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5 Essential Preparation Tips For Recording Your Music

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!

  1. 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! 
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!



Soundlab Studios Session Notes: PINTS EP #3

Unless you’ve lived under a rather boring rock for the last two years, you would have definitely heard of Pints. The East London based quintet that my brother sings for, that is putting the punk back into punk. 
Their shows are energetic, covered in beer, usually dangerous to some degree, but undeniably and outrageously fun. 
So naturally as much as they probably didn’t even notice, they’ve been picking up some speed over the past year. 
So after finally convincing the band to get their shit together, maybe have one practice and try to make a record again - we had some scattered dates booked to record 3 great songs.


Starting with a Saturday for drums and bass, I decided to use the demos I had recorded on my phone (from standing in the practice room whilst they rehearsed) to iron out some decent guide tracks with some programmed drums so everyone could be clear on where we were with the songs - so there’d be no “oi I swear you don’t play that live” conversations arriving later on.


I decided to set up drum mics pretty methodically, I wanted a large shell sound with cymbals spread wide.
I used our Gretsch Catalina kit as it had just had a service and was sounding lush. It’s a 24" bass drum which I thought was going to be problematic as the music is so fast, but the head on the kick seemed to have a really nice attack, so to emphasise this further I started with sticking an AKG D112 as close to the front head inside the kick drum as possible, followed by a Sontronics DMB1 mic on the outside of the resonant head to capture the warmth and sub sound of the kick.
With the snare I made sure to look down the sm57 whilst placing it, to see for myself what part of the snare if be capturing with the microphone. I used a sennheiser clip mic for the bottom of the snare, but followed the same method of looking “through the mic” in order to get the desired sound.
I’ve been really enjoying the Sontronics DM-1S on the rack tom even though it is meant for snare, I find that it sound really good about an inch and a half away from the Tom also, pointed towards the centre of the head. I used an AKG D550 for the floor as I feel it’s larger diaphragm works well for capturing the low thud needed to punch through the guitars on a hardcore record.

For over heads I used the new pair of Sontronics STC-1S’, which are by far some of the best overhead mics we’ve had. I spread them as wide as I could, using the snare as a centre of phase. To brighten up cymbals a bit more and plus provide some bite to the shell sound, I stuck a Saturn mic centrally overhead, again set the same distance from the snare as the overheads.

As Studio 1 is by nature a very dead sounding room, more suited to something like vocal tracking etc. I wanted to create a nice warm room sound. I set up a Delta ribbon mic roughly 4ft from the kit, in line with both the snare and kick. I do this mainly because i for one mix kick and snares into tracks completely central, but 9 times out of 10 a drum kit is not set up with a snare directly in the middle of a kick drum, so I found arranging the room mics almost diagonally to the kick in line with kick and snare gives the kit a better image when mixing. I then stuck a Sontronics Aria 4ft from the ribbon (keeping to the same angle rule). I kept both of these microphones pretty low, to capture more shells and not cymbals. After this, I made a few corrections, the DMB1 on the kick was phasing with the AKG inside of the kick drum so I fixed that and also faced the bottom snare mic more towards the wire so get more of a “crack” with the snare sound, I then stuck a JM37 over the top of the kick near the snare as a “fat mic” to give more weight to both kick and snare in the mixing stages.


After drum tracking tracking was completed and we had recorded some basic sample hits, we decided to make the most of the time we had in the studio and move on to bass straight away, before editing any drum takes etc. (being completely honest, the drum takes we got were all pretty good, I actually felt like the very few parts slightly venturing from the click actually gave it more of the effect this band needed on a record, so ended up not editing anything). 

I had planned out an idea for bass in my head for this already and was excited to put it into motion. We tracked bass using a fender jazz, recently re-strung (a biggie in punk music, probably one of the main contributors to “the punk bass tone”), into an Orange Dual Terror guitar head and Warwick 4x10 cab, micd up with the Sontronics DMB1, an SM7B along with a DI signal. 

