Looking to record a new project?
Although you don't necessarily need to know all of the technical details of how a studio works as a musician, it is important to come prepared.
Spending too little time in practice and preparation can sometimes mean spending more money than you want to.
Here are some basic steps you can follow to make sure you're ready to begin recording in a studio.
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Spend Some Time In Pre-Production Before Going To The Studio
Before you even go into the studio, it's a good idea to figure out what you want to accomplish with your new recording project.
You don't need any fancy gear to engage in pre-production. A simple home-based recording setup is more than enough to get a feel for what you want to accomplish with each song.
Take some time to figure out what instruments you want on every song. Determine what sounds you want. Make sure that every part fits together properly.
You could end up wasting a lot of time (and money) in the studio if you don't take enough time to ensure that the parts you want to record actually work within the context of the track. Even if you think you know, it's best to lay it all down on your home setup to see whether or not it works how you envisioned it would.
Pre-production can be done on your own schedule, which means there's no excuse not to get it right. Experiment, try different things, and see what works.
Bring Any Gear You Want To Use On Your Recording Into The Studio
Recording studios are usually home to a variety of amps, keyboards, microphones, drum kits, and other equipment at a variety of price points. Some great sounds can be achieved with in-house gear, but it might be worth bringing your own amps, guitars, effects pedals or drum kits if you're used to them and you like working with them.
You may want to visit the studio in advance to find out what they have on hand. In some cases, they may have higher quality equipment that would be good to use on your project. Of course, there are many advantages to sticking to what's familiar too, especially when it comes to instruments. Playing on unfamiliar instruments can cause you to botch otherwise great takes.
It would also be wise to find out if there are any additional costs to using in-house gear. That might be an important factor to consider if you're on a bit of a tight budget.
Also don't forget that you can usually rent higher quality gear on the cheap. If you're not willing to sacrifice quality, and the studio you're recording at doesn't have the gear you want to work with, then it's worth looking into what your local music store has to offer.
Remember To Practice & Prepare Your Parts Beforehand
It seems obvious, but newbies might not know that they need to prepare before going into the studio. In other cases, they may not know how much time they should spend practicing before going in to lay down their tracks.
The majority of projects are recorded to a metronome, and playing along with one can be tricky, especially if you've never done it before. It's best to spend some time getting used to playing at various tempos, paying particular attention to staying on time.
There's an expression that my band mates and I used to use, and that was that “you should know your parts forwards and backwards.” Don't take this literally, but it isn't too much of an exaggeration. You need to be really comfortable with your parts before even thinking about recording them, or they simply won't be of the quality that they have the potential to be.
Work With Your Producer To Achieve The Desired Sound
Your producer is the decision maker. They choose what sounds they like, and they also pick out performances (from the many takes of any given track) based on what they feel would best suit the overall sound and direction of the album.
If you don't have a producer, then by default you and your engineer are the producers. You need to determine what you're trying to achieve, and make sure your engineer understands what you're going after. If you aren't totally sure how to get the result you're looking for, make sure to tell them that.
Overall, this should be relatively easy work if you've spent a sufficient amount of time in pre-production figuring out the arrangements for your songs, what works and what doesn't, as wells as what sounds and tones you want to achieve with your instruments.
Learn To Communicate With The Engineer
In case you're starting to feel a little intimidated, just know that technical knowledge is unnecessary. It certainly won't hurt if you show your engineer some albums that you like, or examples of snare drum sounds that you're going after, but all you really need to know as a musician is how to play along with a click track and lay down your parts in-time.
Take some time to figure out how your engineer likes to communicate. They may be in the habit of using certain terms to describe certain things. Study how they interact with you, and learn to speak their language.
Projects can be derailed – even if just temporarily – by a lack of clear communication. Make sure you are aware of everything that needs to be recorded on any given track, and share any information that would allow the engineer to streamline their workflow.
It has often been said that a sound guy can make or break you, and it's important to realize that this doesn't just go for live sound; it's also applicable in the studio.
Obviously, you're paying for a product, and the engineer should be willing to deliver what you want. However, being too demanding, too perfectionist, or too flaky can have unwanted consequences.
Get to know your engineer, and make sure you can work with them and they can work with you!