Common mistakes to avoid and how to make the most of your time in the studio.
Posted: 28 May 2019
Recording your music is an exciting process but one that can be pretty daunting, especially when you’ve put in a lot of time and money just to get to this point. Everyone has heard horror stories about studio nightmares, usually involving huge fallouts, going wildly overbudget and being massively behind schedule; or in some cases all three (Guns n Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ anyone?).
But in truth the recording procedure can be a dream. All it takes is a little forward planning and professionalism and you will be amazed by the results. So how do you make the most of your time in the studio?
The best thing you can do ahead of hitting the studio is to create a plan of what you want to achieve. Talk about what tracks you’d like to record and the techniques you will use. Avoid any time wasting by having a clear direction and achievable goals. Also, don’t expect to record 10 tracks in two hours, unless you’re after a lo-fi recording with plenty of mistakes you'll only be disappointed.
Another way to avoid wasting time in the studio is to spend a few hours beforehand making sure you’re 100% ready to go. Re-skin the drums, re-string the guitars, and make sure all your instruments are in prime playing condition. Make sure to bring spares of everything. You don’t want to delay your session whilst you rush to the nearest music store because you’ve broken a string/stick.
This is the important bit… you’re in the studio and any hold ups now will not only waste everyone’s time but will be costing you money, so make sure you’re on time and know all your parts inside out.
Additionally, aim to work quickly. Whilst it’s important that you get everything sounding just right, make sure you don’t take all day to set everything up. By the same merit don’t bother bringing friends or hangers on to the studio. You’re there to work your magic, not get distracted!
The red light is on and you’re laying down your take, so inject some emotion to your performance and really make it standout, you’d be surprised how much your emotions will come across in the recordings.
Focus on what’s important. If you’re a guitar led rock band then is it really worth spending 90% of your time perfecting the synth sound for your middle eight or would that time be better spent nailing the guitar sound? Having said that if there’s something you’re very unhappy with then don’t expect to ‘fix it in the mix’. There’s only so much magic an engineer can work!
The other key to maximising your time in the studio is good communication. As a band you need to be clear, professional and to the point. This isn’t just amongst yourselves but also with the studio engineer. They will need direction from you but they may contribute suggestions that you should listen to. They will know the studio inside out and any pointers they give could make your songs sound even better.
When mixing it’s important to keep listening back to the song as a whole. You could spend a lot of time focusing on perfecting the sound of one particular instrument but when played alongside everything else it could stick out like a sore thumb and ruin your track.
Keep your ears and mind fresh. It’s easy to spend hours making small tweaks and adjustments that don’t actually improve the song, so take some five minutes out and come back with an open mind to evaluate the track honestly.
Likewise try to listen to your mixes on a variety of mediums. Just because your mix sounds awesome on the studio speakers doesn’t mean it’s going to sound good on headphones or in your car. Aim to end up with a mix that sounds equally good no matter where you’re listening.
Studios can be high pressure environments and require a different approach to performing a gig or being in a rehearsal room, but with a bit of forward planning and effective communication you can have a lot of success.
Make good use of your time, focus on what needs to be done, and play it like you mean it. Stick to this and you’ll be amazed how good your tracks come out.