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So you’re headed for the studio. Great news! Here’s a couple of things to help you get the most out of your time. These tips might help you to arrive at the best possible realisation of your songs.
What is it? Song and sound development done before the actual session date. Some of this could be considered as songwriting. There is certainly some overlap between the two. However the distinction I’m working with is that the core song idea has been fleshed out.
Pre-production is about polishing that core idea. It can actually highlight a section of a song that needs to change or even go, or an entire song that is just not working in its current state. Be prepared for that to happen. The goal should always be the best song possible. So don’t be too precious.
Good is the enemy of great. Rarely does a song NOT need revision. Interrogate everything.
Things to do:
Record and listen back. In other words, before you record...record. On your phone, in Garageband, whatever. Record the latest iteration of the song. You know, the one with the new change into the bridge. Do the transitions work? Is that guitar part too busy? Etc. etc.. A great arrangement leads to a great mix which is all about making the best case for the song. So, as much as you’re digging that new guitar/bass/keys part...if it doesn’t work in the greater context of the song, it’s gone.
It’s important to note that how you hear a song whilst actively playing the song, is not how others are hearing the song. Ever. Being able to step over to the other side of the room and listen to the song as a whole is invaluable.
An objective listener is super useful. That might NOT mean your mum/significant other is the best person for the job. Sorry. Objectively listening is hard to do when the songs are yours. Being able to listen to the whole and not just what you’ve contributed to the song is a skill. Develop it. I always ask clients to send me a recording of what they intend to record in the studio. It gives me some time to consider what’s working and what might need some work.
Red light fever can get to the best of us. If you’re not used to hearing yourself back on a recording medium of some sort, the studio can potentially be a daunting place. I’ve seen great musicians struggle. My job at that point becomes more about being a coach or a counsellor than a sound engineer. Use the pre-production recording process to get more comfortable with this important area of music performance.
CAUTION: demoitis is a thing. Falling in love with an imperfect version of the song can mean you reject any alterations that may actually improve it. You can over listen. Put it aside for a week. See how it grabs you when you first listen back after a hiatus. Have a pen and paper handy to make any notes. If it’s still killer. Go with it!
Apart from crafting the actual song arrangement, consider the sounds you intend to use. Is the drum kit up to scratch? No? Consider renting one. Are the guitar sounds working in the track? Maybe back the gain off on the overdrive a little? Particularly when double tracking. It helps to bring definition and punch to the sound. Are the guitar sounds up to scratch? Can you get your hands on a better amp? What synths are you using? Did you try layering some sounds?
These sounds will constitute the sonic signature of the record or indeed the band/artist. If they are sub par...well, there are limits on what can be done to fix them. There is a whole lot of magic available in modern digital studios. It is possible to edit and sculpt to a degree before only ever imaginable. However...and this is a big one for all you digital natives out there...nothing replaces capturing a great sound and a great performance. The best place to fix a sound is at its source. The best way to fix a dodgy take, is with a better take. Which brings me to my next point.
Rehearse. As a group, and as an individual. Know your part(s), and the arrangement. Don’t waste valuable studio time learning what you should already know. 1. It costs money. 2. It creates a strain on relationships within the band. Creative relationships have enough potential landmines to them without you blowing more than your fair share of the budget on take after take. Instead, come prepared.
My guitar teacher once told me, ‘You’re only as good as your worst note, so make that note a really good one.’ His point to me was to practice. Know the song so that you’re concentrating on how hard to hit that next chord, not, ‘What IS that next chord?’ Or worse still, struggling to make the change, play the fill, or whatever. Know it so well that you can play it with feel. This is the essential ingredient. Your audience will hear that, or the lack of it, and respond accordingly.
Some bands can use the the studio as a creative space, that’s how I’ve learned my craft as a studio engineer/producer. But if you don’t own the facility you’re recording in, and/or you’re on a limited budget, do the work up front so that the studio time is just about nailing your best performance.
In all things art, keep an open mind. Explore. Push the boundaries. Work hard. Be prepared. Learn your craft. Hone. Strive. And at the end, set it free.
We’re all looking for that next great song. We all want that emotional journey that only great music can take us on. Bring your A game. Oh, and have a whole lot of fun while you’re at it! For me, there’s nothing more fulfilling.
I hope this article was useful to you. It’s all about making the best art possible. Hit Like or leave a comment.
Have I forgotten anything? Let me know in the comments. Also, use the button at the top of the page or go to the contact page to let me know how I can help you on your next project.
Thanks for reading. Cheers, Scott.
Hi, I'm Scott. I own The Electric Recording Lab. It is an independent recording studio located in Ferntree Gully Victoria, Australia. The Electric Recording Lab focuses on recording local bands doing an EP, a single, or tracking drums or loud guitars or other overdubs. Use the contact page to discuss how I can assist you with your next project.