Artist advice: preparation
On the performance side:
It's a good idea to pick the songs, and then pick one or two alternates, in case one isn't going well or you are ahead of schedule and want to try something extra. In the same regard, know which ones to drop if things are running behind. Those aren't decisions you want to have to make under pressure.
If you aren't already, you should record some rehearsals (on anything remotely listenable), and critique and re-arrange ahead of time. Then there are no surprises on first listen in the studio. It's amazing how many arguments occur between band members who claim to have had no idea about that part the other guy is playing THAT THEY REALLY HATE!
It's a good idea to practice the songs without vocals, so everyone knows the structures without having to follow a vocal cue. It is almost always better to record the vocals after the music, as you usually get better and cleaner performances. Not absolutely necessary, but doing both at the same time introduces a number of technical and performance hurdles that are best avoided if it's realistic to do so. Some types of music, such as solo singer acoustic guitarist music, can involve rythmic adjustments between guitar part and vocal part that need to function together organically. Experiment. Don't try to separate these things for the first time at the studio.
It's always worth thinking about song tempos, and agreeing on a reference speed with a metronome. Then you can reference it, if in doubt while recording.
Once the recording plan is in place, it helps for me to get some sort of run down including all the technical aspects (what the instruments, amps and speakers are, number of actual drums in the kit, etc) and your vision of how things should proceed with performance (what overdubs are desired on various songs, how many things get recorded on the first pass, etc).
Don't try anything new or unscripted in the studio unless you have healthy padding in your budget. Examples? A new guitar pedal you've never tried, but bought for the recording the day before. Your girlfriend or boyfriend on unrehearsed backup vocals, which aren't even written and tried. Your cousin you've heard is an excellent organist. You get the idea. Without being too mililtant, some things are safe bets; others aren't.
On the technical side:
Make sure all instruments are in good condition and there are spares of anything depletable, such as strings, batteries, drumsticks, etc. Strings always break 5 minutes after all the stores close. Again, it's amazing how many time I have to make basic repairs to instruments and amps so a session can proceed. There's not enough time, energy, or focus to do all of these things on an emergency basis during a session.
Guitars should take a trip to the shop for a set-up if they haven't had one in recent or known memory, to be sure that intonation is set correctly. Should also get new strings (of same gauge as intonation is set for!) put on at least a day before recording so they can settle in. Otherwise nothing will seem in tune, try as we might.
New drum heads are advised for best sound, but not absolutely necessary. Is best sound of concern to you? Take this one seriously. They won't be cheap, but skimping won't help your record at all either. Drum tuning will make all the difference in the world in the end result. If you can't tune your own drums reliably, have a friend who can come and help. Drums moved to a new room frequently need a tuning adjustment to match the room, so fine tuning once set up always helps. I own drums but don't consider myself a proficient player or technician, and I consider it a bad day when I can tune the drums better than the drummer (slowly, painfully, not necessarily successfully, and on your dime while everyone waits). Bonus points to anyone who can tune drums well enough to re-tune them to the key of each song as we go. That makes a big difference in mix intelligibility.
You've probably noticed I have an upright piano. When it's in tune, it kills most electronic keyboard sounds. Key concept there; 'in tune'. Piano tuning is currently running $100, and it's the only way you will be assured a happy piano that other instruments will tune to. You tune your guitar multiple times a day, a piano shifts around with humidity and temperature also, and should be tuned at least within a few days of a recording, unless you specifically want that discordant bar room piano sound. It must be scheduled well in advance; I will probably not be able to get it tuned on a few days notice.
If the specifics of the vocal tracks are considered important, printed double spaced lyric sheets for me can improve efficiency in discussing problems and changes. Nit-picky vocal overdubs on a long day will be problematic if I can't 'see into the future' with a printed reference. It's a basic communication aid of great importance.
Contact Doug Williams
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