Even if you already have lots of studio experience we hope that you might find the information below helpful. Some of these suggestions may appear very obvious, but a little thought beforehand can save you a lot of time (and money) on the day.
Be rehearsed. Make sure that every musician knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing on the day, as it can otherwise turn into an expensive rehearsal.
Check that all your equipment is working properly beforehand. Studio microphones are very sensitive and unforgiving, and amplifier buzzes and hums that get drowned out at rehearsals will be heard in all their glory! Squeaky bass drum pedals should also be sorted out beforehand, and spend some time tuning the drumkit before you arrive. (see article on how to tune drums here)
Always use a tuner for stringed instruments (preferably the same one for all players, as their calibration can vary slightly) and check your tuning before each take.
Don't be late for the session. If you're on a limited budget, discuss with the engineer how to make best use of your time by allocating enough for the various processes you will be going through - setting up, recording the backing tracks, adding solos, vocals, any other overdubs and finally the mixing and mastering.
If there is a particular sound you're trying to copy from someone else's CD, it's very helpful to bring it in and play it to the engineer before work begins. We can't guarantee to duplicate the sound, but at least we'll know what you want and we'll all be going in the same direction.
Bring spare strings, drum sticks, food and soft drinks, and we'll supply as much free tea and coffee as you can drink!
THE SONG IS EVERYTHING
Remember that the song is the most important thing, and that every single instrument or overdub should only be there if it adds benefit to it.
Allow enough time for the lead vocal to be recorded properly. Inexperienced bands may spend too long recording the backing track, running out of time and just having 10 minutes left over at the end of the day for the singer. However beautifully recorded your backing track is, normal members of the public (ie : potential buyers of your music) will listen first of all to the singer, so the vocal performance has to be as good as possible.
All the production skills in the world can't save a bad song. Generally, you'll know if a song "works" if it can be stripped down to just a voice and a guitar or piano, and it still sounds good. Try and establish this before you start recording.
It's always much easier to get the sounds right at source when recording than to try and "fix it in the mix"
Be realistic about your abilities. If you want to sound like a particular player, you have to be able to play like them in the first place!
Set a sensible time frame for the number of songs you want to record. You're unlikely to come out with a world class product if you try and record an albums worth of songs in a day (even though the Beatles managed to do this with their first album back in 1963, but that was basically just recording their live set)
Have a plan B in reserve. If the songs you'd planned to record just aren't working for some reason, abandon them for this session and work on others that you'd also previously rehearsed. Don't waste time analysing what the problem is - you can do that later in a rehearsal room.
If you find that you are slightly ahead of schedule when you've recorded the backing tracks (yes, it does happen!) you might want to make use of the fact that everything is already set up, and record some more backing tracks for possible future use. Plus the band will already be "warmed up" and ready to go.
Be open to new ideas but don't waste time if they're not working. New backing vocals thought up on the day, for example, can often take a disproportionate amount of time to perfect.
This won't always be possible if you're on a tight budget, but try and mix on a different day than when you recorded - take rough mixes home to check that everybody's playing was OK, but do the real mix with fresh ears on a different occasion.
If you're agonising over whether something you've just played was OK or not, it probably wasn't. The quickest solution is to just go back in and do it again now, as (fixable) mistakes you ignore can come back to haunt you forever every time you hear the song in the future.
Too much choice can be a bad thing. These days with umpteen tracks to record on and almost limitless options for creating sounds, it can be tempting to record far too many musical parts and multiple takes. Try and make decisions as you go along, since every instrument you record has to find a musical space to live with every other instrument on the song, and the lead vocal should always be right at the top of the musical pyramid.
You'll also be very pleased you did this when the time comes for mixing, as you won't be trying to pick the best take from many nearly identical versions of the same performance.
Try to be open to new arrangement ideas in the mix that you might not have considered before. For example, when playing live, all the instruments might play all the way through the song from the beginning to the end. That's fine for a gig which is probably loud and exciting, but "on tape" may be different. Try experimenting with leaving out certain instruments or parts until later in the song. They won't be missed by the listener (who has never heard them before anyway) and when they do come in, they will add far more impact.
MIXING AND MASTERING
When listening back, each musician should try and listen objectively to the mix as a whole, and not concentrate just on their own performance. This can be very hard, and many musicians never learn how to do it. However, if you can it's a very useful extra skill to add to your musical armoury.
Try and avoid the tendency to monitor too loudly. Things always sound great played back loudly, but that isn't how most people will ever hear your music and you can easily fool yourself about what you are actually hearing. Use the main monitors as a reference for tones, etc, and don't be afraid to use small "unflattering" speakers as a final balance for the voice in the mix - do a mono compatability check too. Remember that when your song is played on the Radio, TV or as MP3s on a computer, most people will hear it through small inexpensive speakers.
Of course, you also don't want to punish the people who've bought decent listening equipment, so check it on the big speakers too, and finally play it through loudly, just for fun!
It's your choice, but alcohol is really not a great idea until all the recording is finished and you've approved the final mixes, as it can severely impair your musical judgement. One of alcohols effects is that it messes up your perception of treble, and you start to hear less "top end." You add more to compensate in the mix, and can end up with a painfully "over bright" sounding track. You probably won't even be aware of this till the effects wear off next day, by which time you realise that a remix will be required....Doh!
Mastering your finished mixes will be the icing on the cake, so put the songs in the right order and make the overall volume comparable to contemporary CDs of the same musical genre, but without compressing the life out of them. Music has light and shade, so respect the dynamics and don't squash it to death - Broadcast compressors at TV and Radio stations will do that for you anyway!
Finally, when you're considering the final running order for your CD, always put the best and catchiest song first, since if people don't like the first song they're unlikely to want to listen to any more.
Imagine the life of the busy record company executive/ venue owner or whoever you're trying to impress with your music. Every day they get loads of promo CDs from up and coming artists to listen to, but with the best will in the world there just aren't enough hours in the day to hear everything they are sent - what can they do?
Human nature being what it is, their eye will probably be drawn to the most professional looking and attractive CD artwork in front of them. Here's your chance to gain a competetive edge on everyone else who thinks their music is so great it will be discovered anyway. They may get lazy with the final packaging and presentation, and send in a CD with scribbled contact details written on the cover.
Would you be impressed by that, compared with another artist offering you a CD that looks more like one that you buy in the shops?
We can help you with this vital final stage by turning your artwork ideas into reality, and printing CDs for you with full colour inlays and on body printing. Please see our CD and artwork section here for further details.