A recording studio can be a scary place for a first time artist or band. The sound proofed rooms, wall panels, dimmed lights and sophisticated equipment can definitely be intimidating to many musicians. I remember well my first recording experience as I sat alone in the live room with my guitar, surrounded by microphones that look like weapons and seeing the rest of my band through a thick double layered glass panel.
Recording in a studio is very different than playing at a live gig or practice with your band. In fact most recording studio engineers (including myself) will want to place the guitar amps, drums and vocalists into separate rooms to capture the best sound of each instrument without any interference. The only way to communicate and hear each other then is by using headphones, when you and the band are used to playing in the same room and listening to your instruments through amps, getting used to hearing the band on headphones can be very overwhelming. One thing that also drives many bands crazy is the click track. That little ticking in the headphones to keep the timing of the song will seem to speed up or slow down every time your band begins to drift away from steady time.
Don’t worry! Even though all these challenges are real, they can be overcome by understanding what you need too to be fully prepared for your first recording session. The following points will help you prepare your music, your instruments, and your state of mind to ensure you have a smooth and fun first recording experience.
Know what you want to accomplish
Most recording studios charge per hour, and trust me, an hour in a recording studio can pass really quick and by the end of your session you realize that you’ve wasted valuable time. Make sure you write down what you want to accomplish during your session before you start, for example know what songs you want to record, or what instruments you will use for each song. It is also a good idea to let the engineer know your set/requirements before hand so that he can set-up microphones and have the recording tracks ready before you arrive.
Prepare your instruments for the session
It is important to make sure that your instruments are good and working before the session. A lot of time can be wasted changing strings, drum skins, reeds etc. Of course many times a string might break by accident, but at least make sure to have your instruments ready before your session. Also, know the right “sound” of your instrument for each song well, while you are practicing each of your songs, make sure you know the settings of your guitars, keyboard patches and other instrument settings.
You might also need to replace your guitar strings and drum skins to get your instruments to sound their best. Do not show up to the session with strings that have been on your guitar for the past two years. And remember strings and heads do stretch so don’t wait until an hour before the session to change your strings, change them a few days before to allow time for them to stretch. (Get extra strings and skins incase you break one during the session)
Practice before the session
Before your session, meet up with your band and practice the songs that you have chosen to record for your session. It is a good idea to practice only the songs that you will be recording, so that you can fully concentrate on giving it your best. Your goal is to know your songs well, know who will play in what parts or how certain sections are played.
Write your arrangement down
Along with your lyrics and chords, write down who will play in each section, what they will play and how they will play it. It is always hard to remember these things during the session as you are trying to concentrate on many other things. Again, it is a good idea to have a copy for the recording engineer as it makes it more organized during recording and also clearer for him during editing and mixing.
Learn the Words and Chords for your song
When a vocalist has the words to a song memorized, they can put emotions and feelings to it while recording. Even musicians can perform much better if they memorize chords, solos etc. Knowing the tempo of the song and practicing with a metronome also makes your recording session a lot more smoother. Recording with a click track/Metronome can become tedious but is necessary and if you and your band spend time practicing with a metronome, you will master it.
Relax and enjoy the experience
Recording in a studio is a great experience and a lot of fun for musicians. Make sure you don’t let your stress take that experience from you. The best thing about studio is that you can stop and start-over as many times as you want. You can copy, paste, loop, punch in, edit, mix etc. which makes it very easy to control any mistakes. So get your state of mind in order before you start recording, have a good meal and sleep well to get the best out of your performance and creativity. Make sure you show up on time, or a couple of minutes before the session to spend time in the studio, talk with the engineer and run through the session before starting it.