Even 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