8 Ways to get more out of your Recording Studio sessions.
Recording Studios can be intimidating places the first few times you use them, and often when my bands used to record demos, and later, mix dance tracks, we’d get a sense of ‘we should or could have done this or that,’ often because we weren’t prepared enough, had no clear sight of what we’d wanted to achieve (let’s go to a recording studio!) and sometimes behaved like dicks, all on our own dime.
1) So, firstly, don’t behave like dicks. It’s a professional situation, it’s costing you money, and if you have a successful session the recordings will be useful to you for a couple of years at least. While you can tell everyone you were snorting heroin off a lion’s back the whole time you were there, behaving like a rockandrollstar (tm) is a waste of time. Recording your songs in a great studio is one of the most rockandroll things you can do. Having a couple of beers or a quick smoke at the end of a hard day is fine. Getting wasted is not.
2) What is it you want to achieve from your session? What are the recordings going to be used for? Don’t say everything, list all the specific uses. Is it a 2/3 track demo, Single/B-Sides, EP?
Knowing exactly what the recording is for from the start will influence for example how many times you re-do the same ½ bar snare riff or tiny syllable on the vocal harmony – no-one will care if it’s a showcase to get you live work, or an initial demo, but if it’s for commercial use (CD, sync license) quality is essential.
Get all this clear now and you’ll know better what you should be doing at every stage of the session.
3) Choose the right studio for your needs – do you want to bang all the tracks down live, or are you going to lay a guide track, then record drums, bass, guitar, synths, etc. separately? Some music HAS to be recorded live (Dylan used to insist on no more than 2 takes sometimes, even though the band had not rehearsed any of the material, although in fairness he was dealing with the cream of session musicians.)
Either way, you need a studio that can handle your needs – every single one of them is different. Do you want decent separation (ie- a big live room like Abbey Road 2,) or will an average size space suffice? Budget is obviously a factor but also if you choose a studio in the city, while it’s more convenient for travel and supplies, it also offers way more distractions than going to the isolated converted farmhouse-type studio, which is idyllic but where you’re pretty much growing your own vegetables.
If you can, it’s always a good idea to check the studio out and meet anybody you’ll be working and spending time with. You’ll know right away if it’s the right place for you.
4) Know your songs inside out, and make sure they’re arranged well (see the brilliant blog on how pop music, even if it’s cheesier than Alex James’ underpants, still has great song structure that we can learn from.) Are they exciting? Do they change and keep interest from one section to the next, especially the verses? A chorus should always lift otherwise it’s not a chorus. Do you have an interesting middle 8? Is everyone clear on all the changes and are they comfortable with them? Rehearse for a recording session just like you’d rehearse for a big gig, ie - a lot.
5) Bring everything you’re going to need, and spare of them. Strings, sticks, FX Units, leads, lozenges, whatever..Don’t assume the studio has anything (some do but not many,) so if you do choose to record in the middle of nowhere and there are no music shops for 60 miles, you’re not panicking and wasting valuable time.
6) Be prepared to work hard – 12 or 14 hour days are more common than not, so eat and sleep well, and also remember the engineer is doing those hours too, plus setting up each day and cleaning up after you, so help out and be respectful (they’ll also be more likely to work harder for you if they like you, same as anybody anywhere.) Take regular breaks and get some fresh air once in a while, it’ll freshen up your ears as well.
7) No matter how much work you put in, you will ALWAYS run out of time. You have a budget, you’ve chosen your studio, you’ve prepared & rehearsed as best you can, but you still start panicking on the last day that you’re not going to get it all done.
Allow a day per song, to get the basics down, ½ day per song for overdubs, vocals and mixing. 2 songs = 3 days, obviously a very bendy rule of thumb, depending on a million factors. If you find you are running out of time, it might be an option to leave the vocals, as they can be easily added anywhere & pretty cheaply by any engineer with a decent mic, preamp & ears. You should ask for a mix without vocals anyway, for licensing.
8) Lastly, I’d say make the best damn record you can make – fill it with passion, joy
(or pain if that’s your thing,) and announce yourselves to the world with wide eyes, big balls and shining hearts. Enjoy.
Darren Nesbit is a recording and performing musican with 18 years experience. He can be found at www.daznez.com and facebook, soundcloud, tumblr etc. /daznez
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