Making a record is like taking an audio snapshot of where you are as an artist at a given moment in your career. Recording a song properly in a pro studio environment isn’t cheap. Chances are you’re going to using this recording to represent yourself for a long time, so it’s crucial to get the best sounding recording possible. With band’s budgets shrinking it becomes less realistic to book the studio for months on end, forcing bands to record a song in one or two days.
Working in a commercial pro studio is quite different from working at a home studio. Some of the home studio habits just won’t apply when you record in a place where you’re charged per day. Effective and focused working is king in a commercial recording studio – you need to make sure that you’re properly prepared. So here are 10 tips from the staff at NRG to get the most out of your recording session.
How many songs are you recording? What parts are you recording? Most of the time you will be able to get quality recordings of guitars, basses and sometimes vocals at your home studio. However, drum tracking has proven to be extremely challenging in a home studio environment. Come in with a concise plan of what you’re recording and how. If you choose to book studio time at NRG, you will be able to speak to your studio assistants to go over your setup. Having a plan of attack helps with finding the right tools to accomplish your desired sound. It will also help determine how much time you’re going to need to get everything done in an efficient manner. The assistant can ensure that everything is set to go the moment you walk in. Allowing you to make make the most out of your studio time from the moment that you walk in.
Money and time are almost always an issue when it comes to making a record. Unless you have a huge budget to spend experimenting in the studio, showing up prepared will go a long way in getting the most out of your recording experience. If you’re on a budget it’s crucial to have your songs written before you come in. There’s nothing worse than showing up with a half-written song. Writing in a studio is an expensive way of achieving very little, so finish everything before you arrive. Knowing your parts by heart will often mean fewer takes. Fewer takes means you can get more done in less time – which can give you more time to experiment. So practice, practice, and practice until you have the songs nailed down to a tee.
Being prepared also means that all of your gear is functioning and ready for a studio recording. Tracking in a recording studio is like capturing your performance under a microscope. Every little movement, strum, breath, and sound will be recorded and be audible in the final recording. Therefore make sure that your instrument is tuned and up to quality standards (change your guitar and bass strings, do vocal warm-ups etc). The best recording starts with an amazing performance! The best gear in the world won’t be able to save a bad performance, so make sure that you bring your A-game.
If you have made some cool demos in advance of your session – then you should bring them in as either reference or as something to include on the album. Whether it’s some weird textures or a killer guitar idea, if you have a good performance that’s captured in a cool way, then there’s a good chance you can include it on the record. Home recording can also be helpful as a way to save studio time. Feeling pressure to get that guitar just right? Feeling shy about performing your vocal? Give it a try at home and move on to the next task.
Whether you’re looking to set a certain mood or looking for a specific production technique, words can fail to express what you want to happen during a particular session. But you don’t have to be at the mercy of not speaking the language of trained musicians or producers. This is where having songs or albums for reference can come in handy. You shouldn’t only have these handy for your initial talks with your producer/engineer but during the sessions as well. Often times we get inspired by things we listen to, so there’s no shame in trying to capture a similar sound as your favorite artists, that’s how most great songs are written!
We’ve all seen the movies where recording in a pro studio is nothing but a big party. Booze, strippers, drugs, and crowds of people awaiting your next big hit record. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that making a record takes concentration and focus. Despite the music business being populated by some undeniable drug sponges, you’re not at a studio to sit around and get hammered. There’s nothing wrong with a couple of drinks here and there, but rendering yourself useless isn’t doing anybody any favors.
Sometimes it’s great to have friends and loved ones around to give support and act as your cheerleaders. But be mindful of whom you allow to hang out on your session. Not just for your sake, but also for everyone involved in making the record. If someone is having a hard time nailing a part or is very shy to perform in front of people, then visitors might impede on their creative process. Also, don’t forget about your engineer! You’re paying good money for their expertise and ears, and a loud laughter of your drunken friends impedes on their ability to assist you in getting the best recording possible. If you find it hard to tell your friends to leave, you can have your engineers be “the bad guy”. It’s not rude to ask them to leave, you’re in the studio to get work done!
