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Hello everyone. I have been a long time reader of this forum and decided to finally take the plunge and contribute.

I have had a small studio in my house for the past four years and have just recently opened it up to others-mainly friends in local bands looking to make a demo. I was just wondering what advice you would impart on a band entering the studio to record for the first time. I've picked up on little things like changing guitar strings and drum heads but I was wondering if there have been any other live and learn staples you wish bands would have done before the clock was running.


sshack Sat, 09/13/2008 - 23:08

I've recorded very few people, but I can say from enough experience in a studio to make sure the band/musicians know their parts well. Especially to be certain that they know it's a viable contribution to the song.
Many are the case where you've been playing something all along in a band thinking that it worked just fine, but once you are/were under the microscope of being recorded you learn that it doesn't fit or work so well.

Things can be rearranged and re-learned, but generally doing that while the clock is running isn't the best thing.

But hey, if they're your friends, maybe you won't mind after all.

anonymous Sun, 09/14/2008 - 03:35

8-) agreed sshack. That was exactly what I thought when I saw the post topic.

I start my sessions with a sit down to discuses direction and goals of the recording project to make sure I am on the same page as the band.

There are also a number of things you want to consider before the band even gets there. Some people need eye contact more than others, a guitarist may like his sound out of the cab, another may like it better in headphones. Many people I work with have never played with a click. That can take some practice, or force you not not to use a click which means more work for you...

The list could go on forever.

MadMax Sun, 09/14/2008 - 04:23

#1 Establish whether this is a writing session, or a performance session.
If it's performance, please be prepared to actually play.
If it's writing, bring everything you need to write.

Each type of session has it's own pressures on both parties.. whats worst is when you expect a performance session and the client thinks it's gonna be a creative session.

hackenslash Sun, 09/14/2008 - 04:25

My number one piece of advice if they want to get the most out of their session is to have all their decisions made before they get there. Don't be discussing arrangement issues and tonal constructs in the studio. If these decisions aren't made, they aren't ready to record yet. I had one band in last year who decided to make changes while in the studio. It meant that I was sitting around while they were having discussions about arrangement and tones/sounds, and all the while the meter was ticking. It was very expensive, not in monetary terms, but in terms of what they managed to accomplish for their dime.

Always know exactly what you're going to do and how you're going to accomplish it before you make the call.

Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 09/14/2008 - 06:12

To echo what others are saying.

Too many bands or even solo artist get to the "I want to record" stage without going through all the other steps that make for a good recording session.

Here are some things for them to think about.

1. What is the reason they are going to record this album? Is it for sales at their concerts or radio play or ???? To some extent this will have a bearing on how long the songs can be. Radio play is still about 3.5 minutes per song maximum. A recording session is NOT the time to start rewriting songs or chopping off whole sections to get the song to be shorter for air play. This should be done in the pre recording stage.

2. Is everything rehearsed and ready to be recorded? Does everyone have the time when everyone else has the time to do the recording? Nothing worse than having a session scheduled and having the guitar player have to work overtime at his day job.

3. Does everyone know that they need to have extra strings and drum sticks and that they should all get a really good nights sleep the night before the recording session(s)?

4. Have the egos been left at the door and do people in the band understand that they all cannot be in the center of the recording and louder than everyone else?

5. Have all the key changes and keys for various songs been discussed and is the singer comfortable in their range for the all of the songs.

5. Does the singer know and understand that he or she is NOT singing live and that they may have to do the same song a couple of times so saving their voice should be an important consideration? (and that saving their voice is not the same thing as lack of energy and enthusiasm?)

6. Do all the people in the band really want to do the recording and are they all ready for the various bruised ego trips and band communication problems that may come as a result of the recording sessions? Has one person been chosen as the spokes person/project coordinator/producer/whipping boy?

7. That alcohol and drugs do not belong at a professional recording session?

8. Has the drummer practiced playing with a click track if one is being used before the recording session?

9. Has the band got the fiscal resources to pay for extended recording sessions if there are problems that they did not foresee?

10. Is the reason for doing the recording session clear to everyone in the band and have all the various repercussions been discussed and all questions answered before the session? Is this going to be a fun event or something that everyone cannot wait to have over? If it is the latter then maybe this is NOT a good time to record.

I have been at too many recording sessions where everything seem to be clear but then as soon as the first tracks are laid down there seem to be a million unanswered questions and problems coming to the surface. Any and all questions should be answered before the session(s) begin. There is nothing like having four to five musicians sitting around arguing about some minor point, like what key the song is in, while they watch the clock ticking off dollar bills and realize that they are not really ready to record and that all they are doing is wasting their money.

I have, in my career, seen a lot of bands start on a recording project, get to the first recording session, realize that they are unprepared and either cancel the whole project or realize that they need to work things out beforehand and simply leave. This cannot be a good feeling for the band members and if they have paid in advance for a block booking rate it cannot be good for the bottom line.

As with all things having to do with music and recording - communications is always the most important.

Best of luck!

MadMax Sun, 09/14/2008 - 07:04

Just to pipe back up about what Thomas is saying and clarify my post...

I sit down and discuss the project with the band/group and try to establish who the producer will be. That is the main person I'm gonna make sure everyone knows this is THE person I'm going to take their word on, for decisions. Often, it's one person that everyone KNOWS is the producer.

Granted most of my sessions are remote performances, but I also do straight ahead remote tracking too.

It makes no difference to me which type of session... writing or performance. But when a group is falling apart at the seams because they're unprepared, it's really hard to pull it back to a point of solid productivity.

That's where the producer has to take charge and make a decision as to what needs to happen.

My remote tracking sessions are typically writing sessions/beds, with performance based sessions later. Knowing that right up front lets me work with the producer to establish who needs to be in the studio (session room) and when.

With a few of the bands I've done, the production role changes from song to song. In these cases, I always suggest that they check egos (BIG DITTO there) and let each "producer" get their stuff done in blocks according to each producer's vision. But, this MUST be communicated effectively.

When the studio gets finished here, I plan on keeping the same philosophy; Establish who the producer is and what type of session are you going to be dealing with.

Also, the phone is always on and so is voicemail. If you are going to be late... CALL! There is nothing more frustrating than having a 2pm session booked, and having the band show up two hours late.

I always suggest that folks whiteboard their project. Timetables are worthless... just create a list of the songs in a grid. Put down as much pertinent info as possible;

As a studio owner, I would also make it clear what YOUR policies and procedures are... everything from parking to food/beverage in the studio, to smoking areas and bathroom facilities.

Also, make sure your family understands the "rules" too. I mean... this is your home. If you end up with some goober pokin' through the family fridge, they need to be empowered to tell them to leave the family's dinner alone!

As Thomas has understated...
"As with all things having to do with music and recording - communications is always the most important. "

anonymous Sun, 09/14/2008 - 11:44

Thanks for the responses. Its great to contrast how the snags of recording mainly lie on the maturity and preparation of the group being recorded regardless of being in a large studio or in my home.

Thanks MadMax; I never thought of the whiteboard idea but can already see how that would help in all areas from tracking to mixing.

MadMax Sun, 09/14/2008 - 15:27

yeah, you can leave the silver out... too much hassle to go to a pawn shop....

however... chicken, fruit, beer and anything else held (and consumed) with one hand IS particularly open to debate.

Pens, pencil's, sharpies, grease pencils and crayons are indeed items that should be seriously valued as items worthy of a lockbox or safe.

Although, a big box of crayons and some coloring books are always a quiet activity to occupy drummers... (That's how I ended up with my collection of crayons and tinker-toys)