6 THINGS YOU LEARN WHILE RECORDING A STUDIO ALBUM

Cowbell in the studioThe studio.
Such a glamorous and misunderstood beast.
You’ve googled the crap out of it…

“recording an album,” “what to bring to the studio,” “how to prepare for the studio,”
or…. “what Instagram filters take the best pretentious studio shots?”, “do craft beers clog up my vocal chords?”  …and you’re about as read up on it as could be.

Anticipation is building. You’re taking one gigantic leap toward indie-stardom just by booking the studio space.  But hold up a second. There is a whole bunch of stuff nobody is telling you.  Keep reading to find out what those things are how to deal with each of them prior to your studio time.

Here’s what you’re going to learn…

1. Who in your band isn’t serious about the band

Let’s be honest, everyone has a different level of buy-in to the band. Naturally the lead vocalist and songwriters have the more vested interest while the other members wax and wane. Nothing brings this out more than dropping thousands of dollars on studio time and find out out one (or more) band members are MIA for the first day of recording.

Here are signs that someone in your band isn’t taking it seriously:

-They came unrehearsed.
-They use language like “That’s good enough” and “I can’t remember what I played before” and “I’m getting tired.”
-They’re the first one to head home. “Let’s call it an early night.”
-They don’t participate in discussion. When directly asked their opinion they respond with “Um. Whatever. It’s fine.”
-They’re texting/snapchatting more than they’re listening.

Invested members of the band care what the final product will be and realize it’s a reflection of themselves, their creativity. They care that other members of the band are laying down the tracks of their lives and if not, will support them until they do. It’s less about the individual and more about the band.

2. You should have spent more time on your licks and/or fills

Ugh. We all feel this way from time to time. Life gets busy and studio bookings sneak up on you. Before you know it you’re hauling your gear to the space and you can’t even remember the chord changes.

Any musician – no matter how good – will break down if their cuts sound terrible.

How do you prevent this?

Simple. Book rehearsal times as a band and strongly encourage individual practicing once the studio time is set in stone. In fact, make it a habit that whenever you book studio time you immediately book rehearsal time and hold everyone accountable. If you can’t find suitable rehearsal time, then push back your studio time and learn more about getting the most of your studio time.

3. Who can play with a metronome and who can’t

A metronome is an acquired taste. Nothing is more frustrating than placing the click and having the musicians sway back and forth over it like a drunk walking a straight line. The purity of the metronome cannot be bent toward human fallibility. It’s is true, unwavering and virtuous.

You’ll never love the click, but you better respect it.

Tips for getting your band ready for the click:

-Determine the tempo of each song you’re recording and provide the BPM and time signatures to each band member.
-Play with a metronome that everyone can hear during rehearsals. Not just the drummer and bassist – everyone needs to hear it. Everyone is responsible for staying on tempo.
-Make sure everyone has a metronome for their individual practicing. There are good ones in the AppStore and Google Play for free (or almost free). I use Pro Metronome from the iOS AppStore.
-Recording it live off the floor (when the whole band, or a large part of it, is recorded at the same time)? You still need that single point of reference to keep everyone honest. Don’t cheat on the metronome.

4. How to objectively talk to each other about their parts

We all hold our parts dear. They’re extensions of us and our ability. Our babies, if you will. Telling your band mate they have an ugly baby is tough.

You’ll be in the control room listening to a buddy put his heart on tape and suddenly it’s an episode of WipeOut. All these obstacles are in front of people and someone is bound to get hurt. I’ve seen guys walk out of sessions before because they were unfairly criticized and treated disrespectfully.

How do you prevent this?

-Call a band meeting.
-Talk about how the studio will work and set everyone’s expectations.
-Get touchy-feely. Talk about your communication styles and how each member likes to be communicated with.
-Pump each other’s tires. When someone knows you respect or admire them, they’re less likely to get hurt by your criticism.

5. How you sound to others

We all have what I call the “head bias.” You’ve only been hearing what you’re playing/singing inside your head as you’ve been playing it. In other words, you haven’t recorded and listened back to yourself before.

This is a self-awareness piece. You might think you’re Barry White until you hear playback from an answering machine. The concept is that it’s much harder to be objective if you don’t step back from your parts and listen.

What do you do? Record each individual part (or if you’re on a time crunch record the whole band at once) with simple software like Garageband and listen to it. You might think your part is amazing but when you step out and listen to it in context you might find that it’s not as good as you thought. That’s alright, come up with something new or adjust what you already have. Better you find out now than next month when you’re paying studio time.

6. How good your producer is or isn’t

This is a sad one to find out when you’ve already paid your dues and the producer is sitting behind the console. Ultimately you won’t fully understand how good a producer is until you work with them, but you can still do your homework before hand.

Treat it like you’re getting a reference for a contractor to build a house. Research producers and choose the right one for you.

Who is the right one?

She matches your style – has recorded in your genre before
She has references and material for you to listen to – previous albums and other bands on speed-dial for you to talk to
She is prepared – works with you before you get into the studio, making sure your arrangements are on the money
She is respectful yet honest – you want someone to tell you if it sucks, but in a tasteful way

Respect the studio

What am I trying to say here? The studio deserves more respect than most bands give it. It can be a place that tears bands apart or catapults them to further success. I want you to be the latter.