Recording music is more than just booking the studio and slapping down some tracks. In an era where indie artists have less money to spend on recordings there are a few things that you can do, that you may not have thought of, to maximize the limited studio time you have that will help the overall sound of your recording. And yes, I do understand that in many cases it’s a Lo Fi era out there, but even Lo Fi should never sound crappy.
· Research: You’ve scraped and scrounged for every last dime to record so why just settle for any studio. Research studios in and around your area to make sure that you like the vibe and the people you will be working with. You have to be comfortable. Choose a studio that makes you happy. If studio X is the cheapest but you don’t like the engineer, the room or the gear the studio that you absolutely love, even though slightly more costly, would be the way to go.
· Rehearse: I know you’re excited to lay down the tracks but save yourself hours of wasted time and rehearse until your fingers bleed so that you know everyone is fully prepared to capitalize on the small amount of time you may have. BUT, don’t rehearse for 7 days straight and then jump into the studio on the 8th day. The idea is to memorize the songs and work out the bugs during the lead up to the recording but in the end your songs can actually sound over rehearsed and stale. Once you know everyone has their parts down and you’ve done enough tweaking then make sure you put your instruments down for a few days before entering the studio. This brief time off will help to make the songs sound alive and energized on the recording because you and the band will be excited to play them again after the break.
· Gear Maintenance: Music gear and instruments have a lot of moving/working parts that need maintenance. Make sure you debug your gear to avoid studio delays. So before you even hear a click track or a count in make sure your guitars are intonated, you replace old strings (but get rid of the ‘new string stretch’), your drum skins get replaced (get rid of the ‘new skin stretch by playing them during sound check) and polish your cymbals (may not be something for everyone but I feel polished cymbals get picked up by the mic’s a lot better). You should also give your amps, pedals etc. a once over to make sure you’re good to go.
· Put your singer through his/her paces: Immediately prior to your singer laying down their vocal tracks jam with them in one of the studio rooms. This will help them get a feel for breathing, phrasing and other last minute tweaks. Jamming fleshes out that vocal tone, if they have any sort of rasp it will accentuate that more on track. It also helps the singer to feel the push and approach of when they sing live with the band thus getting their mindset ready for carrying that live vocal approach to the recorded version. This is something that often gets lost on recordings.
· Record dry runs and warm ups; always!: If the engineer tells you it’s a waste of time tell him/her to stuff it and record them always. You’d probably be surprised to hear how many classic recordings that you have been listening to for years were actually warm up takes that were undeniably amazing.
· Break bread together: Eat as a team before you record and if at all possible use some of the band money to pay for it so that the artists aren’t forking out money from their own pockets to cover it. Everyone loves a free lunch and the great mood that it puts them in will show on the recording. Feel free to include the engineer and producer on this. Yes they are getting paid already for their time but the comradery they feel will help them want to give more to the project either through suggestions and/or extra time.
· Pack snacks: As crazy as it sounds someone always gets hungry when things just get rolling. Most of the time they understand the urgency of getting the recording done and will push through but they’ll push through with such a cranky piss poor attitude that it will bring down the other people working on the album. If you think emotion or feeling of that type doesn’t show on recordings then you shouldn’t be recording at all.
· Group Meeting: Once the gear has been loaded into the studio, but before you actually start setting up, sit in one room with the band and the engineer and the producer (if you have one) to talk about what you want to accomplish and how. The reason you do this before gear set up is because this conversation may give the engineer and producer ideas on gear set up, mic placements etc. Make sure everyone is on the same page and trying to achieve the same final product. There is no time for confusion in the studio. Confusion costs money and creates frustration which then ends up affecting the final recording.
· Detach from the real world: I know this might drive some people crazy but cell phones and laptops etc. should be left at home (and so should your boyfriends/girlfriends, family members, friends and pets). This recording is integral to the advancement of your career. Having your face buried into your phone or laptop or giggling in the corner with your ‘bae’ takes your mind off of the task at hand. Everyone needs to be listening, supporting and helping. Distractions are not welcome. (See me contradict myself in the next point)
· Feed the Social Media Monkey: I know, I know, I know. I told you to leave the cell phone at home. I still stand by that statement BUT you also have to feed your social media platforms with great content and what better content than actual studio footage and posts. Do this sparingly but consistently and when you aren’t using your phone for this purpose go outside and put it in your car or lock it in your guitar case. Don’t let your phone become a distraction for no good reason.
· Reserve Budget: I know it was tough getting the budget together for this recording but you should always have a reserve budget that can pay for two additional days if needed. So many things can happen in the studio to derail progress. You and your pals invested too much love, money and talent to this recording only to have to dump 10 hours of recording into 2 hours of complete craptitude. Contingency planning is vital.
This is by no means a full list but you get the idea. Studio time is expensive. Be prepared and if you and the band have prepped everything on your end then the recording will show nothing but the best the band has to offer.