How to get your money's worth from EVERY recording session

The genesis of this article comes from the desire to help musicians and recording engineers get the most out of their studio time.

As an audio engineer who’s worked in many different scenarios (large studios, private home studios, and a few live setups) I’ve noticed what typically works and what doesn’t.

This is my nugget of info for the musicians that look to get their money’s worth while recording. I think the engineers who read this will nod their heads along in agreement, and I know the members of our music mixing contest website will notice a familiar theme.

1. Be on time & prepared

So simple it almost goes without saying. But punctuality isn’t a given, especially when dealing with musicians. Some artists don’t know that if you schedule a recording time, the clock starts ticking exactly at that time. If you book 2hrs and you show up 30min late, now you have an hour and a half. This goes for major studios and pro engineers who run home studios as well. Time is money, so treat it that way. If the engineers you work with are worth their salt, they’ll value your time as well and won’t waste a minute.

2. Know your setup & what you need to record

If your engineer doesn’t ask, make it a point to tell him/her all about how you record. If you’ve never recorded before, ask him/her how they’ll run the session. It helps to run the session more smoothly if we (both parties) know what to expect during the session. If you know you only mic your guitar cab a certain way to get a signature sound, let the engineer know what type of mic you’ll need, and where it needs to be placed. There are an almost infinite number of ways to record certain instruments, so let the engineer know what you prefer if you have a particular way of doing things. On the other hand, if you want to see what the engineer has in store for you, ask, so you’ll know what to expect.

Note: Guitarists, buy new strings. Drummers, bring more sticks than you need and make sure your heads are tuned for the songs. If you need new heads, buy them. A new set of cymbals never hurt anyone either.

3. Discuss specific techniques

This goes along with the previous tip. With this one I’ll go further and say that if you’ve never recorded your songs track by track let the engineer know that. I had a punk band session with a group that was very comfortable playing together with a particular cohesion, so instead of track by track recording, as I usually do (for separation), it proved better to record them “live” as the timing and chemistry was good enough to override the instrument spillage issues. With a jazz band I’d do the same thing.

For the musicians in this situation it’s advisable to think about this too. How are you at your best and most comfortable? Convey that to the session engineer, so he/she can make adjustments before the session begins. An example in another genre would be that for a lot of the R&B/Hip Hop sessions I’ve done there’s a specific reverb or pitch correction setting that the vocalist prefers to record with. Our job is to make it easier for the artists to create. If you know you have these requirements, let us know beforehand. It makes our setups easier and templates more fool proof.

Getting the most out of EVERY recording session4. Rehearse like crazy

Again, time is money. Don’t waste it. Know your material, and your session will flow smoother. Rehearse your material in the way you’ll record. Recording with headphones is another minor thing to consider, so just be prepared for it. If you book a set amount of time and you record quickly; you may be able to get more work done, a rough mix, alternate versions, etc. A well-rehearsed client can benefit in a number of ways.

5. Discuss project delivery & styles

Discuss beforehand how you want your project delivered and what you expect from the session. Is this your only session? Do you expect a rough mix? Do you want the session finalized here? Do you expect stem mixes? All of these questions, among others, should be considered. In addition, if you like the session and you enjoy what the engineer did, you’ll want to recover session documentation such as settings and gear. This is important, in case you don’t finalize the recording at that recording studio. The documentation will include everything from the mics used and placements to gear settings. This will help you define your “sound” if you find things that you really like.

If you have questions on mastering and CD finalization, those are all really good question to have answered by the end of the session. These 5 points may lead you to believe I’m only referring to large studio work, but if you work with any engineer who runs sessions in a professional manner, whether in a large studio or a home setup, these tips will be applicable. Keep these 5 things in mind and you’re closer to the session of your life. Surprisingly, your engineer will thank you too.

Author bio: Ivan (ivan-the-engineer) Walker is a classically trained bassist, mix engineer, and founder of the newest music mix contest website, dedicated to everything audio engineer. #yroftheengineer

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[Photos courtesy of: creative commons.]