Recording your music is one of the most rewarding and fun things you can do as a band.
You’ve got a bunch of new songs, you might have had the chance to play them live, they sound heavy and tight, and people are excited and looking forward to hearing them recorded.
Being in the studio can also turn out to be an unnecessarily frustrating and time consuming experience without the right preparation beforehand, but it doesn’t have to be!
Here are 7 things you can do BEFORE you set foot in a recording studio that will help you get the best results in the least amount of time without stress.
1. Learn your songs
This sounds like something that shouldn’t need to be said, but there’s a difference between being able to smash out your songs 80% live to a drunk crowd, and being able to fully nail them when all the microphones are set up and the recording light is on.
The whole reason you’re going into a studio to record is to lay down your songs and commit them to eternity.
You’re going to the effort of setting everything up and most likely paying for studio time, so it makes sense to make sure everyone in the band knows their parts and the band can play their songs as tight as possible.
Have every band member learn their parts
Everyone in the band should be learning and practicing their parts before heading into the rehearsal room, or at the very least listening to demos to get a good feel for the songs.
Everyone in the band should be practicing along to demos, or a click track or a metronome if possible.
Rehearse as a band until you can play your songs blind folded
Not everyone has the luxury of their own dedicated rehearsal studio or being able to rehearse as a band several times a week, but if everyone has put in the time learning their parts, you will be surprised what you can get done in a few rehearsals.
Depending on your style of music, in most cases (but not all) you’ll be wanting to record to a click track.
Have your drummer play to a click track at rehearsals. You might be able to get away with a simple metronome if your songs are the same tempo all the way through, or you might need to create a tempo map from any demos if you have tempo changes.
Rehearsing to a set tempo before you record will have a huge impact on everyone’s playing overall, and your recording will be much tighter.
Work on difficult sections or transitions of songs until you can nail them
Now is the time to pay attention to any specific parts or transitions in songs that fall apart when you’re rehearsing and work on them over and over until you can nail them.
Don’t wait until you’re in the studio to try and figure this stuff out.
You might already have demos of your songs if they were written before you started rehearsing, but it’s a great idea to record yourself playing as a band so you can get a better idea of arrangements and how the songs sound.
Something rough is fine, and it’s easy to do these days with something as simple as a mobile phone or digital camera, or you could set up some mics and do a quick mix for a better result.
2. Check your gear
Your gear should always be working, but over time things get loose or crackly and sometimes don’t get fixed.
You’ll save a lot of headaches and wasted time in the studio if you make sure all your gear is in top condition and working properly.
With so many parts that make up a drum kit, it can be easy to miss if something is loose and about to fail.
Check carefully around the edge and along the grooves of each cymbal as very small cracks can go unnoticed and quickly turn into bigger cracks.
Here are some things you can check before you go into the studio:
- All your drum skins are in good condition (if not new) top and bottom with no dents
- Cymbals have no cracks
- No loose screws on lugs or mounts
- Stands and mounts have no loose or threaded bolts
- All cymbal stands have felts and cymbal toppers or sleeves and wingnuts
- Bass drum and hi-hat pedals are in good condition with no loose screws or broken parts
- Snare drum throw off is working and snare wires are in good condition with no broken wires
Guitars and Bass
Check that all guitars and basses are working without unwanted noises:
- No scratchy pots or jacks cutting in and out
- All guitar and bass amps and/or pedals being used are working and sound right
- Pedal batteries are new or power supplies are working
- All leads are working including patch cables
- Guitars and bass are set up properly (see below)
Computers and Electronics
If you’re bringing any computers or electronics, make sure everything is working as expected:
- All required click or backing tracks are loaded up and working
- In-ear monitors or headphones are working
- Sound modules, drum triggers, samplers, or keyboards are working
- Chargers or power supplies are packed
- All cables are working
3. Gear set up
Now you’re sure all your gear is in top condition, or isn’t and needs to be maintained or repaired, you should get it set up and tuned by a pro (or do it yourself if you know how)
The quality of a recording will only be as good as what you put into it.
Having your gear set up and tuned properly will make a huge difference to the end result and make the process much smoother.
