D.I.Y.

Activating ‘studio mode’ – How musicians should prep for recording

Whether you’re a seasoned industry veteran or it’s your first time setting foot in a recording studio, proper preparation is essential in making sure you don’t your time, the engineer’s, or your time and money. Here, we look at how to get yourself “studio ready”

Guest post by Gideon Waxman of Soundfly’s Flypaper

As I prepare to head into the recording studio later this month, I figured now would be a great time to share some insights on how I’ve been able to manage my time and resources efficiently, in order to get to this point.

Whether you’re about to lay down your first single or you’re a band confidently sailing into your third full-length album, it’s just as important to make certain practical and mental preparations before entering any recording studio session. Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting your time, or that of the engineer(s), your money, and all the energy and efforts that got you here.

I’ve written out some tips that should help you improve your efficiency and ability to fulfill the creative vision you have in your mind. In addition, below is a quick preparation primer from Soundfly’s free online course, Building a Better Band, with bandleader and podcast host Carter Lee. 

So now, without any further ado, let’s help you to achieve your goals for your upcoming recording session!

Choose to Work With Your Favorite Material

Pre-studio, you should already have a strong idea of which songs you’ll be recording. Be clear in your approach, and dedicate time to rehearsing the songs you feel the most inspired by. It’s a good idea to be discerning when choosing the right material way before the studio session comes around.

The collection of songs I’m taking with me to the studio has been decided on now for several months. Through experimentation, I’ve honed in on my artistic vision and solidified my understanding of what I want to achieve through this album, and how to create the most potent emotional impact on my listener.

I’ve spent a great deal of time refining this material and enhancing the songs — adding layers, textures, melodies, adjusting rhythms, etc. Together with my bandmate, we’ve written lots of material, but we have narrowed it down to our favorite songs that we feel “made the cut,” and fit together thematically in the most concise way.

So in order not to waste precious time or money in the hired studio environment, record only when you feel completely happy with where your songs are at. Of course, new ideas will form in the studio, but it’s good practice to have the songs as fleshed-out as possible, musically and lyrically, beforehand.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Tips for Getting a “Live Feel” in Your Bedroom Studio.”

Demo Tracks Are Your Best Friend

Your demo tracks are some of the most powerful tools in your armory. The demo is your unedited, raw vision and projection of what you want to achieve. It communicates your fundamental message and demonstrates how you want the song to be presented.

For myself and the way I write music, demos are indispensable. They’re an integral part of the songwriting process. I build relatively complex compositions from scratch on Logic Pro, utilizing MIDI data and various virtual instruments (VSTs) to reproduce a full band production with a different range of textures such as synths and orchestral instrumentation.

With demo tracks, you can have every musical element prepared down to a tee for your studio session. I’ve just finished pinning down note-for-note exactly what drum parts I’m going to be playing in the studio. Creating these guide tracks has pushed me to write more challenging and exciting drums and will hopefully make the recording as efficient as possible.

The technology we have access to nowadays grants us the ability to create music in a genuinely flexible capacity, and it’s mind-blowing. The affordable audio interfaces available are more than capable of recording studio-quality takes, let alone demo tracks. A basic home studio setup merely requires a laptop running a DAW, and there’s a whole host of free plugins you can take advantage of to get started.

+ Learn production, composition, songwriting, theory, arranging, mixing, and more on Soundfly —  whenever you want and wherever you are. Subscribe for access!

Rehearsing Is Crucial

You don’t want to regret your performances later when you hear back the finished mixes. That’s why you’ve got to be prepared for when you enter the control room to crush your takes. There’s only one way to do this, and that’s through building a dedicated practice routine.

Commit to rehearsing your parts, whether vocals or instrumentals, for at least 30 minutes a day. “That’s not long enough!” you’re probably thinking, but I can guarantee you’ll often find yourself practicing for much longer. Instructing you to practice for two hours every day is pretty unrealistic — even for the most disciplined musicians.

Integrating time to practice into your daily schedule will build positive habits. Consistent practice will enable you to develop valuable muscle memory that helps you retain information and make your performances feel more fluid and natural.

Set up tempo maps for your songs and practice along to a metronome to get your parts really tight.

Another simple yet effective way you can improve is to record or film your rehearsals and performances for you to listen back to. It will highlight any mistakes and allow you to correct them.

The bottom line here? Practice, practice, practice! You’ll thank yourself later.

Get Your Equipment in Check

You can’t be turning up on the day with broken strings or shoddy electronics in your guitars. Grab yourself some fresh guitar strings, drum heads, and service your equipment beforehand. You can do this yourself, or if you lack experience, take your instruments to a music shop to be done professionally.

When your equipment is in tip-top condition, it will deliver professional and polished sounds that will translate through to the final masters. It’s worth borrowing or renting professional quality drums and amps if you don’t have access to them. You’ll feel more confident playing on great-sounding equipment!

Better quality instruments and performances will mean you don’t have to rely on fixing shortcuts. Always aim to get your sounds right at the source! Unfortunately, things can go wrong when you least expect them. Therefore be sure to pack spares for anything that might need replacing.

Stay Flexible

Despite my emphasis on the importance of preparing your music beforehand, take much of this with a grain of salt. Don’t fret about having every tiny detail down 100%. Things can (and will) continue to be developed in the studio. Melodies will change, and perhaps even song structures.

So flexibility is definitely key, but the more organized and comfortable you are, the better your songs will ultimately sound.

And stay on top of the details; studio dates, the equipment you’re bringing, extra guitar strings and audio cables, backup hard drives, saved DAW sessions, etc. Adequate planning will help prevent any last-minute chaos in the studio, which is valuable time you’ll want to spend being creative instead of stressing!

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