BEFORE GOING TO STUDIO
Don’t be fooled when selecting a studio
The giant console, high ceilings, and glass windows mean nothing. Those things don’t make great records. A talented person with good ideas for your music does.
Everyday, records are made in bedrooms that sound just as great as records made in fancy studios. While you should make sure your studio equipment is in good shape, don’t make the mistake of equating a top-rate studio with a top-rate song. Seek out a producer instead of a studio: the person with the vision behind the board is what matters. It’s crucial to remember that the producer (and engineer) you work with imports their personality, taste, and skill on your music.
1. Spend most of your time crafting a song, not recording it
No one buys a bad song that sounds pretty. Great production is important for realizing a song’s potential, but it can’t turn a bad song good. Make sure the songs you’ve chosen to record are great before stepping foot into the studio.
This is crucial because the way you unleash your music is a large part of how your fans see you. Being able to manage your output -- turning out a consistent quantity of high quality releases -- is a tough task, but is key to keeping fans happy and growing your fanbase. Skimming your best 10 tracks for an LP and shelving the rest can be a great idea, but it doesn’t let you feed your fans on a regular basis. On the flip side, if you record and release every song you write, you risk overwhelming fans or putting out music that could be better
2. Plan for how many songs to record
Before you start shopping for a producer or studio, make sure you have a clear idea of how many songs you want to record and what you want to accomplish with your recording. Are you trying to get signed? Get some fans? Sell at shows?
It comes down to knowing what you need. If you fit all of the above or need a release to sell at shows, you must make at least an EP or LP. If you’re just creating some buzz or want to attract a team, you just need to record your absolute best material, even if it’s just a few songs.
3. Record yourself first
Most musicians know that they should record themselves. Hearing your song played back loud and clear through speakers is drastically different than hearing yourself jam in rehearsal.
As a producer, it’s astounding to me how much better off musicians are when they record themselves before coming into the studio. Musicians who create detailed recordings by doing numerous overdubs and putting down every possible idea--as opposed to a one-take demo of the song played live--always walk out of the studio with better results than the musicians who don’t do this.
When you have well thought-out demos recorded, everyone involved in the project is able to feed off ideas and be more creative with a greater vision of where the song should go.
Recording on cheap and easy programs like Garageband can often do the trick, but when when musicians learn more advanced DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) like Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools or Reaper, it can greatly boost their creativity. This is because they know what they want and how best to achieve it; it takes a lot of practice to understand why something doesn’t sound right and how to get it to sound how you want.
5. Be realistic about the recording process
This might be the hardest one, as it encompasses a lot.
Before deciding on a recording studio or producer, check yourself on whether you are ready. After all, it’s expensive and time-consuming ride. Be realistic about whether you’ve rehearsed enough and how fast or slow your creative process moves. Also be realistic about whether your budget will allow you to accomplish your goals for the album -- make sure you have enough time to devote to each track. That said, don’t sell yourself short: if you could put in 10% more recording budget to tweak some specific things and have an exceptional, rather than good, record, do it.
When walking into the recording process, know the musician’s “bill of rights” and set expectations with the studio, producer, and engineer early. The horror stories of con men and lazy producers dashing a band’s dreams while getting paid a pretty penny are out there, but they often occurred because the bare minimum was not discussed in advance and the musicians didn’t know how or when to walk away.
Before signing any deals, have a long and frank discussion of what you expect for professionalism, artistic and technical input, and rules for undivided attention, timeliness, and payment. The music business loves to party and keep things casual, but that does not negate your right to a competent, sober/awake producer or engineer who is working when they are at work, works with you when you agreed to work in session, provides a functional studio and knows the recording programs necessary for the job, returns your music in a timely fashion, and will hear you out about changes or new ideas.
Know your terms, ask if the other party will agree to them, and then hold them accountable. Getting a lot of this communication out in advance helps musicians avoid fighting and bitterness and can build lasting and gratifying professional relationships, ultimately leading to happier endings for both the artists and the producers.