How to prepare for a recording session?

The best way to save time and money in the recording studio is to be prepared – and I mean completely prepared! I have seen so many bands that just can’t get it together in the studio for one reason or another. Either they haven’t put much thought into how difficult recording can be, or they just can’t pull everything together like they can at their live shows. These bands can waste a lot of studio time trying to come up with parts or arrangements, or even fixing problems with their equipment, and all of this wasted time could be prevented. They end up spending way more money than they should have, leaving less money for manufacturing, advertising, and promotion of their record. In some cases, they never finish their record because they can’t afford the costs. Remember, this is a business, and controlling costs is the key to any business. Some simple steps, such as thoughtful preproduction and being prepared for as many contingencies as you can, will go a long way toward controlling costs.

Rehearsing prior to recording

Learn your songs, and practice, practice, practice. Invest in some type of tape recorder (cassette or microcassette) to get down ideas and record the band during rehearsals. Have the singers learn their background vocal parts by singing along with the lead parts, instead of trying to learn them on the spot in the studio. Break each song down into small parts and make sure that you’ve got it all down pat, and you’ll find that the studio session will go much faster.

Remember that rehearsing for the recording studio is not like rehearsing for a live gig. You will be stuck with this recorded performance and sound for years to come, so you had better be able to play your parts right every single time. The studio is not the place for ad-libbing or going off on tangents, unless you can afford it. If you are a solo artist who plans on using studio musicians, make sure you have a very clear idea of what you want each musician to play. Have all of your lyrics written out or typed up with chord changes, and make extra copies for everyone who will be in the studio.

Record your guitar/vocals, keyboard vocals, or whatever, and then use that tape to work up any background vocals. Continue to practice the background vocals so that you can lay your parts down very quickly. I can’t tell you how many times background vocals have taken way too long because the singer wasn’t prepared, which just ended up costing more money.

Equipment

If you are in a band, make sure that everyone knows his individual parts cold. Print out all lyrics with chord changes, and make sure to have extras for the engineer and/or producer. Also make sure that all of your equipment is in the best shape possible. If your drummer needs new drumheads, change them and get them tuned to everyone’s sa­tisfaction before you get to the studio. Take care of any extraneous rings, squeaks in the drum pedal, or unwanted sounds on the entire kit. Have your drummer play the entire kit, and walk around it listening very closely for any unwanted sounds that could end up on the recording.

All guitars will need new strings and time to stretch, so make sure that’s done before you get to the studio. Don’t forget your tuner, and figure out beforehand whether you are all going to record all songs at A-440. If your guitar player is going to use alternate tunings, consider bringing an extra guitar with fresh strings to save time. If your guitar player’s amp or effects boxes are making a bunch of noise, that will be recorded, so get it fixed before you get in the studio. Bring extra guitar cables to take care of any hums, as well as extra fuses, batteries, or any other necessity that may go on the blink. You don’t want to have to stop a session just because your gear isn’t working like it should.