Preparing for the studio
Tonic guitar facilitator Sam writes about how best to prepare for the recording studio.
Sam is a sound engineer at Mayfield Studios in Drayton, Portsmouth.
Sam in the studio
Preparing for the studio:
So you’ve written a song and now you’re looking to record.
Here are a few tips and tricks for preparing yourself for the studio, and how to best use your time.
Do your homework
What does each studio offer?
Who works there?
How much do they charge?
Is there a sale?
What equipment do they use?
Don’t be afraid to contact the studio and start a conversation.
Visit the studio and meet the team prior to booking.
Budget and time management
Rome wasn’t built in a day and time is money.
What are you looking to achieve?
Have an end goal!
It’s unlikely that you will record a 10-track album in a day. Huge chart-topping artists sometimes spend months perfecting a single track.
Every session is different. Make sure to contact your chosen studio or producer to see what is an achievable goal within your budget and time.
Sam at a mixing desk
Rehearse more! Save time! Save money!
Sounds like a straightforward concept, but you would be surprised how many artists enter the studio not knowing their material inside out and back to front. Remember, time is money!!!
Does everyone in the band know their own parts?
Does everyone in the band know everyone else’s parts? Are the bass and guitar playing the same notes/chords? Are the drummer and the bass player locked in tight?
Rehearse to a click/metronome. This will help you keep in time.
Record your rehearsals, listen to what everyone is playing, and discuss.
Write and rewrite. If something isn’t working in the song, change it. Try not to get disheartened if your part doesn’t make the cut – it might be perfect for your next single.
Have you finished your lyrics?
Have you worked out your harmonies?
Have you written the guitar solo?
Do you know what you would like the final product to sound like?
Taking chord sheets, lyric sheets and pre-production demos into the studio with you will help to save time and give you a point of reference to work from if you become stuck.
Creating a pre-production demo not only helps the band visualise and discover their sound prior to entering the studio, but also helps to guide the studio engineer.
A simple way of creating a pre-production demo is to record your rehearsals with your phone.
It has never been easier to record at home! DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) and recording software are fast becoming cheap, with free options available, such as Garage Band, ProTools Light and Reaper.
Create a click track/tempo map.
Create a Spotify playlist of artists you like – not only will this help the engineer understand your influences, but it gives you a great talking point to discuss during the session.
Is everyone well-rehearsed?
Is there a guitar tone or drum sound you like?
Are you going to layer parts?
Prepare your instrument and make sure everything works
Having your instruments at their best really does help the recording process. It’s amazing how many musicians arrive with faulty equipment. Instruments are your main tools, so make sure they are at peak quality.
Nothing eats into time and money more than an out of tune guitar.
Get your instrument repaired and set up. Every good instrument shop should offer a service option. You wouldn’t drive a car with a flat tyre.
Do your pedals and leads all work? If not, buy new leads.
Do you have spare batteries?
“Can I borrow a plectrum?” – ummmmmmmmmm, no mate!
Restring your guitar/bass a few days before the session. This gives the strings and guitar time to settle.
Sort your instrument’s intonation. An instrument can be in tune, but the frets can be out of tune. A good setup can solve these issues.
Change those darn bass strings!!!
Change those worn out drum skins.
“Do you have a pair of drum sticks?” – ummmmmmmmmm, jog on. BUY SOME NEW STICKS.
Are you using the house kit?
BUY A TUNER!
Live vs multi-track recording
Live tracking is usually where the band plays the song together at the same time.
Playing the track together creates a cool vibe.
Can be a quicker process of recording.
Instrument ‘bleed’ on microphones.
If someone plays something wrong it can put the other band members off.
Multi-track recording is a process where each instrument is layered separately. This is usually the preferred method of recording in modern studios.
You can create a more accurate sound.
Easier to edit instruments.
Takes longer to record.
Time is money.
Mixing and mastering
It is extremely rare that mixing and mastering will be included in the quoted price. So budget for this.
Bands will usually book another day to mix. This means the engineer has a fresh perspective on the track and sounds captured.
Nominate a couple of bands members to attend a mix session, as it is not essential for everyone to attend.
How would you like your mix to sound? Bring in a couple of your favourite tunes for the engineer to compare and contrast to.
Take the mix home, then listen to it on various sound systems – hi-fi, kitchen radio, car radio, phone.
Send the mix to friends, see what they think.
It’s unlikely that the mix will be perfect first time. Compile a list of mix notes and send them to the engineer.
Most mix engineers will recommend sending your track to a mastering engineer to complete the song. Although this may add a little to your budget, it’s like framing your favourite painting in the most fitting of frames.
Tips for the day
TURN UP ON TIME!!!
Nothing eats up money more than a band member turning up late.
Likewise, don’t turn up early. This can be incredibly frustrating for the engineer – they might be finishing up a project from the night before.
The start time is usually set up time. Set up/pack down time is included in your session (unless pre-arranged).
Do you need versions of your song sent to you? Make time for the engineer to do this within your session.
What would you like to achieve during the day?
Bring a check list. Not only will this help you to organise your time, but it will also give you a sense of achievement.
Taking breaks can help to reset focus and relax the band.
Expect the engineer to take regular breaks. Ear breaks are incredibly important – you wouldn’t expect an athlete to run at full pace all day.
Plan your lunch! Are you bringing lunch? Are you ordering take away? Where is the nearest shop? Do you have snacks? Tea, coffee or beer?
Drinking in the studio? Know your limits! Whilst it can be fun to have a few brewskis, don’t lose sight of the end goal – creating a kick ass record!
Does the world know you are in the studio?
Social media is HUGE and should be a part of your day.
Spending all day on your phone can be seen as rude though, so keep it in moderation.
How are you going to document your day?
Do you have a mate with a camera to take pics?
Can you film the day?
Tag the engineer, tag the studio, tag your mates!
A little thanks goes a long way
Be sure to thank the engineer and the studio at the end of the day.
Remember, they have been working hard to help bring your tracks to life and to your audience. Offering to buy the engineer lunch or taking in a nice blend of coffee can really lift an engineer’s spirits.
Remember to enjoy your session. Your music is worth spending time and money on. The world deserves to hear your music.