10 Tips for Success in the Recording Studio

Feb 20, 2009 Leave a Comment

Source: www.knowthemusicbiz.com
by Ed Ackerson
Read Ed Ackerson's 10 tips for success before your next studio visit. Ed has worked on a wide range of major label and indie projects nationally and internationally.

Ed Ackerson is a producer / engineer, songwriter, musician, instigator and facilitator. Owner of Flowers recording studio , Ed has a huge list of clients including The Replacements, Motion City Soundtrack, The Jayhawks, Brian Setzer/Stray Cats, Sing It Loud, Golden Smog, Metro Station, and many others. Founder of experimental pop band Polara, pointman for the Susstones electronic collective, Ed has worked on a wide range of major label and indie projects nationally and internationally. For further information visit: edackerson.com .

One of the most exciting experiences for a young band is going into the recording studio for the first time. How that first recording session turns out can depend a lot on the band’s attitude and level of preparation going in. I’ve made a list of some things to think about before and during a band’s initial studio adventure.

1. Know what you want to sound like- as you write and rehearse songs, think about what sort of sounds you like and how you’d like your material to come across sonically. It’s good to be able to describe the sound you’re after to the producer/engineer at the studio in reasonably specific terms. Also, make sure everyone in the band is more or less on the same page about your sound.

2. Know what you actually DO sound like- it's good to have a realistic picture of your sound so you know both your strengths and weaknesses going into the studio. For instance, if you want a massive drum sound but your drummer's kit (or playing) isn't up to snuff, you'll likely be disappointed in the studio. The same thing goes for guitar and bass sounds, and particularly vocals. If there are performance or equipment issues, it's a lot easier and cheaper to address those before the studio clock is running.

3. Record and listen to yourselves- these days almost every band has access to some sort of cheap or free recording method, be it Garageband on your computer or even an old cassette player. It's surprising how few bands make a habit of recording and listening to themselves. Don't worry about how the recordings sound, they're for your own reference only. The important thing is to hear how all of the instruments and vocals work together as a whole. It's also a very good thing to get used to playing while you're being recorded.

4. Go to a studio/engineer that will understand you- do a bit of research and find a place that will be sympathetic to your sound. Talk to other local bands that you like and see where they've worked successfully. Find an engineer or producer who you respect, and who will also respect you and be into what you're doing. It makes a HUGE difference to work with someone who is actively helping you rather than just punching the clock.

5. Be open to change- the studio environment is very different from your rehearsal space or a live show, so it's good to be able to adapt to what works best in the new situation. Sometimes instruments, amps, and drums that work in a less critical environment may come up short in the studio. Also, sounds can blend together (or clash) in ways you might not expect. It's good to have an open mind about things like amplifier settings, drum set up and tuning, etc. Having your own sound and approach is very important, but do listen to the engineer's suggestions about these things. Sometimes it's hard to understand why doing something different is better until you hear it back through the studio speakers.

6. Don't bite off too much- a common mistake new bands make is to try to record too many songs on their first studio session. Everyone has their favorite songs, and everyone wants to hear everything recorded. However, it's really important to give yourselves enough time to learn and react to the recording process. Trying to do too many songs in too short of a time often leads to none of them turning out very well. If you're going into the studio for just a day or two to start, you might want to consider doing a really good job on two or three of your songs. Pick the “best” to try first, and have one or two in reserve in case one of the others isn't working out. This first session will teach everyone in the band a ton about how the recording process, and the band itself, work. It may be a good idea to do a single initial session, learn from that experience, and then go back to the studio to do more songs with that experience under your belts.

7. Budget realistically- following on from the last point, make sure you know how much you have to spend on recording and be realistic about what that money will get you. Remember that, in addition to recording, you'll need to do mixes. Also, be sure to budget recording media (hard drive for computer recording, tape for analog) into your overall picture. Like many of life's projects, recording can often take a bit longer and cost a bit more than planned. Pragmatic budgeting and, above all, your own preparedness can head off surprises down the road. Figure out what you want to achieve and what your budget is and communicate that clearly to the studio before you go in. The studio will often have good suggestions about how to make things work within whatever budget you have.

8. Another note about budgeting- while it may seem like a good strategy to work in the cheapest possible recording environment as a new band, this isn't necessarily the best choice. A professional studio with good sounding rooms, functioning gear and a knowledgeable staff can be much more cost-effective than someplace with poor equipment and/or inexperienced engineers. This is most particularly the case when recording live drums, acoustic instruments, and vocals. There's no need to book the fanciest place in town for your first session, but these days most towns in the US have pro studios priced within reach of indie artists. Working at a pro room with a quality engineer will often get you good sounding results more quickly than you might expect.

9. Party with care- everyone's probably super excited about the session, and nerves may also be running a little high. It's tempting to pound a few beers or do whatever else to add to the mood and maybe relax a little. It's good to keep a handle on partying during the session. Remember that you're paying money to be there and you only have a limited time to do what's most important, which is getting your music recorded. There's plenty of time to celebrate afterward when you listen back to it all. Another, less obvious thing to avoid is going into the studio with a hangover!

10. Above all, keep things in perspective- it's a big deal to do your first studio recordings, but it's also important to have fun with it. Don't get too worried, frustrated, or angry if things don't turn out exactly the way you had planned. Anytime a group of people work together things can go in unexpected directions. Sometimes the best results come from being open to “rolling with it” and seeing what comes out the other end. If things go off the rails, don't get too upset. If someone in the band is having trouble performing, cut them slack and don't get too critical. There'll be plenty of time for analysis afterwards. Ultimately you can only be as good as you are that very moment, so it's important to make that moment as cool as you can. While you're at the session, keeping a positive attitude and working as a team will make all of your preparation and effort much more likely to pay off.


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