Before the Session
1. Record your songs at home or at a live gig. Quality doesn’t matter, but being able to hear your songs before you come in might help weed out things that aren’t working. And can help you work out overdub ideas and vocal parts.
2. If you are using a sequenced material, have it prepared ahead of time. Ask your engineer what file format he needs.
3. If you are using a click track, know the tempos ahead of time and practice with them. If you have tempo changes know where they are in the song, by beats & measures, or have them prerecorded for simple importing.
4. Know what songs you are recording. Sounds simple, but I’ve seen precious studio time wasted on bands debating what songs they want to record. Plan on more songs than you need. If things are going well you might be able to get a few more songs started for your next project.
5. Maintain your gear. Have your guitars and basses Intonated by a professional. Make sure all amps, cables, pedals, etc, are working perfectly. New strings, picks, drum heads and sticks are a must, they sound, brighter, fuller, and will stay in tune longer. Bring spares. You won’t save money in the end if your drums and guitars sound muddy and lack luster, if you have to spend more time trying to fix bad sounds in the mix and have a compromised recording.
6. Copies of lyric sheets are great for the engineer to know where you are in the song, and can help in marking down parts that can be stronger. Handwritten is fine, typed is better.
7. It’s great for the engineer and you to meet in the planning stages of your recording. This gives a chance to be on the same page before the “red light” is on. Bring reference CD’s so the engineer can hear what you are going for and bring your demo CD/tape so he can hear what you sound like. Then you can discuss what it will take to get from point A to B. Bring the reference CD’s back anytime you have a session to refer back to them. 8. If you need/want to use any studio gear, i.e. drums, guitars, amps, piano, etc, let us know ahead of time so they will be ready to use when you get there. Especially the piano and drums . The piano needs to be tuned by a professional and we need to schedule him in advance. Drums may be in the back storage room and need to be set up and tuned.
9. Be on time. If you’re late, well you’re wasting your studio time. If you’re too early you might be getting in the engineer’s or other session’s way. Ask your engineer how soon you should be there.
10. Make sure you have everything before you leave for the studio; Instruments, reference CD’s, food and drinks, money (including tax) for session, camera, and don’t forget extra picks, strings, drum heads, and sticks. These things always break and will do so more likely if you don’t have spares.
11. Keep guests to a minimum. They are always a distraction for you and the engineer. Distraction’s cost money.
12. If you mess up while recording don’t stop. Everyone else could be having a take of a lifetime and if you stop everyone will lose their groove. Most mistakes can be fixed with a simple punch in or edit. If it’s a major train wreck stop the take and start again. Don’t sweat making a mistake it can be easily fixed and everybody makes them.
13. Get the sounds you are looking for before you start recording. You can’t fix it in the mix. Refer back to your reference CD. Taking the time to get it right before the red light goes on, can save countless hours trying to make it something it’s not in the mixing stage. As I always say “You can’t make an apple a truck.”
14. Let the engineer know ahead of time if you want a dub at the end of the session. It is less time consuming if the engineer can make a dub while the song is “up” then to wait till your session is over and ask for a dub. Make sure you actually need one. It takes real time to mix each song to a format that we can make a CD from. So if you have 10 songs it could easily take an hour or more just to make a dub. Keep in mind there might be a session after yours.
15. Know when to move on. 28 takes of a solo doesn’t make a better solo. Just frustrates everyone and you’ve created a big compromise you won’t be happy with later. If you’re stuck take a dub home and work on it there.
16. Trust your engineer. He has probably been doing this for longer then you have. He knows his monitors and studio well. If you have concerns about sounds refer to your reference disk, that’s why it’s called a reference disk. Some mixes on your ref disk have budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Keep that in mind and know where your limit is. You’re not going to make the next Soundgarden “Superunknown” on a $500 budget.
17. Tune up! Tune between every song. Do it while they are playing back the previous take. You can play the best take of your life, if it’s out of tune it will still sound like an amateur did it.
- Unless an effect is part of the part (ie in time delay) or unique to the part. Record your tracks clean add things like reverb later. You might find at mix down you have to much and it sounds washed out.
- When it’s time for singing, make sure you have plenty of room temp water or warm tea honey and lemon. Cold water and ice constrict your vocal cords.
- Consider the time it takes to finish a take, comment about it, then listen to a take, comment about it. If your song is 5 minutes long that could be 15 to 20 minutes per take before you get a keeper. Then the 5 minutes it takes to make a dub of the keeper. It could take between 20 to 30 minutes before you have a take and can move on to the next song. Mixing Down
- Quiet please! It’s very difficult to hear something critically while people are talking about what they saw on T.V. last night. If you must talk about something other then the task at hand, step out and find a place you can. We have a lounge we can play the mix in just for this reason. You can listen and talk. This is where #11 comes in. Everyone wants to bring their friends to mix down because they can entertain them while they listen. Don’t bring your friends unless they are participating in the mix. Again distractions cost money.
- Try not to mix on the same day you’re tracking. We will do it, but it’s in everybody’s best interest to have a little time away from it to get a fresh perspective.
- Listen to the song as a whole. I know everybody wants their part to be heard loudest, but keep in mind what the focus of the song is at any particular moment in the song. If you try and put your double neck double handed tapping solo alå Michael Angelo Batio (google it), over the chorus vocs, the vocs will win out every time.
- Get out that reference disk! You know what for.
- Know what format you need for delivery for mastering or duplication. Call them and find out what they can work with. There are many types of formats not every body uses the same thing.
- Count on and budget for unforeseen delays. Everyone asks “how much does it cost to make a whole record”. I will paraphrase Steve Albini. The only real answer is “All the money you’re prepared to spend.” More often, albums take four to ten days, but there is a wide range in what can be expected within that range. Less time means fewer – or no – experiments, less fine-tuning, fewer alternate takes, less total time in music recorded ( 10 songs rather than 12, for example) an ultimately an acceptance of results that may not have had time to settle-in as confidant. That doesn’t mean the record won’t be good, just that you won’t have the time to try out all possibilities to convince yourself of it. Longer sessions have more time for second guessing, re-working and experimenting, but they aren’t necessarily “better”, they just have more options available to reach the end point. It is backward planning to ask how long it will take for a fixed methodology, and then come up with that amount of money. If you guess wrong, you will be caught short, and end up spending all your money with nothing finished to show for it. It is much more realistic to decide how much money you have to spend, and then make the record that budget allows, accepting the limitations implied by that.
- Don’t let the recording get out the door until you’re sure it’s right. When you are sure, live with it. It’s a page in your diary.