Barry Gardner is the sole mastering engineer at SafeandSound
So you have booked your recording dates and hopefully they are a few weeks off so you can make preparations to get the most out of investment. Preparation for recording makes a lot of sense because it means you will get better value out of your recording sessions. It can save you time and avoid annoying delays and problems which eat into your creative time which you have paid for. Less problems means the audio engineer can spend more time on getting a better sound through microphone placements than worrying about other practicalities. All these small considerations can have a psychological impact on all involved in your sessions and make things progress more smoothly and calmly, and that has a value.
Firstly it almost goes without saying that your material should be well rehearsed, focus on the problem sections of any tracks that you have written and ensure that all the band members are comfortable and confident with their performance of the tracks to be recorded. Try and work through sticky sections carefully and supportively with band members who are having difficulty.
Many recording gripes can arise through avoidable instrumental issues. Follow these pointers in order to ensure that your instruments and equipment are in tip top shape for recording. A good sound engineer will identify issues before a recording starts or during taking level but this can take valuable time from the session and they are often easily avoided.
1) Consider changing your guitar strings 2-3 weeks before recording, this often results in subjectively better guitar tone. Although do bear in mind that the tone of an acoustic guitar for example may brighten and possibly suffer string squeak. So if you like a warmer tone you may actually wish to keep the existing ones on. Always stretch the strings out once they have been replaced and wear them in by playing the guitar daily. Checking these things in advance pays dividends and makes for a smoother, delay free session. Ensure that any pedal boards are in good order and that everything is firmly in place and that there are no squeaks or electronic / patch cabling gremlins.
2) It is suggested drummers replace their drum heads some weeks before recording and ensure the drum kit is well tuned and that all hardware is firmly in place and not rattling/squeaking. (including your kick drum pedal, lubricate if required) Take a drum tuning key with you to the session and possibly some moon gel to dampen resonances. It is important to get all instruments sounding as good as possible as if they do not sound great to the ear they won’t sound great on the recording itself.
3) Any amplifiers for keyboards and electric guitars should be checked out for hums and buzzes, if your amp has a problem get it serviced before you record. This will keep the recording noise floor down and it will sound more professional on fades, intros and quiet decaying sections. It will mean less noise reduction is required during the mixing stage. All audio leads should be of high quality and checked for crackling and intermittent connection.
4) Keyboard players are not excluded, you can check for hums and buzzes emanating from your equipment and a great tip is to ensure that your keyboard is working on both the left and right outputs of the stereo pair. Make sure the engineer records your stereo keyboards in stereo, then you have options to manipulate the sounds stereo image in the mix down. If your keyboards and synths have issues, broken keys, scratchy filter pots etc. get them repaired at the service centre.
5) Vocalists should be keeping themselves out of harms way in the run up to a recording session. A bad cold, throat infection or the flu is not going to do your vocal performances any favours at all so try and avoid catching a cold as much as possible. This reduces the likelyhood of cancelling the session and possibly losing deposit money. Keep your voice in tip top condition, be well rehearsed and do any voice excercises in the weeks running up to strengthen the voice. rehearse and perfect any tricky vocal phrases.
6) Ensure you wear comfortable clothing in the studio that considers likely temperature. Make sure you can strip off to just a vest if need be and also take something to keep warm. Making sure you are comfortable will likely make your performance better. Also ensure you have plenty of your favourite drinks available to keep hydrated. It is well documented that dehydration will affect both mental and physical performance.
7) Guitarists should ensure they have their tuner, pedal boards, plectrums, spare leads and spare strings and any other items that help make a performance smooth and professional.
8) Make sure you inform the recording engineer of your line up and kit inventory so he or she knows what to expect. Ensure you have had a chat with the engineer to discuss your musical style and requirements. This will be highly appreciated and a good engineer will make mental and practical preparation for the session. This might include microphone and DI choices, room set up and how he wishes to order the lines running into the control room. Getting the recording engineer on your side is a sure fire way to have mutual respect from the outset and ensure a smooth running and friendly recording session.