Welcome to the beginning of a new series of blog posts aimed at the indie-musician who does not have a lot of studio experience. I’m going to write about my list of easy studio habits that will save you time, headache and money when you go to record. The ideas I will present are, for the most part, non-technical in nature and very easy to implement. When you are dealing with something that you are not familiar with – in this case the recording studio, engineers, producers and cold-heartless technology – it’s good to have someone give you a heads-up about what to expect and what to do or avoid.
So let’s dive in!
6 strategies to help you save money and time in the studio
As the Boy Scouts say: Always Be Prepared. This can save lives when out in the wild, but when in the studio it can save time and aggravation. Time is money when the clock ticks and when musicians and engineers are sitting around waiting for you to make a decision or figure out a chord progression the money just flies out the door.
So what should you prep before you come into the studio? Here’s a few items:
- know your song before you perform it in front of a studio microphone
- practice with a click so you can perform with a click track
- have the song arrangement worked out
- have professional lead sheets prepared
- have lyric sheets
- know that something will go wrong
Let’s go over each of these points in a little more detail. Some of these strategies may even warrant their very own blog post, but for now I’ll just summarize.
Know your song before you perform it in front of a studio microphone.
Well duh… But you’d be surprised at how many performers go into the studio not really knowing if the song works. You really should workshop your song long before you go into the studio with your songwriter-circle or a coach. Be sure of the lyrics and the melody and be able to play it proficiently. Don’t practice in the the studio unless you own the studio!
Practice with a click so you can perform with a click track.
This is important if you are planning on doing overdubs or if you plan on building your song from different takes. In order for you to line everything up you need to have been playing to a consistent tempo. Playing to a click is not as easy as it might sound and if you’re playing with a band please make sure the drummer can play to a click.
Have the song arrangement worked out.
Have an arrangement mapped out ahead of time. You should talk this over with your band mates or your producer long before you step foot in the studio. It takes a lot of thought to do a good arrangement. If you don’t write notation, at least have a description of what you want the arrangement to be printed next to the lyrics, i.e. in verse 1 just acoustic guitar and bass; verse 2 add the drums, etc…
Have professional lead sheets prepared
If you are planning on having session musicians come in to play on your song then you will need to provide them with lead sheets. Lead sheets are pieces of music that have measure numbers and chord symbols over each measure so that the musicians can play along. At times, lead sheets may have melodic lines written out if the writer wants to have a very specific notation performed. The lead sheet also tells the performers the form of the song, i.e. verse, chorus, bridge. In the control room, a lead sheet can come in handy for the producer to mark takes, arrangement notes or other suggestions. If you can’t write your own lead sheets, you can usually ask one of the guys in the band to create them for a little extra cash.
Provide legible lyric sheets
Just like the lead sheet, a legible lyric sheet can help guide the band, the producer or the engineer through your song. It can be used as a guide to mark multiple takes and help the people in the booth to differentiate between verses and chorus and bridge. You should bring at least 10 copies to the studio.
Know that something will go wrong and be ready
Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Things break, people get sick, drummers get lost, tracks get erased, drummers girlfriends leave them or worse show up and then all work comes to as screaming halt. This will happen, but if you’re prepared for it then the down time will not really be way down. Discuss in advance what the studio’s policy is when their equipment breaks down and make sure you go off the clock. Know what their backup policy for data is and how secure it is. Bring extra strings, drum sticks, harmonicas, etc. Plan on adding 20% more time to your schedule and 20% more money to your budget because just like home improvement, recording always takes longer than you think.
There are definitely more things that you can do to be prepared before you come into the studio and I will address a few more that are wider in scope in a later post. Let me know if there are more things that YOU could add to this list.