How to Prepare for a Recording Studio Session
You have your songs selected & you feel ready to book a recording studio. Whether it is a couple of songs, an EP or full album it is a big investment where time is money so here are my top ten tips on how to prepare & get the most from your recording session.
Know Your Budget
Know how many songs you want to record, timeline & what you expect in the end. The golden rule for setting a budget is get your number - then DOUBLE it. Fortunately I learned that gem (& others) early on from one of my mentors Rich Ayers & wouldn't ya know - he was right! Now you too will have something to work with. Let the engineer know what your expectations & hopes are.. This will dictate what you will do, how you will do it & what is the best way to get it done.
Booking a studio
Research & find out what studio & sound engineer your favorite artist used & who is getting the sound you like. Ask for referrals. When calling to book be prepared to discuss your max budget for the number of songs you want. If you have sound references that too will help the engineer.
Know your time frame
Discuss beforehand and this will then dictate your overall project pace. Be sure to consider the reality of family, friends & other distractions dropping by the session. Setting a tight timeline - trying to get it all done in a day etc... may work against you. You may trade time for quality & add stress to the session.
Know your material
If possible , come in straight from the road or practice & rehearse before you enter the studio. This of course doesn't fit every situation but be prepared for the opportunity best as you can. Also , if possible , figure out the order you want to record the songs in.
Know the bpm's of the material
Make sure you have the tempos all figured out before hand. Tempos are everything. If you want to come to the studio & hunt for the tempo then that can cost you money. You might get lucky but with my experience it is best to have them figured out before. If you don’t use a click track but you want a click reference - “oh we know we want this at 128 bpm” then the sound engineer can throw it out to you so you can start off with the count off with the click track but then its gone on the down beat or a few barres down the line. Once you have that then you are least in the creative state & not hunting for feel.
Know whose playing on it
The studio demands players to be on their game. Are they friends or should you hire pro session players? If your friends aren’t world class players then it will show in the end product. What is your goal & where do you want it to go? Pro session players bring the opportunity of greater possibility. See your vision thru with the best possibility. Bands - best to record when on the road or right off the road when the band is tight. Capture it before the energy/synergy of the group is deflated.
Establish what the roles are
If it is a collaborative effort (aka the hell of compromise in songwriting) then work out all the roles. To many cooks in the kitchen can lead to drama in the studio. Extreme scenarios are fist fights or hurting someone's feelings. Avoid the drama & resolve the roles before coming in. Establish who is watching the timeline & budget.
Know your instrument
You don't need the most expensive drum set, guitar etc - just be really good with what you got. Have it tuned & bring in spare parts if needed. Check with the studio to see what is available to use.
What's for lunch
The type of food you eat in the studio is huge. I started my business with a lot sugary sweets & sodas, candies & had all of that stuff available for people to eat all the time. That was a big problem & I stopped doing it. I still provide things for people but only natural organic things & you will be amazed what happens to the demeanor of a session. Good quality snacks like organic fruits, vegetables, drinks, nuts, crisps etc.. & you will have a crew of people that are surfing a high wave through out the session & their energy levels will be consistent longer creating better results. So as silly as it may sound & it may be something that you have never thought of but I'm sharing with you that it really does make a difference when you're trying to get something done. Don’t do the quick up & down foods that will sugar boost you - those folks are usually tapping out by 7 - 8 pm. So bring the good food and feed your players well. I mention this because it matters in my experience.
Golden Rule of Studio Etiquette
Once you are in studio & everyone is ready to start the session remember the golden rule of studio etiquette. SILENCE. Don’t fill in the gap making noise. When you finish the take - on the ending chord - do not move until the last note sustains out, the sound engineer will let you know okay "you all can move about the cabin". There’s software that can remedy that but pros know to sustain or be still after the ending note. Turn off the volume between takes because silence also helps the artist. When listening back to tracks respect others listening to their takes with silence in the control room. You are paying the engineer to listen carefully & get the best audio from your session so take small talk outside so the engineer can concentrate.
Good communication & bringing a great vibe will help get great results. You are investing in your dreams so get to the best with what you got.