Don’t Play That Song: Do Your Homework…Before You Hit Record.
When it comes to recording your band there are a few things I have learned as an indie band member and indie band supporter. If you care, I also have a degree in broadcasting and a media arts. So I can throw around big words like compression, EQ and signal to noise ratio. Seriously though, I have recorded in a few studios here and there and while I would not consider myself a seasoned veteran or a session player I have learned from my experiences, good and bad. Here are some tips based on my experiences, the experiences of my friends and some engineers and producers I know.
- If you’ve already recorded demos or a fully produced project, have someone listen to your recordings that is a professional or has experience in the business of recording, take Jay from The Jam Room or Eric and/or Kenny from Archer Avenue Studio. Professional advice is invaluable and usually comes without a fee (well…maybe buying them lunch would help).
- Listen to a studio’s work before you record there, some have compilation CD’s. You can also listen online to artists’ who have recorded there.
- Don’t record at a studio just because everyone else is/has. While a studio’s reputation usually precedes itself, make sure a studio is the right fit for you musically as well as financially. A few of my friends have spent time with big name guys, recording demos at big name studios, for big money and those recordings never saw the light of day or were heard by anyone outside the control room.
- Do pre-production with your producer. Pre-production is the process of playing your songs for your producer outside of a recording session. This allows your producer to make notes and offer suggestions about song structure, song length, and instrumentation choices before the studio clock is ticking. Don’t waste valuable studio time trying to figure out if you should modulate during the bridge or play in 6/8 or 3/4 time.
- Know your audience and/or who you are trying to appeal to with your recordings. If you are a pop band, study what pop bands do to gain mass appeal. If you are a prog rock band, find out what makes prog bands successful recording artists. Also, figure out what success looks like to you. Is it playing one show a month and selling a few 100 CD’s or going out on the road for weeks at a time and trying to sell 1000’s of CD’s?
- Get your recordings mastered. Your producer/engineer probably works with mastering studios on a regular basis so they may be able to offer some good suggestions on who and where to master your recordings.
- Choose your producer/engineer/studio wisely. Unfortunately some folks like to take people’s money rather than produce a good product. It happens in every form of business and music/recording is no different.
- Once you’ve made an educated decision on where and with whom to record, listen to your engineer/producer. If you trust them and like their body of work then they are probably right about that huge drum fill in the middle of the chorus.
- Each member of the band especially your drummer, should practice the tunes you are recording with a metronome before the band hits the studio. Most recordings nowadays are recorded to a metronome or click track. If I had a dollar for every drummer/musician who says “but a click squeezes the life out of a performance.” Bullshit. The person who says this usually can’t/won’t play with a click or had a bad experience with using a click in the studio because someone wasn’t prepared to do so. If you are familiar with the song and play along with the click it does just the opposite. Take it from a drummer who doesn’t do well playing to a click, this is invaluable advice as well.
- Practice, practice, practice. The better you know your songs, the better your performance in the studio will be. Don’t let a viewing of Classic Albums fool yourself into thinking you can go into a studio and improvise your way to the next Damn The Torpedos.
Bottom line: Do your homework before you attempt to make that hit record. Then you won’t be listening to your recordings a week later and think “What were we thinking?”.
I hope this post was helpful. If it was, let me know in the comments section. If you have suggestions or think I have rocks in my head, let me know that too. – Randy