As a musician, being new to recording in a studio can be rather daunting. The pressure of having to perform perfectly isn’t easy, especially when you find yourself in a strange environment full of foreign looking technology and being judged by eccentric creatures behind glass windows. A few tips may help turn this foreign gear into an obsession and the creatures behind glass windows into beneficial friends. Studios can be like home as you hear your creations being blasted back at you in full force through the monitors, so long as you go about it in the right way. Here is a few things that you can do to help get the best results out of a recording session.
Before the Session
Preparation is key at this stage. Many issues that compromise recordings can be avoided if the correct preparation is made.Get the boring side done first:
Make sure communication is clear about prices, method of payment, song ownership rights etc. and get it signed on paper with copies for each party.
Manage and allocate the time you have to achieve what is needed. Don’t be over ambitious with this, make sure you overcompensate and have time to spare. Recording can take longer than most people think to get good results. Make sure it’s discussed with your recording engineer and (if you’re clever enough to get one) producer, as they should hopefully have the experience to know how long these things take. Also bare in mind that if you’re an artist/band that practices 6hours a day everyday you’ll probably get successful takes faster than someone who “jams out” once a week.
Include time for arrival, setup, troubleshooting, final tweaking, recording, re recording, listening back, more recording and breaks in between for everyone involved.
Then the fun side:
Discuss with the recording engineer what sound/s you’re going for, give references to similar songs that will help give a better picture of what is trying to be achieved. This involves everything from tones, dynamics, layering to genre and song structure. By knowing exactly what needs to be recorded and how, the engineer can make all preparations needed to do so. If you rock up with an accordion and the engineer doesn’t knowthat you decided to throw it in the works, getting it recorded properly is going to take longer and will compromise time to do everything else. The same concept goes with creative ideas, all the great concepts you want to try – like layering the whole band doing backing vocals 20 times or bringing in the hobo down the road who claims he can rap – should be discussed and rehearsed before hand so that there is time for it. Obviously if an idea comes up during the recording that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out if you have the time, great things can happen in that spur of a moment.
Know what you will be recording backwards (and even better forwards). Practice how to play it perfectly. The better you play, the better the recording. Often artists put the blame elsewhere if a recording sounds bad, but if you listen to some of the most loved songs out there, the recordings themselves sometimes aren’t good, but the fact that the artist/s behind it are professional and the song is well composed makes all the difference (obviously when the recording quality is top notch combined with professional performance we’ve hit the nail).
Health Concerns –
Try getting a good night’s sleep before hand and avoiding being sick at all costs. It may even be better to loose out a little and postpone the recording if a singer (especially) is sick and sounds like a frog due to phlegm frothing out his/her lungs(unless that’s the sound you’re going for).
What to Bring
Much of what is said in this section may seem obvious, but many recordings have been held back due to the forgetfulness of some artists. I’ll also discuss preparing the equipment you bring appropriately for a recording. Make a list for this that you can tick off while you pack, making life easier for the busy mind.
If the instrument you own isn’t of great quality, go find a friend to borrow from (or hire), get the best instrument you can find for the recording. It will make a huge difference.
Guitars/bass guitars: Make sure they are in the best condition possible. Get the action set properly and put on newstrings a day or so before to avoid the guitar constantly going out of tune. Fix any electrical issues that cause buzzing. Before you enter the studio. Trouble shooting a dodgy earth can steal precious time.
A similar philosophy applies to drums: Make sure you have newskins (avoid recording skins with pits)get them stretched in a little bit and tune the drums appropriately before the session for recording. Polish cymbals and have the right sticks for the context of the song, this should get you along the right directions tonally before the engineer has even done anything.
Cables: Don’t forget to bring cables for your instruments, get some good quality ones if you can.
With any instrument, make sure it’s in the best condition possible, recording starts at the source, if the source sounds bad, the recording will sound bad. As many engineers have quoted from The History Boys – “You can’t polish a turd.”
Carrying on from that concept the same applies to amps. The way the amp sounds in the room is very similar to the way it is going to sound once recorded. There is no magic button that will change this. The buttons only enhance certain characteristics of the source. Get your settings tweaked to more or less where you want before you go in, from there the room might influence what settings are used further.
Most sound engineers will be equipped with a toolkit of their own, but its always good to carry your own into a studio to be prepared incase the studio is missing that one little thing that always comes handy. It will give a good impression being prepared in this way. Bring – masking tape, permanent marker, guitar tuner, drum key, pocket knife/screwdrivers etc., earplugs(often good for drummers especially), batteries(9v), mini torch and why not throw a first aid kit in while you’re at it.
Don’t leave everything lying around in a mess, bring some guitar stands to avoid the famous balance act that often ends up having your guitars slowly slide to the side and slam its neck on the floor when you cant catch it in time. If you have sheet music or chord charts to work to, remember music stands (but you can also check before hand if the studio can provide these. Don’t expect the studio to have everything you need).
Stay fueled; bring food/snacks and drinks (but nothing heavily dairy based for vocalists, you don’t want them gargling due to saliva build up while they belt out those powerful high notes).
During the session
Now finally the day comes when you get to the studio. The chaos begins with setup. The first golden rule is to have good communication. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on. It isn’t too hard to do just ask! Here are a few tips to remember.
Arrive on time!!– Aim to be early
Be polite – Considering you’re new to studios I doubt you’ve sold platinum award winning albums, so don’t act that way. Once you’ve done a world tour or two then you can put a carrot up there if you still wish to. In the meantime “keep it real yo”.
Look out for hazards – glass sliding doors can be detrimental to your ego, try not to walk into any. Watch your step with cables too.
Close the doors – they’re only sound proofed if closed, keep them sound proof.
Don’t show off- If you like to get into playing while everyone else is trying to talk or get things organized you might be a distraction by creating too much background noise. Only perform during warm up, sound check/rehearsals and recording. If you keep on at it while it’s not necessary you’re just going to wear yourself down and compromise playing when it matters.If you can’t help yourself do it in a way that it doesn’t slow down productivity.
After the session
Now that your next big hit has been successfully recorded and is ready for post production its time to say goodbye. Try leaving the studio the way you found it. Leave on time as the engineer either has a life to get on with or his/her next client is waiting impatiently. Finally pay what was agreed on promptly and you’ll be the studios favorite person/people, welcoming you back to track again one day.
Article written by Lyle Bennett.
Lyle Bennett is a new Cape Audio College graduate who has been working with some pretty serious artists. From Cape Town rock dude’s “Rosemary Townsend” to the the ever talented New York Rapper Whosane. Lyle’s mix of Whosane’s “Pardon the interruption” is currently making waves across the pond. Lyle is also working on the music scoring for an interdependent Horror movie that is out very soon.