Preparing for Your Session
Preparing for the Studio by Adrian Yanez
What you do to prepare for your recording studio experience will effect the satisfaction that you attain from it. We will give you some detail as to how you can achieve the results you want. Rick Rubin spent 6 months in pre production before going into the studio for The Red Hot Chile Peppers’ first album. Because of this the band was able to focus on the recording and not the performances. That part had been achieved before they entered the studio. The music must be fully rehearsed and as Pat Metheny recommends, tour the music to see what works with an audience and what doesn’t. With your first project you may not have a record label to determine for you which songs will work and which ones won’t. This is why it is very important that you get feedback from fans and associates.
Gig as Much as You Can
How much you are performing or how much gigging you are doing? The more the better. If you are playing less than 3 times a week at gigs, you may have a hard time developing the timing that goes with being a tight ensemble. While in Hamburg, Germany, the Beatles were playing 7 or 8 hours a day, and it included a variety of popular music, not just the music that they grew up with. Be flexible. The more different styles you absorb the better you will be and the more ideas you will have to draw upon. Artist like Hoagy Carmichael, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, rock acts from the 60s, Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Yip Harburg, are just a few. Fill your musical reservoir with musical ideas and styles. In the beginning don't limit yourself.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Constantly be working to improve your playing and singing skills. Scales are important but they are not the end. They are a means. Avoid playing scales when you are working out the music. There is nothing more boring than when the scales are obvious. While scales may demonstrate the skill on your instrument, and can be impressive, if they don’t serve the words or the music, they can be pointless. Stick with tried and true arrangements. Limit the desire to turn each song into a magnum opus. Keep timings to what is necessary to communicate the idea of the song. Take into consideration the different places where you will post your music for sale. Remember that there are time limitations for vinyl and compact disc recordings. Practice makes permanent, not perfect.
Make sure that guitars and basses have been properly setup and intonation adjusted. Make sure your instruments have fresh strings. For those of you who live in the Fort Collins Colorado area, I can recommend Woodshed Music. https://www.facebook.com/woodshedenterprises/ Paul is a great guy and he did a great job repairing my classical guitar.
For drums, new heads are a must and you should tune them in advance of arriving at the studio. The drums will need to be tuned when they are set up in the studio but tuning them in advance can get you in the ball park. Make sure that drum pedals and high hat are working properly.
For keyboardists, bring all the cables you need to make the proper connections. The studio will have cables but make sure your cable are in working order. This goes for guitarists too.
It is often good to have a producer who can help you focus your efforts. A producer can bring a more objective eye to what your needs are and what will better enhance your recordings. Part of listening when you are in preproduction is what is best for the song.
Know when not to play. Be objective about your own contribution. There are times when a song may not need they skill set that you have. If you develop this skill it will make mixes go much smoother. The tendency is to listen for your contribution while not hear the overall effect. A good practice when you rehearse or perform is to listen to the overall sound of your band. It is a good practice to practice unplugged. This will give you a better sense of how well your group plays as an ensemble. It will be easier to mix the tracks during the mix if you have the mix done by you in the room you are playing in first. This is called mixing with air.
Honing in on the Optimal Studio Experiece
Determine whether your recording sessions will be more of a live performance, with minimal overdubs, or will you be building the songs with many overdubs. If you have your music well rehearsed before the recording sessions, you can save time and money. If you do a lot of overdubs, it is important that you consider whether you will be able to perform the recording live. This is may not be a consideration if you are doing EDM or one of its variants like Progressive/Trance. Discuss with the engineer what recordings best match the result you are going for. Make a list of your favorite artists.
Provide as much as you can to your producer, band members, and engineers when it comes to chord charts, and lyrics. If you have the ability, it doesn’t hurt to write our any arrangements you may have worked out. The more information the better. Demo your material. Something as simple as guitar and vocal will be enough to help everyone be on the same page. This will show you, your band members, musicians, engineer, and producer how you envision the songs. It is best if you have your arrangements worked out before you arrive at the studio.
Make clear, in advance, what role you want your engineer to play. Do you want him to provide suggestions as to the arrangements or the music? Do you want him to just engineer? If you lay out your expectations then it will help all who are involved and will make things run smoother. You can overcome any misunderstanding and will also make for a mellow, laidback, and friendly recording experience.
For vocalists, it is important that you sufficiently warm up before your performance. It may be a good idea to record the vocals on a different day or during the time of day when the vocalist feels more relaxed. Having extra personnel around can make the vocalist feel rushed or out of sorts. Have water and throat lozenges on hand to sooth the singer’s throat. The vocalists favorite hard candy may also be a good addition to have around. Low lights or candles may help to set the mood. For the vocalist some time may be dedicated to choosing the microphone that best suits your voice. If you have not done this before than be prepared to work with the engineer. If you are already familiar with what microphone best suits your voice, then let the engineer know. It will give him an idea and will help him select an alternative microphone if the studio doesn’t have the microphone that you prefer. Vowels of the lyrics are where the pitches are sung. Consonances are where the rhythm of the melody and the words are defined. Give the vowels their full time value. Don not clip words short unless it is done for effect. Remember, the voice is the primary instrument. Practice good breathe support when you sing. The producer should be able to help you with this in preproduction. If you have any questions please ask.
I highly recommend that all members of the band be able to sing the lead vocal part as well as their own parts and instrumental solos. This will give you clues as to how to perform your solos. The most alive music is music that breathes. Ask yoursef, If I were singing this solo where would I breathe and what notes would I emphasize. If you can’t sing it, then there is a good chance that you aren’t hearing what you are playing.
Preparation will go a long way to making your experience in the studio a happy one. It will build your confidence.