How to Prepare for a Successful Recording Session: Pre-Production Tips for Songwriters
This is a guest post written by Dan Ainspan. Drummer, Producer, Videographer, Writer. New York Giants fan. Senior at The State University of New York College at Oneonta. Check him out on YouTube and follow him on social media. @DrumsetDan13 | facebook.com/ainspandrums |ainspandrums.wordpress.com
So the time has come. You’ve spent hours on end writing and practicing your own original song, you’ve played it a million times and have probably even annoyed your friends and family with that catchy chorus, but, now it’s time to record it and share it with the world.
In order to make your song sound the best that it can be, you’re going to want to be prepared and focused once you enter the studio. Here are some useful tips and advice for a successful recording session.
Pre-production includes everything that should be taken care of prior to entering the studio. Think of cooking a meal. You wouldn’t just go to the kitchen and start cooking. You’ll first need to gather a list of ingredients, find the tools you’ll need to cook with such as pots and pans, schedule an order of what is to be cooked, and figure out who will be doing what, assuming you have a team helping you. That same method applies to the recording studio. You can’t walk into the studio with nothing and expect a hit record by the end of the session. Below are a list of pre-production tasks that you’ll want to take note of.
If you’re a songwriter, print out a lyric sheet that also includes chord changes and the general structure of the song. This will help tremendously in communicating effectively with the engineer and other musicians when trying to work out specific parts. Heck, go the extra mile and print out a few for everyone.
Tempo tempo tempo! Being a drummer, this is something that is especially important for what I do. Figure out the tempo of your song. If you want your song to be taken seriously and sound professional, it should have a steady flow. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the tempo can’t change within the song, it absolutely can, in fact, it could be more musical that way. That is up to you. If you record to a metronome at a certain BPM (Beats Per Minute), the drummer can lock in to the groove, which will then enable all of the other musicians to sound tighter when they record their parts.
Figuring out your song’s tempo can be done in a variety of ways. Most DAWs, (Digital Audio Workstations) such as Pro Tools and Logic, have a built in feature that allows you to physically tap your tempo on a keyboard repetitively, which then will compute an average tempo based on your input. There are even online websites that will do the same thing (see this link!)
You can also buy a metronome or even download a free metronome app for your smart phone (see this link!) Not sure if you have the right tempo? Ask a friend, ask your bandmates, even email your engineer ahead of time to get their input. Knowing your song’s BPM will help keep your session on track and in time (no pun intended).
Next, you’ll want to make sure you have a plan of attack for when you enter the studio. For example, you may only want to record lead vocals for a few hours, then come back and do background vocals, or maybe you want to record the drums first, then the bass. Regardless of the order, knowing what you want to get accomplished ahead of time and communicating that effectively with the studio engineer and other musicians will help speed up the process and make sure everyone is on the same page. Go the extra mile and print out a calendar or tentative schedule for everyone to have.
Collect & Back Up
Though this may be mundane, spend a few extra hours the night before to organize any files you may want to bring with you. I highly suggest you bring in demos and samples of other songs that have a similar sound that you’re trying to achieve. The engineer will thank you for this. Also, BRING A HARD DRIVE! Computers can break, and the last thing you want is for all of your hard work to be lost due to a computer malfunction. Get a large size hard drive to back everything up.
While you’re at it, make sure you have extra guitar strings, replacement drum heads, extra picks, sticks…etc.
Last but certainly not least, understand your role and especially the roles of the people around you. It is important to realize that everyone involved in the session is there to help YOU create a lasting and meaningful product in the form of music. From the engineers at the studio to your bandmates and producers, always be respectful and try to work through problems effectively with people when they come up. No one wants to work with egos and people who think they know it all, so be mindful of what you and what others have to offer.
For example, the recording engineer is there primarily to ease with the technical aspects of the recording process; ie. setting up mics, getting signal levels, adjusting equalizers…etc, though some engineers may also have thoughtful insights on the song itself. Working together and creatively with the people around you will help you get the sound that you’re looking for more efficiently.
It is important to always keep your main goal in mind and to always look for the bigger picture in everything you do. In the studio, it is easy to get lost in the technicalities of modern recording, but don’t let the process overwhelm you to the point where you lose your artistic and creative direction that brought you to the studio in the first place. Be focused and detailed but sensitive at the same time.
Lastly, have fun!! Recording and performing music should be a fun and rewarding experience for all. Be passionate about your music and enjoy the ride. Good luck!!