This week, my band and I had a recording session for a new album and I was reminded, as I am every time we record, just how much preparation plays a role in a successful recording session.
Obviously, you always hope to just show up and the magic will take over, and before you know it, you’re going platinum. Sure, spontaneous magic can definitely happen in the recording studio — but in my experience, it’s almost always facilitated by being above-and-beyond prepared for what you’re going to do.
It’s like going on a camping trip. You can just strike out into the woods anytime, but you’ll probably do a lot better if you have a route planned out, know how to store your food to keep bears away, and have a vague idea where the shortcut you’re taking is going to send you.
Here are a few tips for upping your practicing game every day. But getting ready for a recording session requires doing things a little differently, so here are a few quick tips for how to make the most of your time in the studio:
1. Must-Haves vs Nice-to-Haves
Give yourself a very clear sense of what you’re hoping to accomplish and discuss it with your engineer(s) ahead of time. For me, that looks like setting some clear “Must-Haves” (e.g. all the bass tracks for the entire album) and then a few “Nice-to-Haves” (e.g. a random track of all of us hollering like banshees). Accomplish the “Must-Haves” first and then allow yourself to go crazy on the “Nice-to-Haves” with whatever time you have left.
2. Take advantage of recording magic
It’s amazing how you can play something perfectly 20 times in a row and then the moment someone switches on a mic, it all goes down the drain. One of the ways we dealt with this was by taking particularly challenging parts of songs and either breaking them into multiple tracks or separating them out and then re-splicing them together after. It takes all the pressure off getting one perfect take, start to finish.
3. Set an agenda a week in advance
“Wait, we’re musicians, we don’t write agendas.” Ok, but that’s a great way to ensure you don’t get anything done. Being a good musician sometimes requires a little business sense, and I’ve found a clear agenda can really help. Knowing exactly what order we’re going to record in can make the whole thing so much smoother and more efficient. And laying it out a week in advance gives your bandmates and engineer a chance to prepare, make suggestions, or consider alternate approaches.
4. Practice with a click track
Seriously — it’s so easy to think you know a song perfectly, but then suddenly you have to play it with headphones on and an annoying click in your ear and the whole thing falls apart. When you’re practicing, try to replicate the environment you’ll encounter at your recording studio as much as possible. It’ll help worlds when you actually get in there.
5. Schedule time for experimentation
We all know that the true soul of a record comes alive in that final crazy idea you throw in at the very end of your session — so plan for it a little bit. Go outside with a microphone and capture field recordings or create an interlude jam session. Your engineer will probably freak out if you spring this on them last minute — so be sure to add it to your agenda in advance.
We followed these tips and we managed to capture eight complete songs, about five unformed ideas, and a couple experimental pieces that we’re probably going to end up using. All in about 8 hours. That’s definitely a personal best.
Give these tricks a try and then start brushing up on your touring skills to go hit the road in support of your killer new album!
For those interested, this is our last album: