3 tasks to make the best of your next recording session
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
Pre-production is the huge umbrella under which all studio preparations live under. This involves any work that needs to be done before the actual full-scale production begins.
There are so many tasks to complete before your recording session, but sometimes it’s unclear what those should be.
The 3 tasks to put at the top of the list will make the recording session as productive and comfortable as possible. We will be describing the following tasks:
Know your parts, understand everyone else’s
Make a demo and why
Get your equipment professionally attended to
Bonus task due the morning of your session
Keep in mind, this is not a post about what gear you should buy or how to get any specific tones for the studio. There is so much more to include in preparing a band/artist for the studio but this isn’t intended to be a technical conversation.
As an artist, the goal is to get you into the studio feeling comfortable and staying that way throughout the session while maintaining a positive creative space.
Completing these 3 tasks as the countdown to your recording session date winds down will ensure that your only worry that day will be getting there on time.
1. Know your parts, understand everyone else’s
You’ve heard it before, “know all your parts because they will be under the microscope.”
What you don’t hear as often is you should know what everyone else will be playing.
I’m not saying you should be able to play their part, but understanding it will help you make decisions in relation to what the others are playing.
As a group, take the time to solidify song tempos, structure, and harmonies.
Individually, a guitarist may focus on rhythms/leads and phrasing.
A vocalist can use this time to finalize melodies and consider its backing harmonies.
A drummer could dissect and plan drum fills to best-fit breaks or transitions.
Knowing what and how you will play your part will bring consistency between recording takes when its time to perform in the studio. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into a studio with my own bands, only to realize much of drum and vocal parts had been mostly improvised during rehearsal.
Knowing what everyone else will be playing means avoiding spending excessive time learning to play together in the studio instead of using the time to actually record the song.
Those of you in a setting that requires improvisation, like jazz, I know you might think this is just oh so structured, but hear me out. The understanding of song form is essential to the performance and the style of the song informs you of the vocabulary needed to play through it with fluidity.
It’s true, some of the best ideas happen during the session but having everyone be on the same page will keep the discussions that follow simple and productive.
2. Make a demo, create a roadmap for everyone involved
For most, this step is after ‘know your parts’, but for others, it’s the, sometimes painful, step that only proves they should have known their parts.
I know that may sound harsh but there are benefits to both.
In the first approach, making a demo after knowing your parts, you have created an aural map with a direct route to the finish line for yourself and your team. Sometimes it’s so good, it could be tough to know which is the demo and which is the actual released version.
In the second approach, making a demo before knowing your parts, you create an aural map with several possible routes to choose from.
In this case, some roads are closed, some you know needs exploring, and others you know to steer away from.
Whatever stage you’re in, creating a demo is a pre-production standard and will help focus your efforts when your recording session comes around. It will inherently save you time in the studio and will allow you the time to zone in on the finer details.
3. Get your equipment ready to be under the microscope
You are bringing your instruments into an environment they may not spend too much time in. They need to look good, sound, good, and feel good. Treat ’em right, and pre-production is the time to focus on this!
As you attend to your instruments, this will be a good time to double-check how comfortable you are with your gear.
If you don’t like the sound of something in your gear set-up due to personal preference or damage to the gear, know that you will especially not like the way it sounds in the studio. Take the extra time to dial in something you are absolutely loving.
If it still doesn’t do it for you, have a conversation with your engineer about what you are looking for. Often, the studio will have some options for you to use for recording.
This will ultimately save you time in the studio, and we all know, every minute is precious.
Bonus Task: Plan a meal and don’t forget the snacks
This sounds like the least important point BUT it is in fact number one. Imagine going somewhere, likely for the first time. You might not know what food is nearby or how long take-out might be. You may not even know when you will have a break, but you know for sure you will need to stay focused…
I literally just described you going into your recording session. This is what really happens but no one talks enough about this!
Attitudes totally take a 180 turn when fuel runs low. I swear to you, I’m not just saying this because I’m a Californian, but it can mess with the vibe.
Your delicate and easily influenced energy can, and will be removed from your zone, leading to more takes – adding more time on to the hangry clock!
Its a vicious feedback loop (eh heh heh).
In all seriousness, making sure you are in the right headspace when going into the studio to dissect your art should not be taken lightly. Taking the right steps during Pre-production will enable you to get into that clear headspace.
On the day of your session, get your sleep, wake up early, have breakfast with your team, thank each other for their role in this endeavor, and prepare to create something you will remember for the rest of your life.
Just please, don't forget the snacks