some recording studio truths to live by...
Regardless of where you take your music, these guidelines should help you be ready to perform at your best at any session. I have worked with many artist/bands, and every situation is different.
New artists who haven't recorded their music before may not be comfortable playing to a click (metronome), or have false expectations about how far "fixing it in the mix" can be taken.
Have your songs completely written down. Every part for every instrument (this applies mostly to bands).
Whether it is Lyric Sheets, Chord Charts, or Tablature; all of it will help the Engineer and Producer immensely and help the sessions go more smoothly.
This seems simple, but I have had people come in with only a riff and maybe a melody for the chorus. The lyrics were not even written yet!
Have form or structure of the song has been decided so the song stays interesting and involving. Some would say that it is better to have too much material than not enough,
because then you are able to redact and trim down sections so the song is a certain length or feels right. Quantity may not mean quality though.
Does that guitar solo really need to be 24 bars? Maybe it would work better with just an 8 bar solo to add excitement before the last chorus,
rather than repeating licks to infinity and beyond. (I mean... we don't want everybody
do the next "Free Bird" right?)
Make sure your drummer has rehearsed all of the songs ad nauseum. If he isn't ready, then we shouldn't be tracking live drums. I repeat: Don't leave out the drummer! Say What??
But seriously, I have had drummers come into the studio that were not prepared to record at all (example: *pulls of headphones after 1st take* "I've never heard this song before!")
Somehow everybody in the band had rehearsed the song, but the drummer was left out of the loop. If the drummer could not make it to rehearsal before you came into the studio,
don't expect him to be able to pull the perfect take out of thin air. It won't happen. Everybody will feel stressed out (especially
the poor drummer) and you may feel the drums didn't turn out the way you had hoped. This brings me to the next point.
Rehearse EVERY song you plan to record to the point of disgust. Rehearse like you are getting ready for the biggest show you have ever played.
Your recorded music could easily get heard by more people than come to a hundred of your shows. The better you know the parts, the better you will be able
to focus on getting your music so it come across with precision, feeling, emotion, and you guessed it.. musicality! In a live performance once the piece is played, that's it.. you're done.
It will never be heard that way ever again. When someone listens to your recording, they can listen as many times as they want! Any mistakes will start to show with repeated listens.
Make sure that your recording is your best performance of your music that you ever have
This goes along the same lines as rehearsal, but it deserved it's own section. Every vocalist needs to know their parts. In many cases the lead
vocalist knows his/her part but the backup vocalists don't have a clue. Harmonies and backing vocals were never considered. They either don't know the words, or have not worked out harmonies yet.
Some vocalists have a feel for adding harmonies whether it be a major third third up or a perfect fifth down etc, but having these parts figured out before coming to the studio can save hours of overdubs.
Lastly, memorize your lyrics.
Reading off of a lyric sheet almost always ends with a less than stellar vocal take. You can always hear in
the tone of voice that the person is reading it off of a sheet, and not 100% involved in delivering the take with musicality and emotion.
The vocalist is not as focused on the emotion/expression put into the vocal when they have to interpret the words off of a sheet as they are singing.
How to conduct yourselves in the studio:
|1. ||Come ready to work hard, get a decent amount of sleep before coming in. It can help everybody just feel more open, alert, and friendly while working.
|2. ||Anything that you need that will help you perform better, please let me know about it. I will do what I can to accommodate you. For example, if your headphones are not working properly, don't wait until we have done 10 takes of the song to tell me that your headphone mix is messed up.
|3. ||STAY QUIET in the control room. The engineer and producer need to be able to listen critically, and communicate with those who are tracking.
|4. ||Don't record if you aren't feeling up to it. You will only want to re-record it later. This is most common with vocalists who are just having an "off day". There are just days when your voice just doesn't hit those high notes as well, or just doesn't feel right.
I would rather you wait for another day when you know you can nail the take. Experienced vocalists often know immediately after warming up whether or not they will be at their best. The same goes for instruments. Don't play a lead guitar part sloppy just because the lead guitarist isn't there.
He will probably insist on re-doing it later, taking up more time.
|5. ||If the entire band is at the session, make sure you bring something to keep you busy when you aren't tracking. The studio an get quite boring for those who are not playing. Be sure to bring laptops, phones, video games, etc to stay busy.
Also, bring food and drinks. Having a few people go and pick up a pizza can bring instant energy back to a session! However, vocalists need to be careful about what they eat before singing.
|6. ||Some general rules for vocalists regarding food and drink:
| - ||Eating before singing is not a good idea, but singing on an empty stomach is also not great either. Eat something about 2 hours before tracking vocals. This gives your throat time to relax after eating and also allows you to have more control over your diaphragm.
| - ||Do not drink soda because it puts too much air in your stomach.
| - ||Do not drink milk or other dairy products that create mucus in the throat.
| - ||Do not drink citrus fruit drinks and Alcohol dry the throat.
| - ||Do not drink anything that is ice cold because it constrains the throat.
| - ||Warm or room temperature liquids like Tea, and Water are the best things to drink before and during singing. They soothe the throat. Honey is also common for helping "De-gunk" your throat before singing.
|8. ||If you mess up while recording, don't beat yourself up about it! Recording is stressful. It is only going to make it more difficult for you to get a good take. Frustration can slow down the session a lot, and spread throughout the other members of the band.
|9. ||Bring the gear that you want to use on your recordings to the session. I have instruments that I can provide for you, but if the sound you want is with your drum set or your guitar amp bring that to the session. It will make the search for the right sound much more simple.
1. At this point I move onto the mixing/mastering process. I can usually send you away with rough mixes of everything to listen to. The final product often sounds quite different from the rough mix.
2. When I start to send mixes of the songs to you, don't listen to your individual part. Listen to how all of the parts fit together as a whole. Compare it to music you like and see how your recordings stack up against it. Offer advice that will help me take your music where you want it to be. Explain what you want as best you can and I will revise the mixes to better accomplish your goals.
3. Many people dismiss a mix as "bad" simply because it is not loud enough. The loudness of a mix is something that is addressed during mastering. You should also know that when I make a song as intrinsically loud as other music on the market, it sacrifices most of the dynamic range of the recording to create a louder, more "in your face" sound. This may seem better at first because the brain associates "louder" sound as "better" by nature, but the constantly loud sound is fatiguing to the ears and can make listening to your record difficult after long periods of time. The reason music is so compressed and loud these days is a trend that the music industry has fallen into known as the "Loudness War". Everybody is trying to make their record louder than everyone else's. The overall loudness of a recording is important to make your recording competitive with others on the market, but shouldn't be taken so far that the music starts to suffer.
4. When mastering is finished consider it your final product
. If the proposed final mix has everyone's approval, that is how it is going to be forever. Any issues that you have need to be brought up before the final masters are delivered. your
musical skill, your
sound and your
music is what is coming out of your speakers more or less the same way you played it in the studio. No amount of processing, and editing and pitch shifting that I do is going to make your music magically better than it was to start. Garbage going in, is garbage coming out. I have high standards and I put my best effort into every project I do, but I don't like to have to pick up other's slack. Quality musicianship comes first in any recording chain!
I hope this blog was useful to you and will help you be prepared for a great session!
Here are some other helpful links with tips that can help improve your experience recording your music.
Guitar Tuning Nightmares Explained
Drum Tuning Bible
Tips for Musicians BEFORE arriving at the studio (Los Senderos Studio, TX)
Tips for the Recording Session (Los Senderos Studio, TX)
Session Tips - Boston Recording Studio