Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Studio time is precious and often expensive so how you prepare will save you time, money and improve the outcome of your recording drastically. You’ve booked the studio, the song sounds great and you can’t wait to start recording – but what should you prepare on the lead up to your session? Below are some basic tips to get the most out of your day in the studio.
Let’s face it – recording isn’t cheap and how could it be - the studio equipment costs an in-comprehensible amount of money, not to mention the time of your talented and experienced engineer. So, first thing you need to do is make sure you don’t waste any of your studio time because let’s face it – you’re paying for it.
The basics –
Your instruments need to be primed and at their best for your day of recording. When it comes to recording, every single step in the process is important. If you record in an amazing studio with a poor-quality guitar with old, ruined strings, it is still going to sound bad. All your instruments should have their strings replaced and drum skins should be changed etc.
It sounds simple but it’s important. Equally – when are you going to change your guitar strings? Whilst the engineer is impatiently waiting for you to start playing? No, change them in advance, give them time to settle in and don’t waste studio time.
On the topic of instruments, if you’re starting out, you may not have amazing instruments or backline – renting high end equipment can be a great option. Backline companies will often rent everything from guitars to drum kits for a daily fee.
On the day –
In most circumstances (unless it’s a live recording), all the instruments will be recorded separately and with a traditional rock band, for example, you will record drums, then bass, then guitars, then vocals etc.
That being said, be prepared for when it’s your turn to perform. Bassists, when the drummer is well through his drum recording, maybe think about setting up your bass, getting it tuned etc. If you’re the lead singer – when guitars are being recorded, maybe find a quiet space through the building and warm up your vocals so when it’s time to record, you’re ready.
The music –
Let’s not forget the most startlingly obvious thing you need to prepare for your recording session – the song! You’ve rehearsed your new song a couple of times with your band so you’re ready to go?! Not quite – it’s all nice and easy when you’re rehearsing with your band and swapping glances for cues as to what comes next. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re in the studio on your own, only recording your parts.
In my experience, your best option, as well as continuous rehearsals with your band, is having a “guide track” or "ghost track" as its often referred too. The guide or ghost track is just a rough version of the song to play along to when rehearsing or recording.
If you have access to any basic recording equipment, record a rough demo of your song with all the instruments individually recorded, then give every member of the band a copy without their parts. So, the drummer will get the song without drums but everything else. The singer will get a copy with everything except vocals and so on. You can then give this to your engineer ahead of schedule and use it to play along with whilst in the studio. It will sound familiar as you’ve been practicing with it for weeks beforehand plus, with all that practise, your performance will be great and there shouldn’t be any time-consuming mistake/takes. Win win, right?!
Now, time for an uncomfortable chat with your drummer about CLICK TRACKS! What is a click track? It is essentially a metronome that your drummer will play along to whilst he’s recording to make sure his performance is perfectly in time. Nobody wants a song that’s speeding up the whole way through and if it’s perfectly in time, it makes the mix engineers job much easier.
So, decide as a band, what tempo the song will be and make sure your drummer rehearses with a click track of the same tempo. Make sure you all record your guide track to a click track of the same tempo as well. Many of the greatest drummers I have ever worked with rehearse constantly with click tracks regardless of recording because it is so good for their progress.
It’s handy to pack a small flight case full of spares and breakables. You don’t want to be the drummer who snaps a drum stick halfway through the first take and has to waste an hour of studio time whilst he drives to the store to buy another set. Same goes for guitar strings, guitar cables, and anything else you can think of that could break during your session. Things such as spare batteries for tuners and pedals, pens and notepads for any notes you may need to take etc. I could go on, but you will know exactly what it takes to power up your sound and which elements of that could let you down.
The recording process should be loads of fun, and why not, but simply being prepared will ensure you get your song finished ahead of schedule, sounding better than you even imagined, leaving you plenty time to experiment with any extra parts you come up with on the day or taking 200 pictures for Instagram!
A final thought –
Your first recording session will hopefully be a lot of fun and you will learn a lot from it. This post won’t be nearly as valuable as the experience itself but hopefully helps you avoid a few of the common mistakes musicians make, and studio engineers complain about.
Studio time is precious and often expensive and how you prepare will save you time, money and improve the outcome of your recording drastically.