DEFINE YOUR CONCEPTS AND GOALS
- How Many songs are being done? EP? Full Album? Consider your budget careully to make sure you allow enough time to do each song to your satisfaction otherwise you'll be stressed trying to perform. Stress in the studio is counterproductive.
- Which songs do you plan to record? Have your friends and family pick your best tunes for you as it helps to define your most commercially viable songs.
- What overall sound quality are you after? Get a sample CD or two to give to your engingeer as a reference for the type of sound you want on YOUR finished CD.
- Do you have a visual concept for the project? (i.e., album cover art, video concepts, etc.). This can also help your engineer conceptually to help create your final vision.
- What are your plans for this album? Is it a nice project piece for your portfolio? Are you making your living from the CD? Do you plan on touring? Are you trying to get into film or television?
- How do you plan to market the CD? Do you plan to market the CD? Do you plan to use the internet in your marketing? Make sure you have a clear strategy before going into the studio.
- What level of sound quality are you willing to accept in order to save time and money on the project? Most artists don't have unlimited budget, so knowing when to say 'enough' can save you a lot of money on your project, help focus you on your goals, and allow you to budget for your next creative endeavour.
- Make sure to allow PLENTY of studio time for Post-Production. Unless you spend a lot of time in the studio, your estimates for how long your project will take will usually be inaccurate. Take what you think and double it. Make sure to develop a budget that falls in line with the other items in this concepts and goals list.
- Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Going into the studio if your band isn't well rehearsed is a common mistake. It's easy to be so excited about your material you can't wait to record it. However, not taking the time to iron out all the kinks ahead of time in rehearsal means you're 'writing in the studio' - a practice that can be rewarding, but also can take up a lot of studio time and put your project over budget. You're better off getting the band as tight as possible before coming into the studio. We recommend Dog House Music if you don't already have a dedicated rehearsal space. Their monthly rates are great, and you can frequently rent rooms one night at a time, in case you need to put a couple of nights of rehearsal polish on your set before your studio sessions.
- Record yourself before going into the studio. You'll be amazed at what you can learn about your own playing or singing by recording yourself and playing it back. Listen for as much nuance as your recording gear will allow and use that to fine-tune your playing or singing. Even a pocket recorder or iPhone recorder can do wonders to help you organize your thoughts and get a feel for your own sound.
- Play as much as possible in front of an audience. Take mental notes of which part of your performance elicit the most response from the crowd. Use this feedback to help fine-tune your vocal and instrumental performance. 'Well honed' musicians spend the least amount of time in the studio on any given project.
- Check your tempos. Use a metronome and write down all your tempos and bring them to the studio. Knowing if your songs speed up or slow down naturally or if you will perform better with or without a click track will help you in the studio. Knowing the best tempos for your songs will make sure you don't speed up or slow down due to nerves.
- Look for trouble spots in your list of songs to record. It's not unheard of to spend half of your studio budget trying to nail one tricky song. You may be better off recording three other songs that aren't as complicated. If you can't nail a track on the first 3 or 4 passes, you really should rehearse it more prior to getting into the studio. Unless of course you have unlimited budget to spend while you rehearse in the studio.
- Set realistic goals. Typically most songs are tracked in 1-2 hours after setup (mic placement, leveling, headphone mixes). Overdubs are generally accomplished in 1-2 hours per track per song. Postproduction and mixdown can take 1-2 hours per song or more. Knowing when to say 'enough is enough' is one thing, but thinking you can get 10 guitar solos done in 2 hours is probably not realistic. The more rehearsed you are, the quicker the process goes, but if your goals are not realistic, you will become frustrated in the studio, which is counterproductive. Realistic goals will help you stay calm and stress free, which will speed the process.
- Designate a producer. Typically having more than one final decision maker can lead to a lot of in-studio squabbling about how something should sound. It's always nice to have feedback from the artists, but at the end of the day, having someone who can make final decisions can help speed up the overall process and keep your project in budget.
- If you have a DEADLINE: communicate it EARLY and OFTEN
- Use the right player for the part. Even though it can be a blow to the ego, sometimes the best way to get your finished CD can be to hire a session musician. It's easy to spend a ton of time in the studio trying to nail the part. Sometimes it's just easier to bring in a 'hired gun' for specialty parts. If you need a session musician referral, we'd be happy to help - just give us a heads-up before your session.
- Pick the right instrument for the part. Choosing an instrument for a part that doesn't make sense just ends up wasting time. As an example, make sure you really need that 'fretless sound' before picking a fretless instrument. If you can make the part work with a fretted instrument, choose that over a fretless unless you absolutely have to have that 'fretless' sound with slides and other articulations you can't get any other way. There's nothing worse than having to autotune an otherwise well-played part to fix intonation issues. Similarly, don't spend a bunch of time perfecting a part on electric guitar if you're going to change your mind later and want an acoustic guitar sound. A little bit of planning can go a long way toward keeping your budget trim and tight.
- Get your instrument ready to go. Make sure your instrument has been properly serviced and tuned-up prior to being in the studio. Don't let a buzzing fret or a noisy pickup ruin your session. Make sure all your equipment is in 'tip-top' condition prior to showing up. The studio clock doesn't stop because you're changing batteries or drum heads or testing cables that aren't working well.
IN THE STUDIO
- Relax! Stress can cause you to waste a lot of time in the studio. The best plan to avoid stress in the studio is preparation. If you're properly prepared, just breathe, listen, and try your best to enjoy the experience. Even though you're spending money on an important project, you'll get the best sound when you're relaxed and having fun.
- Develop a relationship with your engineer. A good working relationship can keep things flowing smoothly and aid in communicating your vision for the project. Again, having a reference CD can go a long way, but having the ability to effectively communicate your ideas to your engineer can really take things to the next level.
- Avoid distractions. Having too many people in the studio is usually counterproductive. Drugs and alcohol usually slow things down and result in diminished quality of performance. Being prepared means being clearheaded and ready to perform. You can always have a beer AFTER the session!
- Mastering. Mastering is the process by which all your tracks are brought to the same overall level, EQ'd and balanced to sound uniform, and trimmed to setup just the right amount of time between tracks on the CD. Make sure to allow time in your budget for mastering. No matter how good your performances and mixes, your CD won't sound right without taking the final mastering steps. Similarly, engineers must now consider mastering for specific formats, such as CD, .mp3, or Vinyl. HD tracks are now becoming available on iTunes, allowing for yet another specific media format that requires special mastering attention. Subtle details in your raw mixes combined with final mastering techniques can make or break a final recording once it's compressed into your final distrubition format. There are different levels of quality in mastering. Microtone Studios offers basic mastering that's great for most situations. If you really need world-class mastering, we recommend using a facility with mastering-specific equipment, such as Airshow Mastering in Boulder.