- Guitars and bass have been set up by a professional
- String gauges and setup are right for your tuning
- Guitar and bass amp valves are in good condition
- Drum skins are new or in good condition and tuned
- Bass drum pedals are well maintained and smooth
4. Pack the right gear
I could write an entire post just for drums of what could possibly be packed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should cover most of what you would need in the studio.
Every band will be different, but having everything you need in the studio will make life so much easier, even if you don’t end up using some of it. We all know that one band member who always forgets their kettle cord!
Obviously you need to pack your instruments:
- Guitars, amps, speakers, pedals, tuner
- Bass guitars, amps, speakers, pedals, tuner
- Drum shells
- Drum hardware including, pedals and throne
- Cymbals including different sizes to try if you have them
- Keyboards, samplers, sound modules, computers
Here are some things to pack in addition to your instruments.
- Guitar leads and patch leads including spares
- Spare strings
- Guitar picks
- At least 6 pairs of drum sticks
- Drum keys and any specialised drum tools
- Spare drum heads, especially snare top
- Headphones or in-ear monitors (if you want to use your own)
- Cables for electronics
- Power supplies and cables
Here is a list of other bits and pieces that are always useful to have in the studio:
- Guitar picks of different thicknesses
- Guitar tuning peg winder
- Allen keys
- Small flathead and Phillips screwdriver
- Velcro cable ties
- Soft cleaning cloths
- 9V batteries
- Drum keys
- Power drill with drum key bit
- Snare wires and ties
- Moon gels and other drum head dampening
- Different kinds of bass drum beaters
- Spare cymbal toppers, wingnuts, felts and washers etc
- Gaff tape
- Painters tape
- Phone chargers and cables
5. Make a checklist
There’s so much going on when it comes to recording, so it can be easy to forget to record a crucial part of a song.
Taking the time to make a checklist of all the parts you need to record will ensure you don’t miss anything while you have everything set up in the studio.
To make sure you don’t miss anything, make a list of these things:
- All the songs you’re recording
- All the instruments and parts you need to record for each song
- Drum samples and any other sounds you want to record
- Any other things you want to try in the studio
6. Photos and video
This isn’t absolutely necessary, but in the age of social media it can be really helpful to document the recording process and have content that can be used to help promote your music down the track.
You might also end up with some great footage that can be used for a music video.
Hiring someone to do this professionally is definitely the best option as it will leave you to be able to focus on recording music, but it could be as simple as setting up a phone camera on a tripod in the corner and letting it roll.
7. Be mentally and physically prepared
Finally, you want to be fresh and mentally ready to plough through all your songs with focus and determination and capture the best possible performances.
I’ve always found my recording experience is a billion times more productive and enjoyable when I do (or don’t do) these things:
Get an early night
Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep the night before you go into the studio. It’s going to be long days ahead and you don’t want to be losing concentration just when you’re starting to find your groove.
Don’t drink too much alcohol
Being hungover absolutely sucks, especially when you’re in a room full of loud noise for 8+ hours a day. Have a night off the booze before you go into the studio, you can always smash a few beers after the recording sessions are done!
Bring a water bottle
Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to keep your brain from turning to mush and being able to push through especially if you’re the drummer and your muscles are being punished all day long.
Bring a big bottle of water, keep it full, and drink water regularly.
Pack healthy snacks
It’s easy to snack on biscuits, chips and pizza in the studio, but you’ll hit a wall pretty quick and it will be much harder to play your instrument for long periods of time and stay enthusiastic.
Bring some mixed nuts, muesli bars, and other healthy snacks so you’re not filling up on junk. Your body and your recording will thank you for it.
By now you should have a great idea of everything you need to do BEFORE you go into the recording studio to record your next release.
By doing all of the above you’ll save time and money, and stand a much better chance of achieving the best possible result than if you just waltz in and start recording without being fully prepared.
If you check off most of these items, I’m positive your recording studio experience will be the best it can be and your recorded music will be much better for it!
If you’d like any help with any of this stuff or have any questions at all, feel free to get in touch!
Photo above is from Studios 301, Sydney, Australia
Taken during recording sessions for Slowly Building Weapons