Cds of your mixes and listen on as many different stereo systems as possible – especially boom boxes, moderately priced home stereos, and car stereos. These are the places people are most likely to listen to your CD. Experiment with different volumes, but be sure to include low, soft volumes too. Make notes of your observations and bring them with you to your next session so you can tweak the mix. You may have to repeat this two or three times before you end up with what you consider the perfect mix.