There are several things you can do to prepare before you come into the recording studio that can go a long way to determining the results of your final product. Recording Studio Preparation is essential so your recordings sound tight, tonally balanced, and cleaner. If you’d like to schedule a tour or preproduction meeting email me or check out the rest of my site
1. Deciding To Record Live or Separate –
Whether you record live or everything separate, each can provide phenomenal results, but both sound a little bit different. Depending on your music, your goals, and what is more comfortable, you will need to choose what is right for you. Typically for music with more improvisations, or that carries a more raw vibe it’s good to record live as a band in the same room with the different sources isolated. When you are standing in the same room, you can play off each others body language, and perform in a very natural way, as a band, like you do at practice. Alternatively when recording separate it allows you to focus in more on each separate instrument and really perfect each performance and the instruments tones. It additionally gives me as an engineer a little more creative freedom to capture a unique and memorable aesthetic character to your recordings. A lot have great records have been made both ways, but what takes precedence is getting a quality performance, so which ever way you are more comfortable recording is what I would recommend. I find more often than not, bands like to lay down their core rhythm tracks down first as a live band, then overdub vocals, leads, and any other auxiliary instrumentation.
2. Rehearsal & Preproduction –
When recording, its best to enter the recording studio adequately prepared to lay down your tracks. The most important thing to every recording is the performance, so rehearse more than you think you ever should need to. If possible, even tap out the tempos of your songs, figure out the beats per minute, and practice as a band to a click track or metronome. This can be a little strange at first, but once you get used to it, it will keep your performances tighter than you’d be able to on your own. Work on getting all your tuning and tones sounding the way you want them to before you even enter the studio and make sure the guitar, bass, and drum tones all have their own space, and want to sit well together tonally to begin with.
Guitars & Bass –
3. New Strings –
Guitars and Bass’ need new strings before every recording project. This allows not only more attack and punch off of your strings, cleaner more resonate fundamental frequencies with less nasty overtones. They will respond better to a wider range of dynamic levels, and sit better in the mix before I even begin to touch an EQ. Having old strings results in guitars and bass sounding flat and muddy.
How can your recordings sound great if your instruments don’t? Make sure your instruments are set up before coming into the studio. When properly setup, they will play better, hold tunings better, have better intonation, and sound all around better. This is particularly important with bass, with more tension on the neck. People often overlook the importance of bass, but it ties everything together in recordings. It’s unfortunate when you have to autotune bass to get it to sit in the mix right.
5. Rehearsal & Performance:
No other instrument is more apparent if there is a sloppy performance. In most styles of music drums are the backbone of the song, so the best thing you can do is practice. Practice more, then practice some more. Figuring out the tempos of the songs and practicing to a click track can really help tighten your performances when you get in the recording studio (especially for drums). It is not right for every band, but for most, it will help keep everyone consistently on time and tighten the overall performance. The way mics pick up a sound and the way your ears do is considerably different. It’s best to hit the shells harder than you think you should, and the cymbals lighter than you normally would. This helps us already establish a mix in the mics. In a recording situation, we are constantly striving to get a little more attack out of drums so they punch through a mix. The best way to do that is to play that way. Cymbals are almost never as loud in the final mix, so easing off on them can clean up the final drum sound considerably. (especially when you have 11+ microphones on the drum kit with cymbals bleeding into everything)
6. New Drum Heads –
Before every time you record at least the top heads should be changed. New heads have a brighter attack and more punch. When drum heads wear out they stop producing the fundamental tone as well, and develop weird overtones and rings. Under mics, the source is magnified, so if you have great heads it will sound great, but if your heads are worn out and ringy, that will also be put under a microscope. This goes for kick drum, snare, and toms. A kick with old heads will lose low end, and lack in attack, resulting in it getting lost in the mix. Same goes with snare and toms, they will lose body and have a much duller attack. Bottom heads don’t need to be changed as often, but should likely be changed every third time you change the tops. Bottom heads are important too they have a lot to do with resonance and body. Basically moral of the story, if you want good sounding drums, change the heads. Make sure you also choose the heads most appropriate to the music you are trying to record. If you need head recommendations, I’d be happy to help.
7. Drum Tuning –
Having your drums in tune is an absolute necessity when it comes getting a good drum sound in any recording. Having an even tension and pitch all the way around helps yield a clear and focussed tone without nasty rings or overtones. The ratio between the top and bottom head is hugely important, it has everything to do with what the resonant tone is like, and how long it resonates for. Typically you are going to want your bottom resonate heads a fair bit tighter than your top batter head. Every drum is different, so you just have to play around till you find the drums sweet spot. Though usually, it’s in the range of a 3rd to a 5th higher. Tuning your batter and resonant heads the same pitch will yield way to much sustain (and not of the good parts), and a lack of punch and attack. For kick drums I find tuning the batter head as low as it can go with still holding tension on the head works best, with the resonant head a slight bit up from there. Unless you are playing Jazz, or possibly acoustic folk music you are better off cutting a head in your resonant head. This will make the kick dryer, bigger, punchier, and allow for better microphone placement.
8. Vocal Preporation –
With vocals being the main focus of most genres of music, it is worth doing a little bit of extra prep to help ensure your final product is the best it can be. You’d be surprised how often people come in to record and are still writing the lyrics while in the studio (which is just a waste of your money and both of our time). Having everything already written, with each part worked out, and practiced the way you will perform it will make vocals not only take less time but turn out far better in terms of performance. How can you deliver an emotional performance when you are stumbling on the words you have half written? Before you come into the recording studio, we can give you rough mixes of the songs to practice to. Being well rested is essential, otherwise you will be having to push past your fatigue and strain to get a good performance. Focus more on the vowels and let the consonants take a backup roll. The consonants aren’t the sound of your voice, they are what gives definition and the rhythmic component, while the vowels are the tonal part of your voice. Make sure you lock into the rhythm of the song for when and where you stop and start any part of a phrase.
9. Keys –
Keys are fairly simple compared to the rest for preparation. The most important part of any recording is the performance, so make sure you are well rehearsed and have your keyboard parts worked out. Other then that, just make sure everything is in good working order, no buzzes, hums, shorted jacks, or whatever else could ruin an otherwise good take.