There is no such thing as a demo anymore. As soon as you finish your recording, it will find its way to YouTube, SoundCloud, or Facebook. Even tightly held masters somehow end up an MP3 and off they go to friends, fans, and well-wishers. So don’t blow it. Make it great, right from the start.
Most sessions that go badly are blown way before the first note is played. A good plan begins with a pre-production checklist. Start here, but keep adding to it until you know you’ve got all your bases covered.
Spontaneity is good. Chaos is bad.
- Lead sheet every song. At least include the lyrics and chords. This is your roadmap to each song. Even if you know the song cold, your engineer doesn’t. This also clears up any discrepancies about words or chords.
- Decide on tempos (bpm). Experiment until you lock onto the perfect groove.
- Time each song. Playing a song live is different than recording a song for airplay or streaming. Know your song structure. Your intro should capture a listener in less than 10 seconds. Verses need to be solid. Don’t wait too long to get to the chorus. Got a bridge? Solos need to be great and concise. Unless you’re a jam band, four minutes is a long time.
- Know your parts. Backup vocals and extra instrumental parts need to be defined.
It’s amazing how many musicians show up for a studio gig with bad equipment.
- Put fresh strings on your guitar. Adjust for playability with no buzzing. Break them in.
- Drum heads should be in great shape, if not new. Listen to each drum and pedal. The microphones will pick up extraneous noise too.
- Nail your sound. Know which amps and keyboards to take to the studio. Find the best settings for each song, and make sure everything is in perfect working order.
The recording studio is a very expensive practice room.
- Rehearse what it’s like to record the basic tracks. Run the song with just the rhythm section. Practice playing with a click track. This will tighten up the groove, and get you used to playing without all the other aural cues, which might be the case in the studio.
- Work out your solos. Take the time to plan out a great lead.
- Focus on the vocals. Practice singing the lead and back-up vocals with just a simple accompaniment. Tighten up the harmonies and work on blending. Know your parts cold.
Time is money.
- Define the budget and live within it. Discuss with the studio your objectives and budget, and make them aware of your plan.
- Detail your plan of attack. Everything takes time: Setup, getting sounds, cutting basic tracks, vocals, leads, listening back to each take, the mix, mastering. Allow enough time for each task and adjust your objectives accordingly.