5 Pre-Production Tips for Bands

March 7, 2011{ 33 Comments }

iStock 000004792047XSmall 300x199 5 Pre Production Tips for BandsEven for the most well-prepared band, going into the studio can be a stressful, expensive, and frustrating experience. Thankfully, it can also be one of the most rewarding. One way of keeping the cost, stress, and frustration to the bare minimum is to know exactly what you want to achieve before setting foot in a studio. You don’t want any last minute surprises unless they’re of the “magic studio grace” variety. Here are five practice tips to include in your pre-production preparations:

1) Rehearse until your songs are second nature. The most basic rule, of course: practice, practice, practice! No part or passage of your songs should come as an overwhelming challenge when you press record. The strange studio environment, the listening setup, and the dude or lady sitting behind the console can all play a part in adding stress to the situation, so you don’t want to sweating it out in the moment, praying to the angels of inspiration when just a little more preparation could have saved the day.

2) Record your rehearsals. This one has less to do with actually being able to perform the parts (though it is useful to point out which parts the players have to improve upon), and more to do with whether each members’ parts are working together to create the best arrangement possible. The little speakers don’t lie. Set up a simple recorder in your rehearsal space and capture the whole rehearsal. Listen back as a group. Make adjustments based on what you hear. Is the guitarist too busy? Is the drummer using too many cymbals? How is the vocal range? Should you change the key of the song? Maybe you don’t need to repeat the chorus 3 times at the end. The list of possible tweaks and adjustments is endless. Get excited about that fact!

3) Practice in various configurations and without vocals. That’s right. Practice the songs without the singer singing. Practice with only drums and bass. Only with bass and guitar. Only with keyboards and drums. etc. It may seem like a silly waste of time, but this approach actually gets each member of the band focused on the overall sound and interplay of parts. Plus, you’ll learn the song so well, so intimately, that you won’t get lost in the studio or even need to set up a mic for a vocal guide track.

4) Be prepared to track individually. Sure, if you’ve done proper preparation, this may not be necessary. You might be able to get everyone to track altogether, live, at the same time, and with the magic and feel that a live band recording makes possible. But don’t count on it. Your producer or engineer may suggest tracking a particular song individually. Or maybe the drummer nailed the take and everyone else is going to layer their parts. Practice at home, on your on, and be ready for all eyes to be on you while you’re recording in the isolation booth.

5) To “Click Track” or Not to “Click Track?” That is the question. And there is no single answer. Some songs benefit by recording to a click track. Some songs suffer. Metronomic accuracy vs. human feeling. You might not know which approach is best until you get into the studio and record a couple takes. For this reason, I suggest that, as a band, you rehearse every single song BOTH ways.

As always, we’d love to hear about your pre-production tips. Share em’ in the comments section below. Happy recording!

-Chris R. at CD Baby

Sell your music worldwide on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Rhapsody, Spotify, and more!

  • http://heavymellowmusic.com johnny beane

    These are all great tips.

  • http://www.steeltropics.com/ Tom

    Good tips Chris.

    I might also include to take tons of notes both during rehearsals and tracking.

    Also take digi pictures while in the studio of how/where you placed your mics etc. Then next time you go in you can save time/money in setting up mics etc. Works for me

  • http://www.terebinth.ca Dave

    ..I was hiring musician-friends for a project and there was no way to get everybody together before hand to rehearse so I burned some c.d.'s of the scratch tracks I had done and mailed them out registered to the various guys who managed to listen and bring some great ideas into the studio when we recorded..

  • http://myspace.com/radioclouds Ricky J. Rodriguez

    Always rehearse and know your lyrics. You can clearly tell on a recording if a person is reading a lyric sheet when tracking vocals….you will be more tense, and emotionless. Know the lyrics, and let your true vocal character shine. You will have better takes to choose from.

    Ricky

  • Larry Harvey

    When that female singer in your band is in an isolation booth for a vocal while the guitarists are in the big room hard wired for a take, never say out loud; "Awesome, we can finally play this song without listening to her." Odds are extremely good that a mic someplace will feed that into her headset, and she will assuredly let you know. VOE speaking.

