The studio is booked, the songs are written, the band is sounding tight, and you’re ready to record. But are you REALLY ready?
Every musician hears stories about great artists 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 clubs in Hamburg.
And THEN, 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 problems that ruin a recording session have very little to do with the studio itself.
And these problems, that many musicians don’t even know they’re making, can easily be avoided with a little notice and preparation.
So, do yourself a favour, and consider the following your “Recording Checklist”.
They are more important than you think, and will ensure a much easier, smoother, more productive, and less stressful recording session, so that you can work with confidence, and create the best art possible.
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 can sound big and exciting.
But don’t make the mistake of being seduced by volume.
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 and 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, working 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.
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.
Playing a song, and recording a song are two very different things. Any musician will tell you that once you’re set to record, and that “red light” goes on, something changes. You start to feel the pressure of trying to get “the perfect take”, and end up playing very self-consciously, and that’s when little mistakes start happening.
By the time you’re recording, you shouldn’t have to 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 simply “wing it” in the studio.
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 will start to 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 track will sound.
Mistake #3: Weak Tuning
Get your instrument and your playing in tune!
All seems obvious, but the importance of tuning cannot over overstated.
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, causing the instrument to sound of out tune, when in fact, it is a simply a symptom of flawed technique.
Also, ensure 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 here – ”Be prepared”.
When you’re in the studio, you don’t want to be focused on instruments and gear, you want to be focused on having good, clean signal chains, and performing the song to the best of your ability.
Mistake #4: Lack of proper preparation
Know your goals and objectives BEFORE you start recording…
Music is art, and art can be very subjective. Everyone has an opinion on what they think is good, and what they think is bad.
In a band situation, it’s vital that every member be 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 should have a different groove, a different arrangement, a different tempo, different lyrics, or a new bridge section that hasn’t been fully worked out.
Certain things CAN be changed while in studio, just make sure those changes don’t drastically alter song, causing other factors to have to be weighed.
For example: if you change the key halfway through the session, everything recorded up to that point will have 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.
And if something isn’t sitting right with you, speak up in a professional and respectful way. Cause if you don’t, you will have to live with whatever you don’t like about the finished recording.
Mistake #5: Lack of Proper Pre-production
Artists record demos for a reason. Don’t 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.
Being able to play your parts is one thing, ensuring that they all sound great together is another. Everything needs to sit right in context.
Certain parts might sound great on their own, but for whatever reason, don’t work in the song. Melody or harmony notes might clash, certain tones might be the wrong ”color” for certain sections, two people might be playing slightly different grooves, two great hooks may not complement each other, etc.
When someone constructs a building, they don’t just walk in and start pouring concrete.
They create a blueprint. Important decisions get made while formulating that blueprint, so that there are as few delays as possible once the actual construction begins.
Consider your demo a blueprint for your record.
This is where ideas can be tested and fleshed out, not when the studio clock is ticking away. You should know as much as possible about what you want to build BEFORE you start trying to put the pieces together, so you don’t end up wasting valuable recording time.
Mistake #6: Lack of professionalism
Be professional, at all times.
Professionals become professionals for a reason. The musicians at the top of the call sheet are not only there because they know how to execute, but also because they know how to prepare and present themselves.
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 not only showing up on time but early. (but not too early – about 10 min is perfect)
This conveys a level of seriousness to everyone involved with your session, and says that you’re there to work and accomplish your goal.
So have the demo of the song(s) you wanna record ready, have all your gear in tip top shape, have a plan for how you’ll be working and when you’ll be taking breaks, be courteous to bandmates as well as engineering, production and managerial staff, have a positive and constructive attitude towards the material, and do your best to ensure a creative and productive atmosphere in the studio.
Mistake #7: Losing sight of the goal
And finally, have fun!
Sometimes recording can be frustrating and it can get 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 together.
After all, when done well, great art can change the world.