Pre production is an invaluable part of your recording session. Sessions don't start and end with you showing up at the studio, putting up microphones and hitting record. Oh no, that is surely the worst way to do it.
If you haven't planned and used a good amount of time in pre production, things are more likely to go wrong. Planning your recording session is invaluable if you want to save time and money. Not to mention a lot of headache from the band members.
So before you show up with your musicians in the studio, there are certainly some things you can do. Taking the time to do the things listed below will give you more headroom in the studio. Plan your production and things won't fail as easily.
If you are recording a band, ask them to record demos of the
songs they want to record. The demo recording can be a shit recording
from a cell phone, one microphone in the middle of the room or a
Anything that you can listen to in order to get a feel for their songs is good. A band I know sent a shoddy rehearsal recording to an engineer/producer before they went to record their album at his studio.
Later, when they were recording he knew the songs inside out, just from that recording. This act of pre production made him able to communicate better with the band, have better work flow and respect from the band.
If you can't get demo recordings from them, go to their
rehearsal space to listen. Ask them to play the songs they want to
record, taking notes as you go along.
Better yet, make your own demo recording using your phone, or bring a portable recording interface such as Digidesign Mbox which is a really portable device, and easily usable in a tight spot. Then you can take it home and analyze it later.
Also, take notes of the state of their rehearsal studio. If it's cozy and warm they might not give a great performance in a cold recording studio. Keeping subconscious things like surrounding in mind can help you grab a great performance out of them later.
Things will go much more smoothly if you have a personal
relationship with them. Being the professional producer/recording
engineer is all well and good, but don't be too serious or they will
Be their friend, act like the fifth Beatle. That way, when the vocalist is trying to nail that perfect take, he's not looking at this expensive producer criticizing him, but a friend.
They have recorded a demo for you. They did it in their home
studio and it sounds pretty decent. Then when you go see them live you
realize they have done so much editing and overdubbing on their demo
because they suck live.
If their demos are all 100 take recordings and they can't lock it live, you will need to figure out a way to counteract that. Planning extra rehearsal, recording fool-proof songs or substituting some musicians is an option if this ever occurs.
When you see them rehearse, take notice of the instruments
they use. A recording is only as good as it's source, so if the
drum-kit is old, detuned and has heads that have never been changed,
your best bet is to rent a new kit, or set up the old one anew.
Same goes for amps and guitars. If they are only playing shoddy guitars with worn strings and crappy transistor amps, maybe there's a need to restring those guitars and rent quality amplifiers.
If they have an old recording, or demo that they want to
re-record in a new way, ask them what they want to change. They might
get disappointed if your recording just sounds exactly like the old
If they want a new vibe, or have written a new part into the song, be sure to take that into account.
What kind of band are they? Do they want a really produced
sound, or do they want every little nuisance of their playing to shine
through? Do they want super-compressed tight drums, or just a natural
If you go on with mixing their songs without discussing these things with them, they might come into the studio horrified with what you've done to their sound. It's worth to take notes on how they want to sound.
If they cite idols, or list CD's they like the sound of, analyze what kind of sound these other bands have that you can do for them.
Is there a sax solo in the middle part that will need a
session musician to come in? Do you know about it? It's bad news to be
unprepared when a session player walks through the door, ready to play
and you don't have the microphones or the knowledge to mike him up.
In a fast paced studio session, having it all planned is your
best bet to succeed. If you have everything down, all the instruments
noted, all the microphone positions thought about and all the extra
stuff that you didn't know you needed to think about but did, you'll
I guarantee you, pre production is key. The more prepared you are, the quicker you are at reacting to unexpected changes in your session. And lastly, bands get impressed if they see you thinking on your feet, knowing exactly what you're doing and doing things quickly and confidently.
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