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Recording Prep Checklist

Updated: Jan 5

How to Best Prepare for Your Next Studio Session So That You're Ready To Hit The Ground Running

Preparation Is The Key To Success

I'm sure you've all heard someone say at some point in your life that preparation is the key to success. Well, it certainly isn't any different in the studio. Preparation is absolutely crucial!

In this article, I will 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. If you're an artist looking to maximise your time and creativity in the studio, then please feel free to use this as your own Recording Prep Checklist for when you next head into the studio.

So let's get straight into it. To start with, here is the checklist that we will discuss, detailing some of the key items to prepare and have in place prior to entering the studio to record.

  • Song Tempos

  • Pre-Production

  • Instrument Prep

  • Reference Tracks

  • 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 will 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 practised 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 For Your Music

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 creating 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 sound and flow. 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 of course possible to hire a producer to work these parts out for you, but this should be discussed in the pre-production stage prior to coming into the studio for your actual recording. Similarly, if you're just feeling a bit unsure about the arrangement or any parts of the process, talk to the engineer before recording day where 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 and tracks in the sessions ready to go for you.

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 without the need to hire somebody to do them for you. 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.

As a minimum, just record a run-through of your song on your phone's voice memos app. You can then gather a list of reference tracks that will show the engineer or producer the style and vibe that you're looking to achieve.

Instrument Preparation Before Recording

It is extremely important to have your instruments in tip-top 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 to get it set up properly 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 its absolute best.

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. If you struggle with tuning your kit, investing in a Tunebot can be a great idea.

If you have a certain snare sound in mind for your recording, then either:

  • Try and tune your snare to match, or

  • Find out what snare was used on a recording you love and see if someone you know has the same snare that they can lend you for the day

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.

Reference Tracks

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.

The reference tracks can be for songs that you like the overall sound and vibe of so that you can aim for something similar with your music. Or the references can just be for particular sections of certain songs that you like or want to emulate in parts of your music. It could even be that you just love the sound of the drums and want to aim for a similar sound in your recordings.

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. This is likely in large due to the nervous energy you're using, but of course also due to the fact that you're concentrating for long periods of time.

Therefore, try to get a good night's 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 cords are feeling great! Remember to eat well and drink plenty of water too!

Summing it All Up

Here's a quick summary of how to best prepare for your next studio session so it runs as smoothly as possible.

  • Work out your song tempos before coming into the studio - so you don't waste time or accidentally record the song too fast or too slow

  • Do as much pre-production of the tracks you're going to record as you can

  • Ensure your instruments are in great condition

  • Have reference tracks ready, either for the vibe of whole songs or individual parts of songs

  • Be well rested so you can concentrate the whole day and make the most of your studio time

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! You'll be physically and mentally in a place where you can create something that you'll be proud of and something that you, your fans, friends and family will love.

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.

Happy Recording!



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