The studio is booked, the songs are written, the band is sounding tight, and you’re ready to record. But are you REALLY ready? Being ready means having as much knowledge as possible, to avoid the recording mistakes that so many artists make.
Every musician hears stories about music legends walking into the studio and “nailing” performances in 1 or 2 takes. Like how the Beatles recorded their first album in only 8 hours…
But, as we now all know, there has only ever been one Beatles. And the Beatles spent years writing songs and playing 8 hours a night in Hamburg. After that much playing, any recording mistakes in the studio would most likely not be due to a lack of technical ability on their instruments.
On top of that, they had a genius producer guide them along the way in the studio. So, I think it’s safe to say if you’re not The Beatles, then you need to pay attention to what we’re about to discuss…
After all, most rookie recording mistakes that ruin a session have very little to do with the studio itself.
And these problems, ones that many musicians don’t even know they’re making, can easily be avoided with a little notice and preparation. The modern recording process has definitely evolved over time. But preparation and professionalism never go out of style.
So, do yourself a favour, and consider the following your “Recording Mistake Avoidance Checklist”.
This checklist will ensure a much easier, smoother, more productive, and less stressful studio recording experience so that you can work with confidence, and create the best art possible.
Recording Mistake #1: Mixing too loudly
Yes, mixing too loudly will actually ruin your mix…
We all know how great is feels when you get a great sounding track, and you crank it up in the control room. It sounds big and exciting.
But don’t be seduced by volume. That’s a common newbie recording mistake.
A lot of things sound exciting when you blast them through some high-end studio monitors. But there are several good reasons to mix at lower volumes. The most important reason is to protect your 2 most valuable assets…
Extended exposure to any sounds at high volumes will only have a detrimental effect on your hearing. And once you start to lose it, it never comes back. So be extremely conscientious of that fact.
Also, science has explained, as illustrated by the Fletcher-Munson curves, that human beings perceive certain frequencies differently at different volumes. At a high listening volume, high and low frequencies are more pronounced, while midrange frequencies seem softer.
The opposite effect happens at lower volumes, with midrange frequencies jumping out, and high and low frequencies falling into the background.
Therefore, recording and editing at a lower volume will ensure that your mix doesn’t sound too midrangy, and will also enable you to hear the finer details in your mix, and adjust them accordingly.
Recording Mistake #2: Not Enough Practice
Practice makes perfect…
No matter how well you think you know the song you’re about to record, you can always be a little more rehearsed. And recording mistakes tend to happen much more often when that little recording button gets pushed. After all, playing a song, and recording a song are two very different things.
Any musician will tell you that once you’re set to record, something changes when that “red light” goes on. You start to feel the pressure of recording “the perfect take”. And then end up playing very self-consciously, and that’s when little slips start happening.
By the time you’re recording, you shouldn’t be thinking about your part, you should be performing it. And that lack of thinking comes from focused rehearsals.
Don’t just “jam” with the thought that you will be able to “wing it” in the studio. That attitude is almost never conducive to creating a high-quality performance.
Build any solos, melodic hooks or harmonies meticulously. Record yourselves playing the song, and then have a discussion about anything that needs to be changed or improved. That’s what rehearsals are for.
If those discussions are happening in the studio, it’s too late. And you eat up valuable recording time. So stack the odds in your favour, know your part and your song by heart. The more prepared you are, the better your musical performance will sound.
Recording Mistake #3: Weak Tuning
Get your instrument and your playing in tune!
It seems obvious, but one should never underestimate the importance of tuning. And assuming that every little intonation issue can quickly and easily be “fixed” later, thanks to the amazing advancements in recording studio technology, is one of the biggest mistakes an artist can make.
First, ensure that your instrument is in “recording shape”, meaning it’s in tune with itself. Proper intonation on every instrument will ensure that your track sounds as polished and as tight as possible.
For example: If your guitar sounds great when you play a G chord, but sounds a bit off when you play a D or A chord, then your instrument may need a setup.
