Recording Prep Checklist
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Ensuring You're Ready To Hit The Ground Running In The Studio
In this article I'm going to discuss some important considerations that should be in place prior to coming into the studio to record. This will help the session go smoothly and efficiently and reduce those little annoying things that get in the way of actually getting your music recorded. So let's get straight into it. To start here is a list that we will discuss of some of the key items to have in place prior to entering the studio to record.
Be Well Rested
Song Tempos & Click Tracks
Nine times out of ten it is advisable to record to a click track. This is particularly important if there are going to be multiple different musicians layering up tracks. If the tempo is not established and ebbs and flows it will be extremely hard for the other members of the band to play along to the initial instrument recorded.
Therefore, the majority of the time I recommend recording to a click track. In order to do so though, you must first know the tempo of the song. This can be worked out in the studio. However, it is not uncommon for people to agree to a tempo in the studio that is not exactly right (possibly due to being slightly stressed or just wanting to get on with the job). This leaves the song not quite capturing the exact feeling and emotion that it was intended to. As the old saying goes, sometimes when you miss it by an inch, you miss it by a mile. Even one beat per minute can have a big impact on a song. So make sure you've practiced to a metronome at home multiple times until you're 100% sure you've got the tempo right.
If there are tempo changes throughout your song then ensure you have each of the tempos worked out, as well as having a basic tempo map for the song. E.g. 32 bars at 120BPM, followed by 16 bars at 124BPM and then 32 bars back at 120BPM.
Pre-production primarily refers to recording demos of your songs before the actual recording. This is probably the most important thing you can do to make for a smooth and enjoyable time in the studio - and one where you don't waste money. Pre-production can include all sorts of things, including making sure you have your tempo sorted - as above. But other crucial aspects of doing pre-production demos include:
Having your song structure sorted - e.g. knowing how many bars the intro is, the order of the verses, choruses and bridges, how the song finishes etc.
Working out the instrumental arrangement for the song. It is important to come into the studio on recording day having a solid idea of how you want everything to go. Of course things can change as the song develops in the studio. But don't come in with just some chords on acoustic guitar and expect to walk out with a full band production of perfectly written and recorded parts. It is possible to have a producer work these parts out for you, but this should be done in the pre-production stage. If you're feeling unsure about the arrangement or any parts of the process, talk to the engineer before recording day if possible.
Tell the engineer which instruments you will be looking to record during the session prior to the day of recording. This will give them a chance to have microphones/tracks in sessions ready to go.
The thought of recording pre-production demos of your songs may be daunting. You may even be worried it'll cost too much money. Realistically though, most people these days can probably record a good enough demo for the purposes of pre-production for free and by yourself. Even if it is just using Garage Band on an iPad, that will be more than enough. The main point is though - the more effort you put into pre-production, the smoother your recording will be and the happier you'll be at the end of the day with your songs.
It is extremely important to have your instruments in tiptop shape before coming into the studio.
Ensure that your guitar has new or relatively new strings on it and that the action is correct - there's nothing worse than getting your guitar perfectly in tune only to play the first chord and have it sound horrible due to poor intonation of the guitar. Take it to the shop before recording if this is you! It's also always wise to have a spare set of strings on hand in case you break one during recording.
Note: bass guitars do not necessarily need new strings before a recording - this can sometimes make them too bright. If they're feeling too old leading up to a recording though, consider putting new ones on a few weeks before the recording session. This will give them time to settle down a little.
New batter heads on your drums can make a huge difference to the sound of your kit, just like new strings on a guitar. If the resonant heads are super old it might be worth swapping them over also. One thing a lot of drummers struggle with is tuning their kits. In order to capture a great sounding kit, you need it to sound it's absolute best. If you have a certain snare sound in mind, then try and tune your snare to match. Spend time tuning your kit prior to coming into the studio. Then once you've loaded in it should be relatively quick to just give it a touch up instead of taking 2 hours to tune it properly. It's also a good idea to check that you don't have a squeaky kick or hi hat pedal - this can ruin recordings! Also ensure that you bring more than one pair of sticks to use.
If you're using electronic instruments then make sure they do not have any unpleasant buzzes etc. They may need a quick service if they do.
Providing your engineer with reference tracks prior to a recording can be a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the recording and the sound that you're looking to capture. Try and send them a week or so in advance if you can so that the engineer has time to listen to them. If you have any notes to accompany the songs send these through too. It could be what about the songs in particular that you like, or even specific instruments that you like the tone of.
Also send them your pre-production demos - this will be extremely useful for everyone involved!
Be Well Rested
Sleep is an essential part of performing well in literally all aspects of life. Recording is no exception. It can be an extremely exciting time going into a studio and recording a song. You'll probably have adrenaline pumping for the first little while when you are there, which will keep you buzzing. But this won't last the whole day, and in my experience recording your music can be much more tiring than most people anticipate. Probably largely due to the nervous energy you're using, but also due to the fact that you're concentrating for long periods of time.
Therefore, try to get a good nights sleep before your session. Definitely try to avoid going out partying! And if you're a singer, it's best not to have a 3 hour gig the night before coming into the studio so your vocal chords are feeling great! Remember to eat well and drink plenty of water too!
So in conclusion, if you have all of these steps in place before your session you will have a much more enjoyable and productive time in the studio! If there's anything else not mentioned here that you're unsure about, just contact your engineer ahead of time and no doubt they will be happy to discuss any concerns with you and put your mind at ease.