  • http://http//www.cellochillin.com Thor

    I have published a lot of music for commercial use, video games, radio, TV, etc. It's very typical for us to record everyone separately since all of the players are pros. Unless you have a really tight band and the studio where you record can handle recording all of you at the same time, I would seriously consider recording separately, depending on your type of music. At the very least you need to make sure, however you record, that your song is tight enough so you can go back and fix mistakes later, because no one gets every note right the first time, and an album that's been released to the world is forever!

    It's not unusual for me to send a minus track to the guitarist who then records his part in his studio to my track. He then sends me back his tracks for me to mix into the song. Drummers, bassists, vocalists, etc. can do the same.

  • Ron Armstrong

    take careful aim @your objective, check the wind, and hit that ball with the bat

  • http://www.drewstephenson.com blinddrew

    1) Know your lyrics and parts inside out, but take a print out or notes just in case. Under the pressure of the clock your mind can suddenly go blank – and that's expensive.

    2) Be prepared to listen to the engineer, but make sure he's (or she's) helping you get the sound you want, not just the sound he expects to hear.

    3) If you're expecting to do overdubs then seriously consider the click-track. I'd suggest a rule of thumb that if you can do almost the whole thing live then do, but if you're layering up then start with a click.

    The point about practising in various configurations is really good as well, working out what you can take out is at least as important as working out what you want to add in. Guitarists, this, more often than not, means you.

  • Rich Martinez

    All the above feedback is good.

    Virtually every part of every practice should be with a recording session in mind. Will you be able to do this in the recording studio? Is it too sloppy? Need more polish? How much? What are the weak spots that need cleaning up? What needs to be changed? Is the tempo right and is it steady? Is the right person singing the song? Are any lyric changes needed? Is the right key being used? Etc., etc., etc.

    You play like you practice. A nonchalant practice = a nonchalant performance. If you don't do the song well in practice, you won't do it well when you perform it. The recording studio is not the place to work it out – especially if you are paying for studio time and/or musicians.

    Be serious about your craft. Be serious about your time. Be serious about your music. Be serious about your career. Be a professional.

    Activity does not equal productivity. Plan and focus. Make what you do have maximum impact and with maximum productivity – make it count and make it matter. Don't just schlep around.

  • Stacey A. Smith

    Great tips!! I read this and was pleased to find out our band has been practicing most of them.I think the most important is to have the songs

    become seond nature. Recording goes so much smoother with a lot less takes.

  • http://Frontlinethebos.com Frontline

    Chart your Music ahead of time and Have Lyric sheets for all your tunes, singing or performing Live is one thing but recording is set in stone, it must be precisely How you wrote or intended it to be, once recorded it is now the song!…Pass those charts out to all the band Members when you enter the studio, it will Keep everyone on the same Page and will take your mind off all those eyes watching you while your recording either separately or together…it will enhance overall focus!

  • http://henrymena.com Henry Mena

    Make sure you rehearse the studio version of the song–as opposed to the live version–if you are altering it for your recording. This avoids confusion and saves time.

  • Gareth

    I've recorded a few albums with my band and forgotten completely to get the click track sorted out – every time the songs are way too fast, so I would say ALWAYS USE A CLICK TRACK. And if your drummer objects or complains, get a new drummer, they're making excuses!

  • http://www.AdamBHarris.net Adam B Harris

    You can still acheive a human feel with metronomic accuracy.

    Otherwise, its probably just – out of time.

  • http://www.lindakosut.com Linda Kosut

    Excellent points and well-stated, all. And I would also add, as the vocalist who hires the band just for the recording, it is worth it to have, in addition to an engineer who I have chosen because of the quality of his/her work, but also a producer/another set of ears dedicated to me in the studio, listening for what I want the band to be doing so that my basic tracks are what I want. I can punch and re-record the vocals later over the basics if I need to, but in the studio, I want to focus on the music. I also don't want to be the "boss" in the studio – rather have an impartial person doing that for me so I can stay the "good cop!"