After some testing I decided to swap the SM7B for a 57 as it was giving me problems, but after that we were on our way. The tone we got was great, the guitar head gives the bass enough gain to sing through the guitars whilst the DI together with the DMB1 keeps a strong bottom end on things to stop it becoming too much of a mid-heavy mess. 

That was the end of session 1 on this EP, finishing drums and bass for 3 songs in just shy of 9 hours.


The following week, on a Friday evening we started guitars. This is where a mini-disaster struck! My beloved JCM800 decided to not even turn on, which left me up the creek without a boat, nevermind a paddle - seeing as I was basically relying on it for all of the guitar stuff for this record, I even had settings planned out in my head before I got to the studio. 

Live and learn, this has taught me not to rely on things like that and that even when I feel relatively prepared for a bands session, things can still always go wrong and surprise you. 

Amps do break after time - and you should have always have a plan B especially when it comes to gear for guitar tone. I decided to roll with my own Orange Rocker 30, I figured it  a good choice seeing as Pints use tiny terrors (mainly for convenience) for stage amps, although the rocker 30 is slightly more versatile, so I’d still have a little room to fiddle with things if needed. 

I figured I’d try and push the high end a bit more than usual, seeing as Oranges are by nature pretty muddy/bottom heavy and fuzzy, so a brighter tone would help seeing as the music is so fast in places, I also went a lot cleaner than I would normally to help with clarity. 

We used a Gibson Les Paul for the first guitar tone, no pedals - just straight into the amp and miced it up with a Delta ribbon mic, and AKG CS1000 and the venerable sm57.

As my comfort zone had already been smashed open by the JCM not working in it’s hour of need, I decided to steer away from my usual technique of closing a cab off and had it firing out into the live room. Although I was pretty happy with the result, seeing as most of the tone was “thinking on the spot” work I took a DI signal of the guitar incase everything went wrong later/I had shit in my ears.

This guitar tone was for Dave, the primary songwriter, so we tracked all the parts he plays live and panned hard to the right, keeping to the method I have had throughout of presenting the band ‘exactly as they should be’. 

For the second guitar tone we used one of the Pints stage amps, into our JCM900 cabinet, on which I used the 57 and AKG again, but this time subbed the Delta for a JoeMeek JM37. I got a much bitier tone with this, which filled a hole in the first tone and evened out the overall guitar sound relatively well. Again, as these sessions were done on short timeframes and with the amp I had planned to use out of action - I took a DI signal for both guitars, incase I ended up hating the tones in a few listens time.

Overall, the guitar tracking was done in a similar fashion to drums, I kept the guys playing how they play live as much as possible in order to retain as much of their style as I could whilst still comping guitar parts together and being a tuning Nazi. We smashed through both the guitar parts for the three tracks in a good four hours and added some minor feedback/pick slide stuff before calling it a night.


Vocals were tracked in last evening session we had booked in, Pints have two singers, one of them being my brother who is the ‘frontman’ of the band and Tom who plays guitar doing the rest. 

I decided as I was basically going to be tracking shouting and screaming all night, that the SM7B was the obvious choice for the job, especially with the fact that the whole band were present at the session this time (for gang vocals later) and this mic could take a few knocks etc. more than a delicate condenser mic.

Similar to the rest of the tracking, we tracked as closely to how the band play live as we possibly could whilst checking that things like delivery and diction were on point. 

Luckily, both singers were pretty much shouting at similar volumes so I didn’t have to fiddle with the pre-amp much, making it easy for the guys to interchange between parts, show eachother ideas etc. 

For gang vocals, I used the Saturn multi-pattern microphone, this thing is nuts, literally the most diverse mic I’ve ever used. I set it to figure of eight and got the band (who were now pretty plastered drunk) at equal distances away from it, I find this creates the illusion of more bodies shouting along, and after getting a healthy level with the pre-amp, we went through the songs and recorded each line about 5 or 6 times, panning each take at seperate places, which made it sound massive.

After this we were done! Now onto mixing, lord help me.