A lot of less-than-experienced musicians are really not sure what to expect the first time they have to participate in an actual recording session. I don’t mean putting up a couple mics in your rehearsal room and going to town. I am talking about a real session in a studio that may be unfamiliar to you, with an engineer that may be much the same. Very few of us get through our first few sessions without at least a little nervousness or unpreparedness, as tracking, like most of music, is a learn-by-doing sort of scene and we usually just have to jump in and do the best we can. In this article, I hope to pass on to you, Gentle Reader, the benefit of my years in the studios and save you a step or two on your journey towards making a great recording. Here are a few tips, in no particular order, that I wish someone had taken the time to hit me with when I first got started in the game.
1 – LEARN/WRITE YOUR SONGS BEFORE YOU GET TO THE STUDIO. Studio time is usually booked by the hour, so the better you know your material, as a band, the better and more quickly you will track it, which, of course, costs lots less than doing it the opposite way. Don’t try to write or compose in the studio unless you have deep pockets.
2 – MAKE SURE ALL YOUR GEAR WORKS BEFORE ARRIVING. Restring your axes, get good tubes for your amps, make sure all your cables are good, and then still bring backups for anything that the session can’t go down without.
3 – BE ON TIME. This may be less of an issue if you are tracking in a home or private studio environment, but, if you are working in a public studio, they may well have a session booked for after yours and will not like it if you show up late and then expect to run long.
4 – DON’T STRESS. The studio experience can be much like standing in the mirror naked. All your musical faults are suddenly under the microscope and are painfully obvious. If this is your first session, just try to get through it without melting down, freaking out, or being a drama queen if you suddenly discover that you don’t sound like you think you sound. You will learn what you really sound like through these sessions and get comfortable with hearing your own performances in this much detail.
5 – DON’T GET TOO BUZZED. Many folks want to have a drink or a smoke before they track and, while that can work for experienced players, it might not be a great idea to get hammered in the studio if you are not comfortable in the recording environment. Getting too high can induce a studio freak out in some musicians, so be careful.
6 – THE ENGINEER IS YOUR FRIEND. The studio engineer can be a huge help to you if you are not sure how or where to set up, have questions about the process, or if you need any sort of guidance on your recording date. Ask for help if you need it.
7 – GET THE DRUMS, THEN GET EVERYTHING ELSE. The drums are the most important part of your recording. They will be set up and mic-ed first and they are the first thing that needs to be captured so that your session can proceed. Concentrate on getting good drum sounds and a good take out of your drummer. Everything else can be added later.
8 – KNOW YOUR TIME LIMIT. Most of us hit a point after a number of hours in the studio where our ears get tired, our judgement suffers, and we begin to get diminishing returns. It’s important to know when that point is reached, as productivity and quality will start to go downhill fast. Personally, I am good for five to eight hours at a stretch. After that, I don’t trust my ears.
9 – THIS WILL TAKE LONGER THAN YOU THINK. Pro players can cut tracks with astounding speed and make it look easy. Don’t expect it to go as quickly for you, especially if this is your first time. I’d budget for a couple hours of studio time for each minute of final product you expect to come out with. Don’t forget mixdown time, either. Mixing will most likely be done on separate days from tracking, so that it is done with fresh ears and not after a long tracking day. Settle in, as you are gonna be here for a while.
10 – PAY IN CASH. This is very important to remember. Studios deal with lots of musicians and we all know how us muso types can be with money. Don’t expect the studio to take your check or credit card, unless you have made prior arrangements. You will not get your tracks out of the studio until you are paid in full, so be sure you have this handled. Most rooms will give you some free time for set up and tear down and begin to charge once the engineer starts moving microphones around. Each studio is different, however, so be sure you know how your place likes to get paid and then pay that way, in full, at the end of your session. No Exceptions.
Anyway, I hope these tips help and get you a little further down the recording road. The studio is a whole different animal than playing live and a little prep and info will go a long way towards getting you and your band through your early sessions with some style and grace. Drop me a line if you have any other questions or just want to send me some tracks to show off. Peace.
Above image courtesy of phanlop88 at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net
MIKE O’CULL plays guitar, writes songs, produces tracks, teaches, preaches, writes poetry, makes art, and is in love with human creativity. He has the ability to put a song in your ear and make it stick. He writes songs that combine every cool thing he has ever heard into a new sound that is funky, rocking, literate, and conscious and contains elements of blues, hip hop, rock, funk, and skid row poetry. He has a new release slated for 2016 that will contain his new and topical track ‘Tough Times These Days,’ which is now being previewed on YouTube. In 2015, he released a single, ‘What’s Old Is What’s New,’ that was co-written with poet/activist Leroy Moore of Krip Hop Nation which mixes down and dirty blues with old school hip hop and an EP, ‘The Mike O’Cull Band,’ that features seven funky blues/rock original songs. Both are available on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. He is also the creator of Street Level Guitar, his own unique method for learning to play guitar. SLG involves a concentration on the practical aspects of music and guitar playing blended with a personal development angle that ensures his students build the confidence to perform, not merely play. http://www.Facebook.com/StreetLevelGuitar is the place to hang out for more info.
Mike has also worked as a music journalist and PR writer since the mid 1990s, including 12 years with the Illinois Entertainer (http://www.IllinoisEntertainer.com), contributing to the start of the blogosphere with http://www.ChicagoGigs.com in the late 1990s, and has been a contributing writer for http://www.ChicagoMusicGuide.com, http://www.ChicagoBluesGuide.com, Gig Magazine, and scores of others, and has written bios, press releases, and liner notes for many different artists.
This year is a new beginning in his story and career and Mike is making his most fully-realized music to date that is equal parts current and classic, old school and new jack. He is a fearless creative with an expansive knowledge of American music mated with the touch and vision of a modern producer, songwriter, and instrumentalist.