This is a guest post by Steve Hillier, writer, record producer and teacher of Sound Engineering Courses at Point Blank Music School.
The big day has arrived: you’re going into the studio to record your first single. It’s an exciting prospect, adrenalin is flowing like water and your band can’t wait to become the next whatever it is that they want to become. But not so fast. Going into a recording studio is becoming an increasingly rare occasion for today’s up and coming musician; many never set foot in a professional setup before hitting the charts. It’s uncharted territory, a strange and magical place for sure, and for its magic to truly work you need to be well prepared. So here’s a handy ten point checklist of the things you need to get right before you walk into the studio:
1. Do you know what this session is for?
You might say ‘well obviously, I’m going to record all of my best songs’. Fair enough, but why? What is the purpose of these recordings? Are they going online? If yes, why? Are they going to be put on sale? If yes, where? And who will you be selling to? The clearer you are of your ultimate objectives before you embark on the session the more likely you’ll achieve what you want. If you’re the band leader, make sure that all the other players know and agree to the objective before you arrange studio time.
2. Do you know where you’re going?
‘Of course I do, I have the postcode of the studio and my iPhone. What can possibly go wrong?’. A very good question. Have you checked what traffic conditions you’re likely to encounter, and how much they may delay you? Do you know how to actually get into the studio once you’ve arrived, are there gates or a buzzer? Do you have the passcode? You only have a finite amount of time in the place, don’t spoil it by turning up late/anxious/depressed/ angry because you took the wrong turning off the M4 and ended up in Newport when you were supposed to be in Bath. Also, make sure you bring the contact details of the studio with you, preferably written down somewhere in case you’re phone or laptop runs out of battery.
3. Are you well rehearsed?
If the answer to this is no then don’t think about going to the studio. If you can play and sing your songs flawlessly then you’ll avoid 90% of the problems that occur during a session. Don’t expect to be able to correct your playing ‘in the machine’. Yes you can auto-tune vocals, yes you can ‘tighten’ drums. But quantised playing sounds like quantised playing, it’s not the same as performing well in the first place.
4. Do you know what you’re actually recording?
Again, seems like a daft question but a studio engineering session requires more than the band knowing the name of the song and its tempo. Make a list of tasks that you need to complete and ensure that you’re fully prepared to perform them before you leave for the studio. If you’re recording vocals, ensure you have finished the lyrics at least the day before, preferably a month before. Nowhere is less conducive to writing a song than a recording studio with a ticking clock and a tutting band.
5. Have you booked enough time?
Chances are that no matter how much you’ve booked you’ll need more. Did you remember to factor in time for editing? And audio mixing? And transferring the data from the studio’s computer back to yours? If you’re not sure how long this will take then ask the studio.
6. Do you have all your data and a backup?
No one ever regrets making a backup, so make a backup of all of your work now, and test that
you can recover it. It’s not the backup that’s important, it’s the restore that counts. The restore is the objective of making a backup i.e. successfully getting your data back after a disaster. Take all the data you need with you and bring a physical backup (on a DVD or external hard drive) as well as an online backup too. That way if you lose anything you can be up and running again quickly.
7. Does your equipment work?
Check every item you’re intending to use at least 24 hours before you leave, giving you enough time to replace or repair the offending units. Also, replace guitar and bass strings the day before you play, and ‘play them in’ allowing the tuning to settle. Same applies to drum heads, not so important for software synthesizers.
8. Are you going to use the studio’s DAW?
If yes, don’t rely on them being able to open and use your own Logic or Protools projects…definitely don’t rely on them having Reason or Ableton! Export all your own work as audio files that start from bar one beat one and run to the end of the song. That way any DAW can load in your work, every track will sync up nicely and you can proceed to record without lots of IT related faff.
9. Did you bring a means of paying the studio?
Most engineering studios expect to be paid at the end of the session, all like cash, most will take
a cheque. Some studios will take a bank transfer but don’t, er, bank on that. If you don’t have enough money on you to pay for the session, make sure someone else in your entourage does. Studios can easily make the legal case that they own the recordings until you pay up, and may not release the files or tapes until that point.
10. Are you sober?
If you’re not, leave the studio. Alcohol and listening to music can be fun if you’re off duty and in a pub and it’s friday night surrounded by all your mates. But alcohol and making music does not mix. Booze affects your judgement, your hearing, and sabotages your ability to play. So avoid it in the studio. Why not take your work seriously and avoid it for the couple of days leading up to the session too?