Preparation and planning are vital to any music production. The good people at Pony Music (Victoria, Australia) have put together fundamental but vitally important tips guide that could make the world of difference to the final product.
These tips are for bands and musicians who are getting ready to go into the recording studio to record their music.
PRE-PRODUCTION before entering the studio ensures smooth project sessions, saving you time, money, and results in better recordings. Pre-production involves working out all musical and vocal parts to each song prior to tracking (know your solos and backing vocals!).
1. Understand your goals for the recording. What is the recording for?
– Personal Enjoyment
– Demo for Promoting, Booking Live Gigs/Clubs
– Demo for Shopping Label Interest.
– CD Single for Radio Play
– Album Project for Release etc
Knowing exactly what you want to achieve during your time in the studio will ultimately reflect on how long you spend on certain parts of the recording process, a demo will obviously take less time than an album release of the same amount of songs. Having a vision of the final outcome with your budget in mind will give the engineer a clear indication of what they have to do to get you the result you envision.
2. Record your songs at rehearsal. Even a simple cassette recording on a boom box may reveal weaker parts of a song in need of improvement. Record and review all your songs. Practice the songs over & over until everyone can play their parts backwards in their sleep!
3. Rehearse more songs than you plan on recording. It is often hard to know which songs will sound strong on the final mix. (If you plan to have a four song EP, prepare six songs just in case). Record the songs in the order of importance.
4. Record your best songs. Record songs that are fun to play and consider a variety of songs.
5. Choose your method of recording: Recording live in the studio: Some bands prefer to track live in the studio and this helps capture the interplay of musicianship better, but makes for longer set up time and many takes of each song to get a great performance from everyone.
Most artists choose multi-tracking. The most important track is the Drum Track (the foundation for all overdubs), so it is imperative that it be flawless. All other instruments are done as a build-up (adding bass, guitars, vocals and percussion) to the recording. Each instrument is given individual attention and detail to ensuring the highest quality recording. If you plan on recording to a click track make sure you all practice playing along with one. With multi-tracking all instruments can be performing whilst concentrating on getting the drums recorded (essentially playing live), after which all other parts can either be kept or re-tracked as required.
6. Determine your budget. Think “quality” not “quantity”. Let the engineer know in advance how much time you’ve allotted for each session. He or she can help keep the pace going to meet that deadline. Remember to budget time for Mixdown and Mastering. A general rule of thumb: Mixing & Mastering of each song takes approximately the same amount of time as the tracking of each song.
7. Pre-session Consultation with the Studio Engineer. Make sure he/she knows and understands your vision before the session starts. Know what you want to sound like. Bring in reference CDs and let the engineer know by example the sound you are looking for.
The RECORDING Session:
Communication is the key to a successful recording session. It will keep everyone comfortable during the recording process. An artist needs to feel comfortable in order to get a good performance. Emotion and feeling make the best song, not necessarily the best technical performance. Working on a part over and over trying to get it technically perfect can sometimes destroy the emotional aspect of the part. Always make the song the highest priority (leave the egos at the door).
If you make a mistake while recording, don’t stop and start over. With multi-tracking, an engineer can punch in (edit) and correct simple mistakes. Sometimes a minor mistake is an example of “perfect imperfection” (actually adding to the performance’s honesty and emotion). If a part has a few minor errors, but great feel, it might be worth keeping. And remember, sometimes less is more! Here are a few suggestions for a successful recording session:
1. Be on time. Late arrivals can disrupt a whole recording session.
2. Introduce all band members to the engineer. Discuss your plans for the session and the desired instrument set-up.
3. At the end of tracking a song, wait for all instruments especially drum cymbals to fully decay before talking or making comment. The engineer will let you know recording has ended. Also, drummers, watch placing your sticks into one hand and making noise – silent endings.
4. Instrumental intros will need a time signature. If you are not recording to a click track usually a guitarist/vocalist will set the tempo and the drummer will join in with measured stick clicks, then guitarist will drop out with drummer still clicking the appropriate tempo. The drummer will provide a 1,2,3,4 verbal count in as the intro begins and continue through the beginning of the song. This sets up the timing for the overdub instrumental intro tracks. Stick clicks can easily be edited out during the mixdown process.
5. The best mixes are achieved by excellent recording. “Fix it in the mix” attitude will make it harder to get the final product right. Remember: A bad track will always stick out in the mix and the only way to fix it is to remove or replay the track. A bad take is not the end of the world, keep a positive attitude and try again. The luxury of recording is the ability to make composite tracks or rewind and re-record.
6. Communicate with your engineer throughout the project. Be flexible to accommodate the occasional changes that occur while recording your project. Your engineer will work with you to keep things running smoothly.
7. Keep your recording levels at a modest level. The recording studio is a controlled environment allowing for instruments to be recorded and mixed for a powerful sound. Tracking volumes should be loud enough to capture pleasing tones, but not so loud that microphone bleed over or room compression become an issue.
8. Bring to the session only those people who are directly related to the recording process (band members, producers and engineers). A crowded session will cause distractions and in the long run cost you money is wasted studio time.
Important: While in session, try not to carry on with conversations in the control room. This will distract the engineer who is working hard to concentrate on your music. The studio lounge is a great place to let loose.
9. Singers: Always drink room temperature water and don’t use ice! Ice will constrict your vocal chords. Hot tea with lemon work very well for vocal tracking. Make sure to provide emotion & feeling and let the engineer worry about the technical rendition.
10. Check your tuning often. There is no excuse for out of tune parts. You may bring your own tuners with fresh batteries or utilize the studio tuners.
Getting The Vibe RightHaving a great vibe in a recording session is extremely important for laying down good takes. If the vibe of a sessions sucks, then the tracks will have a FEEL that sucks. It can be hard to keep up a cheery and energetic vibe after the 12th hour of a session, but there are ways around this!
Vibe can be brought down, or amped up in a number of ways.
Getting a good night’s sleep before a session is a must. No one will really feel in the zone at 11am while they are layingdown a drum track, after they’ve come in with a hangover and only 4 hours sleep. As a musician that has paid for the time in the studio, why would you waste your money and time going in to lay down music that just doesn’t cut it because the players
were all hungover/tired!