Nail Your Next Recording Session with This Handy Pre-Production Guide
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Over the years, we’ve recorded tons of musicians—from new artists to seasoned pros. And we’ve learned that things go much more smoothly and efficiently (in terms of time and money) for bands who spend a little extra prep time before their sessions.
We know it’s easy to miss details when you’re busy rehearsing your material. So, to help you think ahead, we’ve compiled this pre-production guide for you based on previous experience with a wide range of clients. Enjoy!
Please know you can always reach out to us for a free 1-hour consult to talk about your next project…and reach out to us if you have additional suggestions. We’re here to help each other make amazing music.
Conversations to have with your producer/engineer before your session:
Develop a Recording Game Plan
You’ll need to agree on the number of songs you’ll record and mix. And you’ll likely come into your session with a rough time estimate and budget. It can also be helpful to give your producer/engineer your equipment list. Which instruments will you record? What gear will you bring? What gear will you need provided for you? This will help everyone be more organized.
Be Open to Ideas from Your Producer/Engineer
Beware of preconceived notions you may have about how the recording process will go. Your production team may bring fresh ideas or approaches that will get you a better end result. Consider if there are particular expectations you have for how your sessions will go and talk to your producer/engineer about them.
Agree How Decisions Will Be Made
Discuss with your bandmates how your group will make decisions during your recording and mixing sessions. Is one person in charge of decisions and providing feedback? Or is each musician responsible for their parts and/or giving input on the bigger picture? Consider how you can work as a group to be efficient and minimize distractions or lost time during your sessions.
Consider these things for each song you plan to record:
Is Your Song Finished?
Without a doubt, your recording session will go faster and more smoothly if your songs are complete when you arrive at the studio. This means, among other things, that each piece has:
A clear structure and arrangement
An established intro/outro
Complete and rehearsed solos
An ideal starting tempo
But don’t worry if your songs aren’t finished! It is common for us to work with clients who are looking for more comprehensive help arranging and producing their songs. It can often be well worth the additional time it takes to nail down the details while in the studio.
Do You Have A Plan for Any Supplemental Instrumentation?
Maybe you’d like to add additional instrument parts by people who aren’t in the band, like horns, a keyboard, or other elements to round out your mix.
If possible, line your players up in advance of recording. If not, talk to your producer in advance and see if they can arrange to bring in a session player. They can likely help direct the session player if you need help with that, too.
Do You Plan to Record a Cover Song or Use Samples?
Think ahead about any rights you may need to secure to use a cover song or samples. Here are two licensing resources to check out:
Have You Made Demo Tracks?
Making casual recordings of your songs in the band room before hitting the studio can be an eye-opening experience. Smartphone voice recorders make this easier than ever. Your recording doesn’t need to be super-high quality. Just good enough for you to be able to hear the parts and the overall performance.
Evaluate vocals: Is your phrasing clear and articulate?
Check your performance for any rough spots that need extra practice.
Also, consider rehearsing with one or more players sitting out. This will force you to hear your parts differently and notice problems—and opportunities— that would otherwise be masked by the whole band’s sound. It will also ensure you know your way through the song without all of the usual instrument cues and prepare you to track your instrument individually without the whole band.
Give the producer your demo recordings to listen to in advance. We’ve found that these recordings can be more illustrative about the sound or feel you’re going for than words.
Instrument Checklist for Your Recording Session:
It’s super-common that you’ll pack up your gear for your session only to discover you’ve forgotten something important.
Bring the tonics you need to keep your voice fluid and hydrated: lots of water, tea, etc.
Take care of your voice a few days before going in to record.
Don’t be afraid of doing warm-ups in the studio. They are essential to get your best performance.
Change strings a few days in advance and play them so that your tuning stays stable.
Make sure your instrument is set up, intonated, and ready to go
Pedal board? Bring a stack of 9V batteries or a power brick (better than AC, which tends to be noisy in recordings).
Bring nail clippers, picks, strings, capo, and any other accoutrements to the session.
Tune your drums in advance.
Have a drum key on hand so you can tune them again on-site, as needed.
Check that you have good heads on the kit.
Listen for rattles and squeaks (especially pedals) and try to eliminate them.
Be prepared to take advice about capturing a good recording of your drums, which may differ from the live sound and tuning you’re used to.
Electronic Parts and Keyboards
Know what you plan to do and how you want to execute it.
Have all settings worked out in advance.
Have any sequences and patches programmed in advance.
Using Gear That’s Not Your Own
Your recording location may have gear on-site that you can use. Have a conversation in advance with your engineer/producer to find out what’s available. You may not need to lug that big bass cabinet!
If you borrow gear for recording, make sure you’ve had time to play it so you’re comfortable.
Using a new keyboard or synth? Definitely allow time to experiment to get the settings right.
By following these suggestions you can eliminate some of the most common time drains folks experience during recording sessions. If you know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it, you’ll avoid running into most of the problems that can impede your process. And, most importantly, you’ll have a better final recording to show for it.
Download a PDF version of this Guide for Future Reference:
Is there any piece of advice you wish you’d known before doing your first recordings? Let us know, so we can share with others!
And if you’d like to consult about recording, please reach out. Our first one-hour consultation is always free.
If you’re looking for a producer or engineer, we’d love to help you create the perfect game plan. Whether you want to record in the studio, at a live show, on a live stream, on your own front porch, or anywhere else you can think of, we’re here to make your recorded music sound amazing.
Sean Flora & Petra Eloise Manis
Field Trip Recording
P.S. For more helpful recording tips, join our email list!
Want to learn more about what best fits your project and goals? Contact us today for a Free Consult and let’s talk about the possibilities.
Field Trip exists to record people where they live and play, where they feel at home or where they escape to focus on the music and leave the rest of the world behind. Our mobile recording unit, built in a 1984 Rainbo Bread delivery van, is a house-call studio, control room on wheels, and wandering green room. And it’s at your disposal.