Entering the recording studio can be fun and exciting. But it also involves investing blood, sweat and tears, as well as, of course, money. So it's a good idea to make sure you're ready before committing all that time and money.
Guest post by Nicholas Rubright
I love going to the studio. While it can be frustrating at times, seeing your vision come to life in the form of a high-quality recording is extremely rewarding.
Some people don’t like the studio experience and would rather record at home to save money, but to me, it’s worth spending the money to go to a great studio. What you learn from an experienced engineer is priceless – you’ll have a much better understanding of how songs go from an idea to a full-fledged production.
Not only that, but an experienced engineer can make your recording sound much better than you could at home.
If you’re going to the studio for the first time, here are some things you want to look out for to make use of your time efficiently.
Understand the production process
If it’s your first time in the studio, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of what goes into making a recording sound amazing.
When producing a single, album, or EP, there are 4 main stages you go through:
- Pre-production – Pre-production is the stages where you make demos of your song and figure out the details. This is where musicians and producers work together to refine their ideas. If you have a friend with some recording equipment, you can do this with them, since none of the demo material will be on the final track.
- Tracking – This is the stage where you get your instruments and vocals onto a recording for editing and mixing. It’s important that your recordings are as clean as possible.
- Editing – This is the stage where your recording engineer will make sure the instruments are aligned in perfect time and will add any necessary auto-tune to your vocal tracks.
- Mixing and Mastering – This is the stage that takes a great recording and makes it sound polished and professional. Sometimes, you can have your recording engineer mix and master the tracks, but it might be good to consider hiring for these tasks separately depending on your engineers skill set.
Choose the right studio and hire the right people
If you want the best results, then for each stage of the production process, you want to make sure you hire the best people.
You can also hire a producer to help with songwriting and arrangements, and to help manage this entire process, but this isn’t necessary for newer bands.
If you choose a good studio with a great engineer, you can find someone who has the skillset to help with all of these tasks, but for a variety of reasons, you may want to separate these tasks if you want some input from people with different influences on your song. Maybe your recording engineer is skilled at tracking, but you don’t like how he mixes the songs he records.
If you want to separate the task of mixing and mastering for whatever reason, there are some reputable online mixing and mastering services out there that can do the job. When looking for one of these services, it’s important that you listen to before and after tracks so you can hear what they did to the song.
Whenever you hire anyone for any stage of your production process, make sure you check their previous work and how they were involved. You can do this by listening to samples, or checking credits on AllMusic.
Know your equipment
Before you start tracking, it’s a good idea to have in mind what you’re looking for as far as instrument tones.
For your overall guitar tone, for example, it’s important to choose the right guitar for the part. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a guitar for it to sound great – there are plenty of great sounding acoustic guitars for under $500, for example – it’s more about choosing one that fits your tonal preferences.
Knowing what sound you want out of your instrument and educating yourself on how you can achieve that before you go to the studio is very important for maintaining efficiency. My first time in the studio, I spent lots of time and money on my guitar solos because I failed to educate myself on the different elements of a guitar tone before going into the studio. This resulted in me spending too much time playing with different amp and cab combinations when what I was looking for came down to simply changing the pickups.
Instead of settling in the studio because you’re uneducated about the decisions you’re making, take the time to educate yourself about the different elements of your tone before your studio day.
Practice, practice, practice!
Not knowing your parts before you hit the studio can be a huge time sucker. If you’re spending time in the studio learning your parts, that means you’re spending both time and money to do something that should have been done before the studio session.
It’s surprising how many musicians actually don’t practice and expect to be able to wing it during the studio session. This can piss off band members and lead to very heated arguments.
Practice your parts so you know them better than necessary. This way, your studio time can be used efficiently. If you have to play a solo that requires you to play triplets at 135 bpm, learn the part at 140 bpm so that the slower speed is easy for you under pressure.
Recording anxiety is a thing, and the best way to combat it is with practice. Practice more than what you think is necessary to be sure you can master your performances in the studio.
Having demos before your studio day will help you avoid having time-sucking debates with your band about how a part should sound. Having debates in the studio about different effects you should use, how a vocal progression should move, or what drum fill should be put before the chorus can easily suck hours out of your studio session.
It’s best to create demos with your band before your studio day so that you can have these discussions outside of the studio. This way, while they still take some time to resolve, you won’t be paying for that inefficient use of time.
If you don’t have recording equipment, try and find a friend or someone in your hometown that does and is willing to help you. You can do this by posting in Facebook groups full of musicians. To find these groups, just type things like “-your city- musicians” into the search box.
When creating your demo, do what you can to make your songs as close to the finished product as possible. You never know what kind of debates might arise among your band members.