Help booking studio time

How to prepare for a recording session

Shine On Studio • Malone Designs Euphonix Desk

   The music is finally ready to be recorded. You've put hours into rehearsal and composing the music. The band has worked out all the rough spots and the music has a good flow from beginning to end. Now comes the crowning achievement, booking time at a recording studio to immortalize the music.

   There are some important steps that need to be taken before you get to the studio. As an engineer that has worked at a recording studio for 2 decades, I've seen what works and what doesn't work, so I'd like to share a bit of helpful knowledge on the topic. These steps can apply to any musician getting ready to reserve time at a recording studio. I'm also going to share some tips on how to maximize and get the most productivity out of your studio experience.

   First, be sure that you're ready for recording. This is a broad generalization, so let me go over the many parts that accompany this statement. To kick it off, make sure that your music is finalized and all the parts are in place. This means that the band has been rehearsing and all the band members are on the same page when it comes to performing the songs. The last thing you want to do is spend valuable studio time rehearsing parts of a song and trying to compose the music on the fly. Now it's OK to experiment and try different ideas, but there should be a core foundation to each track so the music is recorded within the time allocated to you while in the studio.

   Second, be sure that all your instruments are in good shape and sound their best. In many cases, strings should be replaced at least 3 days prior to the recording session. This will give them time to stretch and settle in for a brilliant sound that will sound great when recorded. So many times I've had guitarist come into the studio with old worn out strings and they never sound as good when compared to recordings with fresh strings.

   Drummers should bring a few extra drum heads and or snares just to hear what the recorded sound turns out to be. There are many things an engineer can do for your music, but try to rely on getting good raw recordings to start with and not relying on EQ to fix any deficiencies.

   Vocalist should exercise their voice leading up to the session. Don't strain or wear out your voice, but condition it just like any athlete would prepare for a big game. Don't drink any cold liquids before the session because they tend to constrict the vocal chords. Bring room-temperature bottles of water to keep the throat from getting dry and if you prefer something to soothe the throat, bring honey or tea. Studio sessions usually last all-day, so it's important to stay hydrated and bring snacks to keep your energy up. Bananas are always a good idea for natural energy and trail mix is a good way to subside hunger pains.

  Third, be prepared to back up your recordings. Most studios today are recording on a digital audio workstation like Pro Tools or Logic. You need to be ready to make back up copies of your recordings so that you ensure that your investment doesn't get lost, stolen, or accidentally get deleted. Most studios will have a way for you to back up your recordings on to a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. With prices rapidly dropping on storage devices, this shouldn't be a problem to find a device with enough space to back up your recordings. I'd recommend a minimum of 2 TB, but 500 GB is usually enough for most musicians. By backing up your recordings, you will have the ability to take your recordings home and mix them yourself if your budget runs out for studio time. You could also record at one studio and then take the files over to another studio for mixing. Sometimes it's a good idea to get a few different engineers working on your music to keep the sound unique and diverse on the album.

   Fourth, put someone in charge of time management. Staying on track is the most difficult thing to do in the studio. You can ask the engineer to help manage the studio time, but it's always best to have a band member keep track of the time. Most everyone has a smart phone these days and they all come with alarms and timers, so use them. Set the alarm on vibrate and let it remind you when it's time to move on. Figure out how much time you want to spend recording each song or parts of a song and stick to it. So many times I've had musicians show up to the studio with the intent of recording 3 or 4 songs and only wind up recording 1 or 2 songs. It is very easy to get wrapped up in recording and over-dubbing tracks that time will just slip away. Figure out a way to manage your time and do your best to stay on schedule.

   I want to give you a few helpful ideas about how to manage your recording sessions. If you have a hard time getting all your band members together, then it's best to have everyone pick a date that is convenient for a recording session and mark it on the calendar. Most studios have a no refund or no rescheduling policy, so it's important to make sure the studio date works for all the band members.

   Try to get all the recording done with all the band members present. This isn't a huge deal, but I've found that it's always nice to have all the band members at the studio when the initial tracks are recorded. Things like solos or backing vocals that will be over-dubbed can be done with individual band members. If possible, try to record the band in a live environment. I don't me a live concert, I'm referring to the whole band recording at the same time. There is a lot of "magic" that happens when musicians play together. This also helps cut down on the amount of time spent tracking each individual member of the band. Plus, if you haven't been rehearsing with headphones, don't try to do it for the first time at the studio. Try and recreate the feel you get when the band rehearses. This is the way you perform the music, so try to recreate that sound / vibe when you record.

   I'll have some more helpful info for you soon, but feel free to leave comments or questions and I'll respond as soon as I can. Hope this info was helpful and your recording sessions go smoothly.