Preparing for a recording session is something I feel is overlooked by bands/artists, especially when some decent prep can enhance the recording experience a great deal!
- Practice Makes Perfect
First things first, you need to know the songs you're wanting to lay down and you need to know them well, inside out, back to front, upside down whatever. Practice hard, at rehearsal, at home, in your head, as much as possible. Practice until you are dreaming about your parts, practice until you know the songs in your sleep, practice until your mum knows the songs.
When practicing as a band at rehearsals, try to practice the songs in parts if you hear certain sections lacking.
Once you are in the recording session. Trust me when I say that there is no bigger time waster than band members stopping mid take to turn around and ask "wait, what bit comes next?" or "wait, I'm playing that bit on a 3 but you're on 4..."
Absolute un-needed aggro for the producer, the session and most importantly the record!
- Structures & Tempo
Once you are happy with how everything's sounding in the rehearsal room, record yourselves playing the songs on a mobile phone (TIP: to cull the high frequency cymbal sound a bit, put a sock over the phone speaker as you record... trust me, it's an undiscovered industry secret).
This will provide you all with a rough idea on how the song sounds (ignoring production at this point of course) and how it's structured.
It can also be a good indicator of tempo, how the pace of the song 'feels' (whether it's too fast, or dragging a bit) and where there are significant tempo changes if any, which is extremely useful for you all to be aware of.
If you have the equipment to do so, creating a click track for the song for your drummer to practice to will help things monumentally.
- Involving The Producer Before The Recording Session
The producer is the person who at the end of the day, is responsible for how your recordings turn out. Therefore the more you involve the producer earlier on, the better. Keeping the dialogue going via email after initially making a booking is something no good producer will turn his/her nose up at, it's in their best interest for your recordings to come out as good as can be, as they will be an audible example of their skills in their trade.
Send the producer examples of records you like, this can be a massive help for the producer to prep for your recording session, as it gives a rough idea as to how you want things to sound and what records you as a band enjoy listening to (NOTE: keep these in relation to your bands genre, if you're a death metal band but love the Kooks' first record, this isn't going to help the producer with how you want the snare to sound on your recording).
Another massively helpful and greatly appreciated thing to do is to email over all demo recordings, time tempo maps and song notes in general to the producer. Think of them as an extra band member - the more prepared they are the better your session is going to go, period. Having a band you've barely spoken to come in to record some music with no idea on how they want things to sound or how fast\slow the songs are is more than daunting for a producer to deal with, whereas having a band turn up, with a tempo mapped out on Logic/Pro Tools etc. all ready for the guitarist to lay down a guide track for the drummer to record to, is bliss. Speeds things up a great deal and allows for extra time to be spent on stuff that can make your songs sound amazing!
- Your Equipment
Unless you've organised to hire out the studio's own equipment to use (which depending on where you've chosen to record, can be a pricey endeavour), you 100% need to make sure that all of the equipment you will be using for the recording process is in tip top shape. That means re-stringing all guitars and basses, re-skinning and tuning all drum skins, buying new sticks, plectrums. I know this is the boring, expensive and mundane part of being a musician but honestly this is so important, a producer can only go so far with what is being recorded, meaning that if it sounds shit before the microphone, it's a lot harder to improve afterwards.
Cymbals are a biggie here, unless you're doing shells in a different take to cymbals (which happens a lot more than you think), your cymbals are probably going to bleed into almost every microphone in the drum recording session at least a little bit. If your cymbals are cracked, they will sound awful - everywhere.
Vocalists, you don't get off easy here either, your voice is your instrument! So the old "let's go down the pub and blitz 30 Jaigerbombs to celebrate recording tomorrow" is not the wisest of moves and no matter what your mate says, smoking is in no way 'good' for your voice. Take care of yourself prior to recording and make sure you are in the best form for your vocal takes! Avoid high acid food and drinks (despite popular "music industry folklore," this INCLUDES Lemon), and stay away from spicy food.
- The Greater Good
Before you enter the studio - it is crucial that you all know that you are going in there for one purpose - to create and capture the best impression of your music for other people to listen to.
This seems like a pretty obvious and simple thing to behold, but it's actually something that gets dusted underneath egos, procrastination, twitter, getting high and other personal wants and needs more than it ever should almost as soon as the first couple of takes are down.
The best advice I personally have ever been given on this, was not from a producer/studio engineer but from the CEO of Basick Records.
"You have to all be clear on the fact that this recording could be the first thing someone hears of your band, so making it sound the best it can sound is crucial to possibly becoming that persons new favourite band."
This to me encompasses what 'the greater good' means in a recording session. Nothing is more important than the quality of the music you're trying to record. This is the thought that should be in all of your heads the whole time you are making a record, so having this firmly in mind BEFORE you step foot in the studio is a very good start.
Another factor to 'the greater good' is remembering that the producer knows best.
If the producer you are working with is worth his/her salt, then you can count on 'the greater good' on their mind 100%. After all, as I said earlier the recording you are working on together is also a reflection of them and their skills too.
So, with that in mind it is key to appreciate that even if you really, really want to sack off the original guitar part and change it to someone else's riff but played backwards so no one notices (side note: I actually knew a band that used to do this and believe me, people noticed), you should remember that if the producer says that that's not a good idea, then it probably isn't.
I hope these help! Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips I may have missed!
Blog and photo by Jack Longman!