Survival Tips For The Recording Studio First Timer
Don’t take it for granted – this is your chance to create history
So you’re heading into the studio to lay down your first single, EP or, if you’re lucky, a debut album. With the rise of the home studio artist and the copious amounts of completely affordable portable studio equipment available, the recording studio is slowly becoming more of a luxury for those who can afford it, rather than a necessity for bands and artists to make an impact.
With that said, the act of recording in a fully equipped recording studio complete with separate drum rooms, vocal booths and all manner of acoustic treatments certainly has its merits and if you get the opportunity to record in one, with an engineer and producer, you should jump at the chance.
Not only are you investing in the great sounds, gear and aura that recording in a studio environment yields, but you also get the experience behind the engineer, assistant and the producer – plus it’s awesome!
If it’s your first time in the studio whether with a producer or not, there are a few things you need to remember before you step foot inside your new “home” for the next few hours/days/weeks.
Know your parts
I can’t stress this enough. You absolutely must learn all your parts before you step foot in the studio. Not everyone can afford the luxury of spending 6 months in a studio to try and write their next album; you need to be able to walk in, sit down and lay your tracks down in 2-3 takes confident in the knowledge you’ve learned to play your guitar/drum/bass/vocal part completely.
Of course there will be room for experimentation, but going in to the studio not knowing what you’re going to play, or not being able to play what the song requires, will result in a less than awesome performance and waste everyone’s time. No one wants to try and watch a guitarist try and nail a solo for the 15th time. The better you know your parts the more you can relax and nail a good take.
Respect the producer but trust your instincts
If you’ve hired a producer, or rather a producer has agreed to work with you, you’re employing them to become another member of the band. This is important to remember as they will want to be hands on, so let them. For a first timer, someone else other than their closest circle disagreeing with them will be hard to handle, but it’s important to remember that they want what is best for the song or album and that you have employed them to do a job and record you in the way they do. You don’t buy a Fender Stratocaster and expect it to sound like a Les Paul the same way that you don’t employ Mike Crossey (1975, Arctic Monkeys) if you want him to record you like the great Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Idlewild).
With that said, the producer, just like the rest of your band members, is there to collaborate. If you don’t like the sound of something, fight your corner, and trust your own instincts. If you’re a heavy metal band and the album is starting to sound like Katy Perry, have a word. Remember the producer is never trying to sabotage your album, they’re trying to get the best out of you and the record so work with them on it, not against them. Sometimes what you think is your worst song can be the album’s standout track.
Time is money
Whether you’re a signed band or not, the studio you’re recording in will cost money. The producer and engineer will be paid for their time and it won’t be cheap. You may not have to pay anything up front but believe me when I say the record label will be keeping note of the bill. You need to get in and get out within your allotted time.
People have schedules to keep to and a delay in recording because your singer has overdone it the night before, or you haven’t learned your parts, will not only cost money because you have to go back to the studio but will also set back release dates, artwork design, PR campaigns, interviews…you name it. Even if you’re unsigned, failure to record within your time frame means you walk out with an unfinished record or have to fork out for more costly studio time.
Gone are the days of excess and “rock n roll” lifestyle – you’re there to do a job, so do it and don’t show up late because last night’s Sambuca is rearing its ugly head again.
The studio is yours to use, use it
You’ve paid for the studio so use every part of it. If you want to record guitars outside or put the drums on the roof (and it’s safe to do so) then do it! Experimentation is the key to getting good sounds, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Found an amp or a new pedal in the store room and have a spare 10 minutes? Use that time to test out the new gear, you might just find that sound you’ve been looking for.
The engineer and any assistants are there to help
The engineers and their assistants are there to help set up and get the best sound out of the equipment. Often assistants are working for zero pay, so the same rule applies here as when it comes to being nice to the people who make your food. Namely, never annoy someone who has the ability to ruin your day. Be polite, respect their job and they’ll swap out a crackly lead for a good one when it comes to recording your bass parts.
Late nights will happen
Recording is rarely a 9-5 thing and some of the best magic often happens during anti-social hours. To make an EP in the week you’ve booked the studio for might mean that you have to work late into the night and early into the morning, so just be prepared. Everyone is tired, not just you. Deal with it and get the job done.
Use Your down time
When you have down time in the studio, it can get boring (unless you’ve got Mariokart 64, then it just becomes the best day ever). Remember what I said about knowing your parts? If you’ve got a spare hour whilst the bass player lays down his parts, use that time to practice or create a new part. A studio can have a knack for bringing out the creative process and inspiration will come and go, so grab it when you can.
Have all your gear/spares etc.
In any good studio, there will be a variety of equipment at hand, and often producers will bring things with them too. By all means use this stuff, but remember there is no substitute for your own gear – you know it well, so don’t think swapping out your Epiphone Dot for a Fender Stratocaster is going to sound amazing straight away – it will sound weird because you’re not used to it. If you have a go-to amp or guitar use that, and overdub with other instruments. Bring spares too, it’s up to you to provide strings, plecs, new underwear – not the producer, engineer or assistant.
Together or track by track
The “sound” of your record is vital. Do you want a live sound reminiscent of 5 musicians in a room or a more precise, controlled feel? There’s a lot to be said for recording live, take after take, but recording track by track on your own is also a viable option. The likes of Black Sabbath recorded their debut album live (in a day too!) and that turned out pretty well!
Relax and Enjoy it!
This is probably the most important part of the studio experience. You need to enjoy it. Relax and take everything in.
The studio should not be a cold, heartless place, but rather an inspiring environment full of creativity. So try and create the perfect space for you. Lighting really helps – cold harsh light is no good for anyone. I always found fairy lights and lamps helped create a nice atmosphere. The more relaxed you are the more comfortable you’ll be.
This should be a stress free and memorable experience that not everyone will get the opportunity to experience. So have fun and record your own piece of history!
About Lee Glynn
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EP’s/singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.
Here are some fun facts:
- Before moving to the UK, Lee used to host a radio show in Australia at the age of 18. Lee presented the unsigned bands segment at Twin Cities FM in Perth, WA.
- Sound Of Guns enjoyed a short but successful career in music with many of their songs being used in television adverts, sports channels and the extremely successful videos Road Bike Party and We are Not Crazy We are Amazing.
- He also can’t play bar chords due to an accident so learned to play power chords by studying Black Sabbath songs and Tony Iommi’s playing style.