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10 Ways To Help Your Recording Session Run Smoothly

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There is a lot of planning and preparation that can happen before a recording session, and many ways you can help your recording session run smoothly while you’re in the studio. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In this article I’ve tried to narrow it down to what might be the top ten things I’ve noticed that musicians or bands could have done better.

1. Know your songs.
Write out your lyrics and make chord sheets for your songs. On your chord sheets, include arrangement elements (intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, instrumental, bridge, outro, etc). Make sure everyone in the band is playing the same chords (you might be surprised). This also helps to ensure everyone is on the same page with regard to the arrangement (“how does this song end again?”). It’s been proven that writing things down helps you remember them better.

2. Rehearse to a metronome.
Start now, not just once the week before the session! Download a metronome app and give your drummer some earbuds. Ideally, everyone in the band should be practicing with a click on their own too. Figure out the tempos for all your songs and write it down on your chord sheets. You don’t have to record to click, but without it you lose a ton of flexibility when it comes to edits and punches. This also helps to improve your natural tempo when you’re playing without a click.

3. Fix your gear.
Make sure all your instruments are in good working order. Does your guitar or amp buzz more than it should or make a weird noise? Do your drums buzz and rattle? Does your guitar need a set-up? Are your cables old and crusty? Do you need to change the 9-volt battery in your active bass/guitar? (Probably.) Do you need new tubes in your amp? Try to take care of these things far in advance, because some repairs can take a while. If you plan to borrow or rent gear, get it early enough so you have a chance to play with it and dial it in.

4. Get new strings.
Change any old strings or drum heads that need to be changed a few days before the session and try to get a little play on them to help them set in. It’s always a good idea to bring some spares in case you’re rocking so hard that you break a string or a drumstick. By the way, this is not the best time for you to try a different brand or gauge – stick with what you’ve been using lately, and experiment later.

5. Have the right expectations.
Talk with your engineer and find out what some reasonable expectations might be. For instance, you might be just a little too ambitious if you’re wanting to record and mix 15 songs in one day! Your engineer should be able to give a ball-park idea of what you can hope to accomplish by the end of your session(s).

6. Be organized.
Bring copies of your lyric/chord sheets with you for the engineer and make sure you have the tempos (BPM), and keys on them. Know which song you want to record first. I usually recommend starting with a somewhat easy song. It’s most efficient to record songs that have the same instrumentation in a row. Have a game-plan for how you’d like the day to go and make sure everyone in the band (and the engineer) is informed.

7. Be on time.
Don’t be too early. Don’t be late. Different studios have different policies. At Citizen, you’re welcome to come in 5 minutes early in case you need to load in or get acquainted. Depending on the day and how much gear you have, an earlier load-in time might be possible, but that’s something we need to talk about prior to the day of the session. At most studios, the clock starts when the session is scheduled to start, so if you’re late you’re basically just wasting money.

8. Be rested and ready.
Make sure you get enough sleep the night before, and either eat before you come to the studio or bring some snacks. Leaving to run to the store can really slow down the momentum of a session. Don’t drink too much coffee or beer or smoke too many cigarettes. But at the same time, don’t change your normal routine too much. You want to feel as normal as possible so you can give your best performance.

9. Good vibes only.
When your bandmate or fellow musician is recording their parts and you’re watching/listening, be encouraging. We all mess up sometimes and it usually doesn’t help for you to point out their mistakes into the talkback mic. They may not suffer from stage fright but the studio can make even seasoned musicians nervous. Let them get through a couple takes before you start offering any constructive notes, and even then keep it to a minimum. Chances are they know they messed up and will probably get it right on the next take if you just let them go for it.

10. End well.
Depending on the session, you will probably need to stop recording 15-30 minutes before the scheduled end of the session. You need to leave time to back up your files on your own external hard drive. If you want any rough mixes to be bounced and burned on a CD, that may take extra time. Communicate with your engineer early on to let them know what you’re hoping to leave with and they will let you know how much time you should leave at the end.

-PN

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