By: Jeff Wheaton
You've finally reached the point where you are ready to enter a real studio and lay down your music. It sounds easy, right?
Most musicians get a real eye-opening experience the first time they work with a professional studio. Although an experienced producer and engineer can ease the transition for inexperienced musicians, there are still many things to overcome.
What can you do to streamline the session and get the most of your time?
- Tempo. Learn about tempo. Decide the right tempo for your songs. Practice your songs at that tempo. Get a metronome and practice along with it. Learn to feel when you are speeding up or slowing down so that you can naturally stay on tempo. Most professional engineers will recommend, if not demand, that you record to a click track. If you've never practiced with a metronome or listened to a click track in the headphones, your first experience may be a bit unnerving. Be ready.
- Song Beginnings and Endings. Determine ahead of time how your songs will start and end. Will the song start with the entire band, or with one or two instruments? Will the song end abruptly, have a big crash bang boom finish, or fade out? Fade outs can be handled during mix-down, but practice starting and ending your songs before getting in the studio.
- Headphones. If you've never played with headphones, get used to it in advance of your session. While a pro studio can provide each member of your band with a custom mix, hearing yourself for the first time in headphones can throw you off. Your guitar may sound too dry, or the drums may sound too boxy. All of these things can be tweaked, but you don't want to waste valuable time trying to acclimate your hearing to a foreign sound. While you are adjusting to wearing headphones, try to get accustomed to keeping the volume in the headphones turned down. Loud headphones will bleed into the microphone and cause unwanted noise in the mix.
- Guitar Tones. Try to have an idea of the type of guitar tones you want for each song. Don't worry too much about special effects. Instead, focus on the overall tone. Do you want a bright, clean sound, or a fat crunchy wall of heavy distortion? Practice your songs with those sounds. Be open to ideas from the producer. Again, the first time you hear your guitar through headphones may surprise you, so if possible, try to achieve this before you enter the studio. If you absolutely need tons of effects in your sound to inspire your playing, talk to the engineer about how to get those effects through your headphones without recording them. Most professionals do not want to be committed to a certain effect during tracking; they would rather have the option of trying different effects at mix-down to get the optimal sound for your song.
- Know Your Parts. Know your part to every song. Be able to play it without relying on the rest of the band. Be ready to play your part over and over and over and over until it is perfect. Drummers must really be prepared, since they lay the foundation for the rest of the musicians. Although most studios have the ability to record scratch tracks of the entire band together while keeping the drum tracks for the final mix, it makes the process much easier if the drummer really knows each song - from the intro to the arrangement, breaks, solos and ending, and can record the entire song without the band. This allows the other musicians to relax, and limits the amount of bleedover that may occur on drum mics from other ambient scratch recordings.