Getting it right on the light

For many artists, the time will come when they are ready to enter into a proper studio environment where someone with a very specialist set of skills will work their magic on polishing and presenting your tunes in the best way possible. If you’re an unsigned artist, studio time can often be very costly, which adds pressure onto getting it right. In this article, we’ll look at some of the common misconceptions about studio sessions.

1. All the gear but no idea

Yes, professional studios often contain a catalogue of expensive, rare of vintage gear. You know the kind of stuff, you’ve seen it in magazines and lusted after it in shops your whole playing career. What’s more, it’s there waiting for you. All you have to do is ask. But while a degree of experimentation is a good thing keep in mind that just because there is a classic Les Paul winking at you, you don’t have to use it. Ask yourself if you are using the equipment for the sounds it creates, or for the ability to tell everyone what otherworldly gear you got to use. The finished recording should always come first; generally, nobody cares about the studio session other than the musicians who were present. Studio time is often expensive, and it’s not fair on your bandmates to spend hours tinkering with a new amplifier or obscure pedal when your own rig has already been tweaked to nail your own tone. Time is money, folks.

2. No quick fix

We’ve all heard the stories about musicians and singers getting themselves out of a tight spot using auto-tuning or other studio trickery. But there really is no substitute for getting it right yourself. Don’t assume that just because you’re shelling out for a professional that he or she will be able to magically fix your sloppy playing or duff notes. Everyone gets occasional red-light fever, but there’s no substitute for good, honest practice. Aside from anything else, you’ll lose the respect of the producer or engineer, and the final product will never sound as natural and authentic if its been slathered with pitch correction tools.

3. Engineers and producers

Despite appearing largely to have similar jobs, and there definitely being some degree of overlap, there are very clear distinctions between producers and engineers. Producers, typically, are hired by a label to deliver a product. They might advise on sounds, song structures, lyrics, direction and other elements which affect the final outcome, hence certain producers having a ‘signature’ sound or genre. Often, producers are involved in the overall management of the band and the relationships within, and can act as a go-between for the band and the label. Engineers, on the other hand, are largely concerned with making the equipment contained within the studio work to its fullest potential. An engineer might be able to tell you which amplifier/microphone combo would help you achieve a certain sound, or why they favour the timbre of certain guitars, but they’d probably not be interested in telling your management why the singer has disappeared off to Honolulu with three dwarves and a suitcase full of cash from your label advance.

4. Party time

One thing the professional recording studio definitely isn’t is a party zone. It’s a serious environment, where some extremely experienced and knowledgable people will try and help your band sound the best it can. Act with respect towards the producers and/or engineers, don’t break their gear, and definitely don’t turn up drunk or otherwise. By listening to their advice, you just might end up with something which can propel you towards your eventual goal.

5. You’ve made it

This is an important one. Any fool can phone a studio and book some time with them. It’s not a closed club with entry requirements. So keep in mind that being scheduled in for a weekend recording session at the local studio doesn’t make you Metallica. What it can be is the start of a journey that leads you to greatness, so for the sake of everyone involved, leave your ego at the door.