Helpful Session Tips - Read This Before Your First Session!
The list that follows has been paraphrased and plagiarized from many, many similar such lists found on plenty of recording studio websites. They are simply a collection of common-sense things to think about before having anyone hit that "record" button to capture your sound. If you take these tips to heart, your session will go much more smoothly and with a minimum of wasted time (and money) - yours and ours.
Know the music you're going to record thoroughly, before you come to the session. Everyone involved in the performance of a piece should know his or her part front-to-back, leaving nothing to "exploration" in the studio. Have your talking game worked out ahead of time too - if your band has a spokesperson, this keeps banter to a minimum. Songwriting and rehearsal time is off-the-clock time! Similarly, if there are sequenced parts to be used in the final recording, work them out and finish them before bringing them to the studio - that's the best use of your time and hard-earned money.
Whatever your notion might be of how long your complete recording session set might take, plan ahead, and plan on it taking longer and costing a bit more than you think it might. This isn't because the staff at Flying Tractor has an evil plan to separate you from your money (you're smarter than that, and so are we)...but the tendency is to be a tad optimistic at first regarding the outcome, and to second-guess some performance takes as things roll along. In truth, even working touring bands with years of experience struggle at times in the studio; the difference is that if they're anybody who's somebody, they've got money to throw at studio owners to block out ridiculous amounts of time, and that's not you (or us). These folks are too wealthy to worry about efficiency too much (and for the record, they drive studio folks nuts with their antics). Plan your funds and time accordingly, so you don't come up short on something as important as your music!
Carry your sound around in your head. Come to the studio knowing what you want to hear when the session is done. Convey your wishes to your session staff, and understand that every recording is going to be different from every other - be realistic in your expectations. The more clearly you can articulate your sonic goals to the engineer or producer, the closer you will be to acheiving those goals. ("I'd like more of a 'brown' sound" isn't going to mean much to anyone but the person who hears that particular idea running through his or her head.) If there's a particular artist or recorded sound you have that would help to get your point across, by all means bring a sample or two with you to the session - or better yet, bring it around to the studio in advance (or email an mp3, etc.) for the staff to listen to ahead of time. Remember, unless your goal is to emulate another band or performer to a "T", you should be happy with the unique sound you and your band are creating before you've set foot in a studio. Strive for the sound you want to capture before the record button is pushed; don't automatically assume that a part can be punched up in the mix later
Arrive on time, rested, and with a clear head. Whatever happened in your life the night before a session, shouldn't have an impact on your ability to perform your session chores once the clock starts. Experienced musicians know this, especially ones who have had to shell out their precious gig money to pay for a recording.
Present a tracking list per song ahead of time to the engineer so that everyone's on the same page with number of tracks, instrumentation, etc. Be prepared for this plan to shift a little as the session rolls out and other ideas are explored, but it's always a good start.
Drums are the foundation to all those great rock and pop recordings...if you are bringing a drummer with you to the session, make sure he or she can arrive a few hours at least before the rest of the ensemble so that the drums can be properly mic'ed and tweaked, as this is the most difficult aspect of session setup. Once the drums are sounding good, everything else tends to fall into place more readily.
No matter what your instrument, be sure to pack plenty of spare replacement items for it. Drummers, come to the studio with fresh heads on your kit, stretched and tuned ahead of time, and spares ready - as well as new sticks. Guitarists, a fresh set of strings on, pre-stretched and tuned, is a must, as well as extra sets on hand in your gig bag. Make sure all instrument hardware and any amplifier items (tubes, power cords, etc.) are in good working order and all there; make sure your outboard gear has fresh batteries and spares if needed, and all patch cables work continuously and not imtermittently. Buy the best quality replacement items you can afford, so that you can sound your best on the recording - studio session time is not the time to skimp on your sound, as you'll be capturing the moment forever. A sudden need to make a run to Guitar Center or one of the other music stores is a minimum 45-minute delay to the session - one that you'll be paying for as the clock keeps ticking. As long as you're packing your bag, don't forget to bring your sheet music or chord charts for your parts if needed, and lyric sheets if you're singing - no matter how well you've rehearsed, "brain-glitch" can happen at any time!
Keep things in tune at every available opportunity. When you're not playing that guitar or bass, tune it back to pitch. Drummers, work out that ring or ditch the beat-up head. Sax players, pop in a new reed if ya need, and twist that top. Vocalists - drink that swig of water when you catch a break (room temperature, of course, as chilled water constricts your vocal chords...and carbonated or alcoholic drinks aren't going to work in your favor either..I've heard hot tea with lemon and honey is awesome for singers).
Eat moderately before your session and at your lunch break, and don't indulge in anything that's going to make you feel uncomfortable during your studio time (bloated, gassy, full...you know). Drinking only water or some kinds of juice is highly advisable; certainly nothing alcoholic or carbonated. (Milk and other dairy is a no-no if you're doing vocal parts.) We won't profess to tell you what you should or shouldn't eat, but you get the idea. That stray burp going to tape might not be appreciated after the initial humor has worn off!
Patience is a Virtue...and nowhere is this more true than in the lounge area of the studio while you're waiting for your turn to record a part. Be prepared to have some down time, maybe by bringing something with you to pass the time - a book or magazine, your journal of lyrics to capture that next big hit, or anything else that gets you quietly through the gap.
There's a time for performing your heart out, and a time for putting the instruments down. If you've pushed and pushed for that perfect take but it's still coming up just short of the mark, maybe it's time to switch tactics and try something else. Putting that particular piece aside and focusing on a different one for a while usually results in a better performance take later when it's picked up again. Consider another song to record, and have something in mind as a backup item to work on. I've seen this almost without fail result in a better take of BOTH songs...the trick is not to push too hard for something that just needs a little more time to 'gel'. If it's getting late in a full-day session, consider packing it in for the day and just waiting until the next session to start again. No matter how rehearsed everyone is, hands and ears and vocal chords and minds get tired when overworked.
The 'entourage' has no business in the studio during work time. If someone does not directly contribute to the sound being captured that day, he or she should not be present. Think about how bad everyone's going to feel if the least little inadvertent noise coming from a cleared throat or dropped set of keys causes an otherwise perfect performance take to be scrapped. Moreover, extra people on hand are more often than not just another distraction to the task at hand. (I won't even bring up the obvious 1960s reference to the "buttinsky girlfriend" of a famous band member...you know what I'm talking about here!)
Even if the thought of a recording session might leave you a bit nervous (especially if it's a new experience for you), it's important to approach your session with an atmosphere of fun and a relaxed attitude. Once the initial jitters wear off and you can settle in to the session, keep that loose, fun vibe going, and leave the tension behind, and your session time will almost always yield a better result. We'll do our best at this end to help you enjoy your time at the Flying Tractor and ultimately come away with a recording you can be proud you did your best on!