5 Things You Need to Know Before Booking a Recording Session
A recording studio is a pretty special place. After all, what’s not to like about a room built specifically for creative people to make great music out of nothing but talent and their own hands? But it’s also a place of business, and making full use of your time in the studio requires you approach your session as a business. For most of us, a session is a culmination of months (or years) of planning, preparation, and practice. Here are five things you need to know before you book your session.
Know Your Budget
In the studio, time IS money. When you waste time, not only are you losing the opportunity to make your recordings better, you’re wasting your hard-earned cash. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve booked three hours, a full day, or a week — plan ahead to make the best use of the time you have available. Show up early to load in your gear, make sure that all of that gear is in great working condition, get a good night’s sleep so that you’re well-rested and healthy, and above all, be prepared to work hard and have fun. Recording can be stressful, but preparation will help to ease that stress. Figure out in advance how much time you can spend getting basic tracks, how long you can spend on overdubs and the lead vocals, and how much time you can spend in the mixing process; once you know these things you can build a schedule that will allow you to finish each task on time, on schedule, and within your budget.
Know Your Songs
A surprising number of songwriters arrive at the studio not knowing the songs they’re planning to record, and an even larger percentage of bands get there without each musician knowing their parts. Remember that the more time you have to spend fixing mistakes, the less time you’ll have to create a memorable recording. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have charts (or lyrics) to refer to, but everyone in the band needs to know (and needs to have practiced) the songs they’re going to record. A good way for musicians to figure out if they know the song is to try to play it without vocals; if you are comfortable enough with the structure of the tune to play it correctly without hearing the words, you’re well on your way.
Know Your Gear
When you know your gear, you know not only how to play the parts in every song, but you know how to get the right sound for each song. If you use effects pedals, know how to set them up, know how to tweak them, and know how to troubleshoot any issues that might arise. You’ll know how to get a great sound from your instrument, whether that means being able to tune your drums, setting levels on your amp, or tweaking presets on your synth. If you have a noisy pot on a guitar, you know to avoid turning that knob when the noise will be audible. Perhaps your bass frets out when you play it hard, you know how hard you can play without causing that noise. When you know your gear well enough, you can spend your energy creating music rather than troubleshooting issues.
Know Your Limitations
Before booking time in the studio, it’s worth spending some time making sure that you can execute all the things you’re planning to record. Are the melodies to any of your songs higher than you can sing them? That’s a problem. Do your songs require drum tracks that would challenge Neil Peart? If your drummer can play like that, great — but if not, it’s another problem. Are you planning to play guitar solos like Steve Vai on your session? Can you play like Steve Vai at home? If not, its’s going to be a problem. Spend time figuring out what will work for you and what will be difficult (or impossible) to execute before you get to the studio, and you’ll save time, have less stress, and can concentrate on making great music.
Know Your Expectations
Before your session, think about what you want your recording to do. You might need demos of your original songs to pitch to other singers, or a recording to help you book your band. You may be doing an EP or a full-length project to sell, or you might be looking for management, or trying to get signed to a label. Song demos may only need to have understandable lyrics and melodies, while a band demo should sound like the band performing. When your goal is to sell CDs (or downloads), the recordings ought to sound at least as good as CDs by similar bands (since your record is competing for the buyers’ dollars), and if you’re trying to attract the attention of labels, managers, and other music industry people, you’ll want your project to showcase the things that separate you from the herd. Manage your expectations, and you’ll be able to better manage your time, energy, and budgets.