  • http://www.cbdremodels.com Jennifer

    Our practice, is the recording. Joys of a home studio.

    general
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwsqN-BgtU8

    kitchen

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAPB8wrVkHY
    these have music recordings with one take. Pretty much how Adamink works his musical compositions. The vocals take a bit longer.

    Check out vocals at Find a way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGQ4XbFtf4Y
    We love your comments and feedback. Thanks for listening!

  • http://soznak.com paul miskin

    Make sure sure bass and drums are right… preferably with a click track. No amount of fixing later will cure the problems that arise at the upper levels of a multi-track mix if there is a timing problem down there.

    Generally if its not rightjust dump the part do not try to hide it.

    If necessary get a better player

  • http://www.wellshollow.com Bee Thomas

    We meticulously record our songs on my project studio pc, experiment, and make our changes after listening to what we did. This is invaluable in saving studio time, as you simply recreate your final version when you're paying the big bucks.

  • http://www.talkingtowalls.com brian from talking t

    CLICK TRACK IS NOT AN OPTION!!! Well, at least not for "popular" music. even the best drummers in the world benefit. if you need to change feels (like pushing a chorus faster), then you should be programming click changes, not just flinging it out the window.

    if you do decide that the click is hurting the track, make sure it's because it's really restraining you, and not because the band just can't play.

    why am i so adamant? because it gives you options down the road. either for "fixing" a track, rearranging a song after it's already been recorded, doing a techno remix…anything you want to do later on will be easier if it's to the grid in your DAW. We're a traditional rock band, playing analog instruments…and still, it's good not to lose out on options down the road should you want them.

  • Michael Sean

    Very nice insight within all the reply's. I'll add that being comfortable in your environment and with whom you're working with can make or break a recording session. Pick your people and places accordingly, if you have that luxury. Guitar players…make sure your guitars' intonation is "set up" to the proper tuning of the song. Been caught there enough times. Any player should make sure your head phone mix is "inspiring" and not just tolerable. Things to consider.

  • http://www.rosetait.co.uk Rose Tait

    Great tips guys! What I find essential when isolated in a soundproof booth is to have line-of-sight eye contact with my pianist, usually also my Producer.

    This must work, as Earl Okin says on my website: 'Rose's approach to Jazz is relaxed, natural and has the enviable trait of singing with her accompanist as if the two were one person'.

  • Udi

    Some songs have tempo changes between sections that you might not even know about until you try and play them with a click. It's not always the best idea to iron these out thinking of them as mistakes, they may be a real part of your arrangement. In recording some of the songs in a band I play in we made special click tracks with tempo changes, and used them both in rehearsals and in the studio.

  • A. Kendall Kraus

    These are all great tips. Thank you very much. Now, can someone give me some tips on how & where to pitch your music. I,ve had a few "views" on youtube…..that is not why I recorded the songs. Please help, A. Kendall Kraus

  • http://www.chavo.co.uk JimmyO

    Make a timetable, day by day or hour by hour. Be optimistic but be prepared to drop one or two tracks. Time travels immensely quickly in recording studios. Bear in mind that at least the first three hours will be taken up getting a sound everyone is happy with, particularly with the drums. Engineers have their own methods and tastes for micing, don't be afraid to mention that their methods don't really suit your sound if it's not working. Remember most engineers are in bands of their own whose style and genre could be a whole lot different to yours.

  • http://clovismann.wordpress.com/ Clovis

    Great tips, but sometimes the opposite is also true. For a few songs on our last CD, I played them about twice with the boys and, with the help of cheat sheets, we cut them right after. I wanted it to be fresh and it worked. Not for everybody, but sometimes it's what you need to get the track right.

  • http://www.foxtailsound.com Steve O'Neill

    If you're going to use a click PLEASE get everyone to practice individually with a metronome until they know how to stay on it at any tempo. That's an always-overlooked skill whose absence shows itself dramatically when the bass player can't stop drifting off the click. Metronomes always speed up and slow down, dontchaknow.

