So you are a musician/s with enough material you’re proud of and you want to record it in order to present yourself to the world. Perfect, that’s when the trained ears of a sound engineer like me come in handy to take the best out of your songs. However there are some common mistakes done by artists who never set foot in a studio, these mistakes can be easily fixed.
Compose and arrange the songs prior to recording. Some musicians think that a recording studio is similar to a rehearsing room but with way more microphones in it. If you have unlimited budget and time this can be true but with the state in which the music industry is right now this is an extremely unlikely possibility and if you find yourself in such a situation please call me because I honestly want to shake your hand and congratulate you. The recording studio is a sacred and magical place where you have the unique chance to print in history the product of your imagination, a product you have spent many hours working on, composing it in order to make it as close to perfection as you are able to. Having everything ready for recordings means that you can avoid long recording sessions that are usually very frustrating and tiring because after a while the human brain just stops working clearly and you may experience some sort of crazy hallucinations (I don’t necessarily mean seeing big clowns dancing upside down but even just experiencing the effects of a mild sleep deprivation). It is in my experience that a good performance usually comes in one of the early takes rather than in one of the last for many reason: one is because at the start you are fresh and relaxed, one of the others is because after many hours you are tired and you are playing just with muscles’ memory and without much of the passion you had at the beginning therefore at the end of your session you may perform mechanically and lifelessly. The best way to take advantage of the time you are fresh and full of energy is by having everything ready so you can set up your gear and start playing without worrying if what you are playing is right.
Rehearse your songs to respect yourself, your bandmates and the engineer. There is nothing more frustrating for them than having a band member not remembering properly his/her parts during recordings. I played in many bands and being part of one means trusting each other, they are your brothers and sisters, you should respect them and they should respect you. The only way to gain their trust and respect is by being always ready. Furthermore everything I said on the previous point applies even here.
Do not be afraid to speak. We (sound engineers) and your bandmates are just people, usually we are more than willing to answer to your questions and doubts and we can make mistakes. If you approach any topic with calm and respect you can be sure that the session is going to be smooth and productive. Please keep in mind that a relaxed environment is often where the magic happens.
Always make arrangements with the rest of the band and the engineer about what food and drinks you want in the studio. I’m an avid coffee drinker but you might prefer tea and it’s always good to keep such habits intact e.g. if your singer is used to drink a hot cup of tea before a gig, do the same in the studio.
Same topic but different perspective. Performing on a stage or in a studio are totally different things: on a stage you are exposed and excited, in a recording studio there is an intimacy and insulation (listening to yourself through headphones doesn’t help) that force you to look inside yourself before anything else and this might be frightening. Therefore is very useful to behave like you would normally do before, during and after performing. For example when I was a teenager who tried to be as cool as Steve Vai with a guitar, I was used to do 30 minutes of light stretching before playing, I do the same now before starting a session, it’s just something that lead me into the right state of mind.
Try to limit or avoid the use of substances such as alcohol or other fun drugs. I’m not saying this because I’m against those, believe me that when I finish saving a project in 19 different locations (yes, I show sign of OCD when I have to be sure that a session is saved and safe) I’m going to be the first one to say “ok, let’s go to the pub”. Moreover I’m not necessarily talking about being drunk or shitfaced but even being very tipsy can be dangerous. First it is well documented that alcohol could make a person aggressive and alter the judgement, this surely doesn’t help in the quest for a calm and relaxed environment. Secondly and maybe more importantly alcohol and drugs often influence the way you hear sounds (google it if you don’t believe me, you will find many reliable sources) so if you drink few pints too many during a session you can end up with one of this 2 possibilities: A) you play something, you think it is awesome, you wake up the next morning and it’s still awesome. B) you play something that you think it’s awesome, you wake up the next morning and it sucks and then you are left with the music industry version of the “walk of shame”. Take your chances.
Anyway there is no person on this planet that knows yourself better than you do. Part of what I just said means that you are largely responsible for making yourself able to perform at your best. Other people can help in creating the right environment but at the end of the day you’re more subjective to what is going on inside your head, so behave like you would normally do, know your strengths and limits and everything is going to be fine.
Recording should be fun. For me as a sound engineer it surely is, being in a studio recording great artists makes me love everything and everyone. Therefore try to avoid factors that bring unnecessary stress to the session.
I'm a sound engineer based in London, UK.
Music has always been my main passion and finally now after more then 14 years of studying music and then audio engineering I'm trying to make a living being a sound engineer/sound designer.