If you’re not used to being in a pro studio environment then it’s time to start practicing to a click track. It’s easy to think you know a song perfectly, but then suddenly you have to play it with headphones and an annoying click track the whole thing can start to fall apart. During a pro studio session, more than likely you won’t be playing in the same room due to sound separation, so it’s important to know your parts without looking at each other.
If your songs have any tempo changes be sure to let the engineer know so that he can change the click tempo at the appropriate part of the song. Most songs are recorded to a click track, but there are no rules or laws in the recording studio. If you’re confident that you and your other musicians don’t need a click track then feel free to do it without.
Do your research! As we said before, your recording will be used to represent yourself for a long time, so it’s crucial to get the best sounding recording possible. Detailed research is a vital part of the process to ensure that you have the best sounding record. Research the recording studios, who recorded there? What gear do they have? Do they have a specialty genre? What’s their hourly rate? These are all questions you should be asking yourself when researching a pro studio.
Not only should you be thinking about the recording studios and the rooms, but also who is going to engineer the project. If you’re an engineer yourself it’s perfectly fine to record and mix your own record, but often times it’s better to have a professional set of ears to make sure that you get the best recording possible. Our engineers at NRG are widely diversified in multiple genres and styles. If you’re going to spend money on a top-notch recording studio, you might as well get a professional engineer to fully maximize your song’s potential.
In the age of modern media, it’s crucial to share your creative process with your fans. Believe it or not, recording in a pro studio is an activity that a very small percentage of the population gets to experience. With social media numbers playing a big role in music distribution, shows and your income you want to give your fans content every day. What better content to give them then a glimpse of your creative process.
Pictures, live streams, videos or even a recording of a guitar part. There are countless ways to document your time at the studio. So don’t be shy! Pull out your camera, put on a big smile and share your creative process with the people who love you most, the fans.
You should always have your sessions and projects backed up in 3 different locations. On an external hard drive, a cloud server (Dropbox, Google Drive etc.) and your laptop/desktop. Nothing shatters your world more than your laptop failing and losing all of your hard work. Many of us have unfortunately learned the hard way.
Make sure that after your session you bounce down any tracks with plugins on them. This way when you move the session to a different machine that doesn’t have those same plugins, you will still have working audio. In a world where disk space is becoming cheaper and cheaper, there should be no excuse not to have at least 3 storage spaces for your projects.
I know it’s tempting to start mixing your project right after recording, but it’s often better to let your ears have a rest for a couple of days. Come back after a day or two and listen to it with fresh ears, this will often inspire your mixing process. If you’re going to utilize someone else to mix your project, be sure to give them as much information as possible about your song. This includes reference tracks, working demos, but also some of your older songs so that the mixer can identify your sound and build upon that.
A good recording engineer will make sure that your recording sounds mixed already. Our engineers at NRG always mix as they record. This will give you a rough reference of what the end product will sound like. Keep in mind that there are several steps after recording that can drastically change the final sound of your song. These steps can only alter the source sound to a certain degree, so getting the best source sound should always be your main goal.
Stepping into a professional recording studio for the first time can be daunting. The intimidating platinum records on the wall as you walk in, the overwhelming amount of gear and the large recording consoles can be frightening as first. “How will I be able to make a record that sounds that good?” “How do I know what gear to use for my song?” Don’t worry. Everyone started off from that very same position. Try not to think about any of that stuff and just enjoy playing music. If you feel comfortable and go with the flow then chances are you will come out with a good sounding record.
If being a recording studio for over 30 years has taught us anything, it’s that no amount of gear or engineering expertise can make a mediocre performance sound like the best record in the world. It all starts with the performance. So practice, practice and practice some more and give the studio performance of a lifetime.