How to Prepare for Studio Recording

studio recording

Written by Stefan from GuitarFella.com

This is highlight for every musician and a moment that you can’t forget. The first studio recording is a sort of a crown jewel.  It’s the culmination of hard work we have put into practicing and composing. It’s no wonder this moment is so special as not only did we have to practice guitar for countless hours to get to this point, but we also had to find a band and compose cool songs that we’d like to record.

Once we lay down the songs in the recording studio, the end result is so satisfying and the feeling never gets old. No matter how many songs or albums you record – it always feels so good to know that the song is now complete and immortalized. The song will live forever and others will finally get to enjoy it in all of its sonic glory.

The Song

Before entering the studio, the first and most obvious step is for a band to compose some interesting songs. It’s important to have the songs completely finished in terms of arrangement and to have all the sections fully defined (i.e. intro/verse/chorus etc). Have a lot of band rehearsals before entering the studio and make sure that you are fully satisfied with the material at hand. It’s a very good idea to bring a portable recording device to the rehearsals and capture a stereo recording which you can then analyze afterwards. If the song sounds cool when it’s played live, on this “bad recording” than it will sound truly amazing when you record it in a real studio. If you are not fully satisfied with how the song turned out, don’t rush into the recording studio rather work on it some more.

The First Track

When you are recording a song in a studio, there are usually a few standard ways to get started with the process. The most common approach is for a drummer to be the one whose playing is recorded first. Now, the drummer will either play along with a metronome click or with a live band (the second option can be with a click or without it).

Decide if you are going to use a metronome click to keep time or not, but here is something that you should be aware of if you are entering the studio for the first time. Young bands often do not have a lot of experience playing along with a click and especially doing it “live” with a full band playing along. If a full band plays along with the drummer (so that he knows how the song goes and he can hear the live guide track in his headphones), then there is a common issue which often happens in this situation: not all band members are able to keep time and play along with the metronome precisely, which results in each member starting to drag time and beat, to the point that the drummer finally gets confused and loses the beat.

Pre-record a Guide Track

Here is a neat trick for solving the above issue: record the guide tracks at home. Have all the members (except for drummer) play their parts over a metronome click, at home. The quality of this home recording is not relevant. It can be of poor audio quality as long as it is played decently in time and follows the given tempo.  Plus there are guitars, vocals and other important tracks on it, then it will work well in the studio. In this case, the guide track will be played to the drummer through his headphones while recording, and this means that he’ll be able to relax and rock over it while recording his part.

Guitarist & Bass Player Preparation

Guitarists should change the strings a day or two before the recording so that they sound fresh. Guitar always sounds better with a fresh set of strings on. Same goes for the bass player.  But, keep in mind that some bass players like the sound of “old strings”.  So the restringing should for those players take place at least several days (or weeks) earlier.

Learn and rehearse all the parts that you’re planning to record in the studio. Play along with the metronome if you are planning to use the click in the studio. Bring a spare set of strings.  Bring along all the guitars that you’d like to have close-by when recording. And don’t forget your pedals and a guitar and/or bass amp. Trick with stompboxes is to use batteries to power them.  As then the potential noise that comes out of powered pedals will be much lower and recording-friendly.

Bass player will usually plug-in straight into the console or a di-box unit to record his lines.  The bass player will not use the amp in this case. Guitarist will use a mic’d guitar amplifier. Drummer records first, and bass player often goes second in the recording process. After the bass tracks are laid down, guitarist takes his time to capture all the guitar layers and tracks.

Vocals

Most musicians record vocals near the end. Vocalist should rest well before the recording session. Even though it’s relatively easy to record vocals in a number of separate takes using the punch-in technique, I recommend that you record the full track in one take if it’s possible. This way the track will sound more natural. Of course, if the track is demanding, than it’s perfectly fine to make pauses in recording process.  Do this to get each song section perfect. Before you enter the studio, make sure that you have fully defined the melody as well as all the backing vocals you’d like to record.

Other Instruments

The last recordings are of keyboards, orchestration and other special effects. This way, when we are recording them, we have a full track with vocals underneath.  So we immediately know what works and what doesn’t work for the song. Ideally, you should compose and fully arrange these instruments before entering the studio.

Studio Time

Studio time is expensive and every minute counts. The key with the first studio recording is to prepare to the best of your ability. This means that you should practice only the songs that you are planning to record, and practice them to “perfection”. Of course, modern studio magic allows us to record our parts in several takes. It’s easy to rewind and punch-in a difficult riff or passage if you are having difficulties playing it in one take. Usually, only the drummers need to play the song in one continuous take.

Give your best to relax as much as possible when recording.  The pressure from the “red blinking light” will surely be there, with studio engineer and all your fellow band mates not making it any easier. One important thing to remember when you’re recording your first songs in a real studio: don’t let it scare you, rather rock out and just have fun!

Imagine that you are playing the song live, with your friends. It’s important to transfer this live playing energy onto the recording.  As in the end result – the audience will feel this special energy. You don’t want your recording to sound sterile or boring just because you made a mistake of focusing too much on getting all the sections right and in sync with the metronome. Mistakes are ok and all musicians make them.  And, believe it or not, those small mistakes and imperfections here and there are integral part of all the epic songs we love and without those imperfections, the songs just wouldn’t be the same.

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