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Pre-production for the recording studio



Pre-production for the recording studio


A Guest Post by Trevor Mason

You want to make the most of your time in the practice room before your session in a recording studio. The importance of rehearsals before making a professional studio recording cannot be understated. Since there is no audience, the energy of the song must be self-generated in a way more obvious in a recording.

 

The difference between a professionally recording versus an amateur one, is mostly in the preparation. If a song is not properly rehearsed, minor annoyances can create confusion and frustration. Any advantage to be had before entering the recording studio will pay dividends no matter the level of recording facility. A simple suggestion like making sure the drummer changes the heads could easily save hours. Drumheads will stretch over time and lose their pitch quickly fixed. Allowing adequate time for them to fully stretch will make the drum sounds more consistent making the engineer's job much easier.

 

Prepare for your recording

The process of rehearsing can be an effective way of preparing a vocalist who is singing on a programmed or produced recording. A vocalist should be taken to task on the technical aspects of a performance such as pitch, timing, phrasing and annunciation. If there are difficult parts that are tongue twisters or stretch the range of the artist, they can be worked on and strengthened before entering the studio.

If you get what you want from the rhythm section in the band rehearsals, record them to use when you rehearse the vocalist or other musicians. This way you will not burn out your rhythm section by making them play the piece repeatedly. You can bring everyone in together for a final rehearsal before the recording if necessary.

 

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

The performance process is very different in the recording studio than any other place. Rehearse until your songs are second nature. No part or passage should come as an overwhelming challenge when you press record. The maze of microphones and cables can make any musician feel confined or restricted. The use of isolation booths to separate musicians, headphones and lack of clear sight lines between musicians can diminish visual cues to usher in transitions between sections of a song. The strange studio environment, the listening setup, and the sound engineer sat behind the console all play a part in adding stress to the situation, so you don’t want to mess up when more preparation could have saved the day.

Communication

Setting up a short video conference or phone call ahead of the recording can prepare the musician for what to expect in the studio. They can prepare ideas and rehearse in their own time. Since so many musicians have recording setups, have them record and send ideas back to you. This will help you sort out the best of what they have to offer and fashion it into a part before the recording.

Recording live

If you’ve done proper preparation, tracking separately may not be necessary. You might be able to get everyone to record altogether, live, at the same time, and with the feel a live band recording makes possible. Or maybe the drummer nailed the take and everyone else is going to layer their parts. Some songs benefit by recording to a click track. Some songs suffer. You might not know which approach is best until you get into the studio and record a couple of takes. For this reason, as a band, you rehearse every single song both ways.

Involve your sound recording engineer

Once you have sorted through all the performance and part issues in the band rehearsals, it is usually a good idea to bring in the engineer who will be recording the band. By seeing the setup, meeting the musicians and hearing the music, they will be able to better prepare the studio. A good engineer will be able to make suggestions regarding sounds, what resources are available at the studio and what to expect on the day of the session.

Attitude and feeling

Most people never bought a record because the artists pitch, timing and tone were perfect. They buy tracks because the attitude, feeling or emotion struck a chord. If well rehearsed, your engineer or producer can focus on the more important aspects of the vocal performance like the expression and the continuity of the song from section to section. The listener will relate to such things and influence them to buy your song. It is at this stage when you will need to decide where you want to record. If you have a producer they will help you to select a recording studio.

Selecting a recording studio

Factors to think about include previous notable clients that represent your sound, the equipment, size of its live room and what backline is included. Perhaps it has a live room famed for its drum sound? Perhaps you want to record drums at one studio and guitars at another? Pre-production on professional recordings will often focus on details such as testing out microphones that best suit the vocalist. 

Sourcing reference tracks by other artists can help everyone involved agree and understand the sound you are trying to achieve. For those acts still starting out, budget will also be a factor. If your budget is tight, it’s always best to do less songs of a higher quality than try to do more songs and leave them unfinished. Most studios will offer advice when trying to work out how to get the most value for your money.

Above all be ready for all eyes to be on you while you’re recording.

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