  • http://renelabre.com Rene Labre

    It is true that practice makes perfect.The studio,especially the lead vocal mic can be very daunting.True also you do not want to be reading lyrics,this will rob your delivery.I am strong to advise using a click track 98% of the time,and that you are rehearsing with one.Use a click sound and not a cowbell,I have a film of us using a cowbell sound for a click and it drove us nuts!Do not expect to do the song live,the studio is a whole new set of rules.Your powerhouse stage version of your best tune could end up sucking as a recording and your going "What went wrong?"Recording art is all about the economy of time and space.What you DON"T play is just as important as what you do.Silence is golden.That is true all of the time yet in the studio you aren't going to get around it.Be polite and friendly to your engineers,do not present yourself as argumentative and hostile.They want to have fun too!Get your parts right the FIRST TIME."We'll fix it in the mix" can be an expensive proposition,when you get to mixing you want to be all done with recording.Be sure to back up your files,at least three complete back-ups on separate drives.And be sure your file format can be converted in the event you are going to do more work at another studio.A roland 4560 machine will not adapt to pro-tools without file conversion.Good luck to all of you!renelabre.com

  • Chris R. at CD Baby

    Yes. Certainly, there are no "rules." Miles Davis didn't want his band to know the song too well before recording (at least with his 2nd great quintet) because he wanted to capture that anxious energy his players would create when they were put on the spot to make the magic happen intuitively, before the music had become habitual. I can see how this approach could work for many other genres too, including rock, folk, americana, some pop, etc.

  • Randy

    These are all great tips. Preproduction is important, but if you're going into a commercial facility afterwards, don't make stellar tracking and mixing the focus of your preproduction. Focus on recording the songs live in a quality that is good enough to listen to. Don't listen to it 100 times a day though, you'll start finding problems with everything – even where there aren't any.

    You need to know the songs well enough to not waste studio time on bad takes, but you don't want to over rehearse to the point of sterilizing all the soul out of the songs either. That's the delicate balance you need to find. Being able to cut the basics live will make a big difference especially for rock bands.

    You should have frequent vocal practices though, more studio time is burned on harmonies than seemingly anything else. You should all know your notes – even though it will likely make its way through pitch correction (or even worse a harmonizer)come mix time. If you can record REAL vocal harmonies the old school way that are right, there's nothing like it.

  • http://henrymena.com Henry Mena

    Re: click tracks and reading lyrics

    - Advantages of DAW editing aside, using a click track depends on the feel your drummer is giving the tune and how truly important it is for your song to be precise in this regard. My two favorite drummers to record with speed up and slow down, respectively, a little too much if left to their own devices, so I have to consider this when recording. But, I personally feel we've all become too click track-happy in the last 15 years. Case in point: I was recently in a bar and the jukebox played Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle" and the first thing I noticed was the drummer's wobbly timing. Did it affect the groove? Nope. Did it take away from my enjoyment of the song? Absolutely not. We've just gotten so accustomed to hearing click track-perfect tracks we kinda forget that "mistakes" can be cool, too. (Listen to your fave albums from back in the day, there's plenty of mistakes left in there, all in the name of servicing the overall vibe of the song.)

    - While you might not want to sing from a lyric sheet, it doesn't hurt to have one w/you in the vocal booth as a quick backup. You'd be surprised how easily you can forget a word or two from a song of yours in the studio. Also, make sure the engineer/producer has a copy of the songs lyrics; he/she can make necessary notations and save time when punching in vocals.

    Happy recording everyone!

  • http://gregpope.net Greg Pope

    Great tips! Perhaps it's been mentioned, but I've also found it helpful to note the actual TEMPO of a song (as in 88, 116, 132, etc) during rehearsals and before you go into a proper studio…otherwise you'll invariably record everything too fast or too slow. And you won't realize you're doing it until a week later. :D

  • Doug Ward

    All very good information and useful tips. One thing I would add is this: at practice/rehearsal when you are listening to the playback of yourselves working up the song, leave your ego outside! Many a track has been garbled by the player who just couldn't give up "the coolest thing I ever played, Man!" even when it obviously didn't fit the piece. Play for the song, and learn to really listen more to the other guys than to yourself when constructing your part.

  • http://www.amenpanesar.com Amendip Panesar

    I agree with Doug…come to practice to enjoy and live music…ego's are not required. Learn and enjoy the music the band plays and play with passion!