But before you make that decision, make sure your playing isn’t the culprit. Some guitar players squeeze chords too tightly, which causes the instrument to sound of out tune. And that is simply a symptom of flawed technique.
Also, ensure that all your accessories are in good working order, guitar pedals, drums pedals, drum skins, drum and keyboard stands, etc. You don’t want to have to deal with stripped drum hardware, or scratchy input jacks, pickup switches or tone knobs once you’re “on the clock”.
Once again, the Boy Scout motto is key in the recording world – ”Be prepared”.
When you’re in the studio, you can’t be focused on instruments and gear. You should be focused on having good, clean signal chains, and performing and recording the song to the best of your ability.
Recording Mistake #4: Lack of proper preparation
Know your goals and objectives BEFORE you start recording…
Music is art, and art is very subjective by nature. Everyone has an opinion on what is good, and what is bad.
In a band situation, it’s vital that every member is on the same page, creatively. Once parts are being recorded, it’s too late to tell your bandmates or your producer that you think the song needs a different groove, a different arrangement, a different tempo, different lyrics, or a new bridge section that hasn’t been fully worked out. And lack of preparation IS a common recording mistake.
Although certain things can be changed while in the studio, make sure those changes don’t drastically alter the song, thus causing subsequent changes.
For example: If you change the key halfway through the session, everything recorded up to that point will need to be re-tracked. So make sure most of the decisions on the song have been made and agreed upon BEFORE you walk into the studio to start recording.
And if something isn’t sitting right with you, speak up in a professional and respectful way. If you don’t, you will have to live with whatever you don’t like about the finished recording.
Recording Mistake #5: Lack of Proper Pre-production
Artists spend time recording demos for a reason. Do not skip this valuable step.
Sure, certain world-class artists and musicians can walk into a studio, nail their parts, and walk out of there with a flawless and inspired record.
These people are few and far between.
Playing your part is one thing, ensuring that all parts sound great together is another. Everything needs to work in context.
Certain things might sound fantastic on their own, but for whatever reason, they don’t work in the song. Melody or harmony notes can clash, certain tones can be the wrong ”color” for certain sections, two people might be playing slightly different grooves, two great hooks may not complement each other, etc…
And this recording mistake isn’t only made by young or inexperienced artists. Plenty of seasoned bands have entered studios with great song ideas, only to find out later, once things start getting layered, that certain arrangement ideas don’t work together.
When someone constructs a building, they don’t immediately start pouring concrete.
They create a blueprint. That blueprint forces important decisions to be made so that there are as few delays as possible once the actual construction begins.
Consider your demo a blueprint for your record. And it doesn’t require a professional recording studio to serve its purpose. The only people who will hear it are the musicians, the producer, and any engineers. So a comprehensive, well tracked home recording is fine.
This is when ideas can be tested and fleshed out. When the studio clock isn’t ticking away. You should know as much as possible about your song BEFORE you start trying to put the pieces together. This avoids wasting valuable session time.
Recording Mistake #6: Lack of professionalism
Be professional, at all times.
Professionals become professionals for many reasons. Yes, musicians at the top of the call sheet are there because they know how to execute, but also because they know how to prepare and present themselves. And that goes for home recording studios as well as world-class facilities.
In the end, it’s a matter of respect, respect for your bandmates, as well as your engineer, producer and any other studio staff involved in your project.
And that means showing up early, not just “on time” (but not too early – about 10 min is perfect).
You want to convey a level of seriousness to everyone involved with your session, one that says you’re there to work and accomplish your goal.
So, prepare the demo of the song(s) you wanna record, ensure your gear is in tip top shape, have a plan for how you’ll be working and when you’ll be taking breaks, and be courteous to bandmates as well as engineering, production and managerial staff. A positive and constructive attitude towards the material will help ensure a creative and productive atmosphere in the studio.
Recording Mistake #7: Losing sight of the goal
And finally, have fun!
Sometimes recording can be frustrating, and it can be easy to lose sight of the reason so many of us do this in the first place: for the love of it.
Be passionate and enthusiastic about the art you’re creating and recording together.
After all, when done well, great art can change the world.