Session Tips

MAKING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR RECORDING SESSION

The more everyone understands what is expected in the studio, the better the final product will turn out.  Some musicians get uptight before a session - it can be a very stressful time. Just remember your project is a snapshot in time of where you are right now. It's not a test, there are no right answers, just be yourself and let your vision come to life.  Studios can often seem like very cold places - not Blue Tower Studio. Just because we're on the other side of a glass wall, it can sometimes feel like we're sitting in judgment of your music - we aren't. The glass prevents control room sounds from leaking into the studio mics. If it seems like we're not "getting into it", don't worry, we are paying complete attention and trying to get the best sound possible.  If we hear a mistake, we'll let you know, but we aren't sitting there waiting for you to make mistakes. We're here to help you get your great sound recorded - not to judge your music or your playing.

Tip# 1

Rehearse only the songs that you'll be recording for as much as possible before your session(s). For clean starts, use an 8 beat count-off instead of a 4 beat count-off, with the last two beats silent (Example: 1 2 3 4, 1 2 - - ).  Also, try to get comfortable playing to a metronome beat.  Using a "click track" in the studio is not easy but can give your recordings a more professional sound and greatly facilitate later editing.

Tip# 2

Practice the songs straight through, including intros, endings and dynamics. Rehearse leaving ten to fifteen seconds of silence after the last note of the song has faded. It is extremely important to be absolutely silent while the instruments (particularly drums and guitars) ring out their last notes.  Wait silently for about ten seconds after it sounds like there is nothing left...  Don't ruin your awesome take by celebrating it too early! Same goes for beginnings of songs: before the count off, make sure your cymbals or strings aren't still ringing from the prior take or from practicing.

Tip# 3

Bring extra copies of lyric sheets, chord charts or any other sheet music for the producer and the engineer.  This can be a big time-saver, it gets everyone on the same page, and it will help the engineer know exactly where you mean when you say "the middle of the second chorus".  It will also allow the engineer and producer to make notes on different takes, noting anything that might need attention or a punch-in.

Tip# 4

In general, put new strings on stringed instruments unless you have a special sound that relies on the old crusty strings. Consider having your instrument set up by a pro before you start recording -- nothing is worse than a guitar or bass that won't play in tune because the intonation isn't set properly. If you are using your own drum set, make sure the heads are in good shape and that you can tune your kit well. If you aren't well-versed at tuning drums, consider using the studio kit which is regularly maintained by professionals. If you are using the studio kit, bring all your cymbals, your snare and anything else you think of so we have some options -- using a different snare drum or cymbals on different songs can create some variety. Bring plenty of extra batteries, strings, and cables. A session can be brought to a screeching halt if you have to wait for someone to make an emergency trip to the music store.

Tip#5

Get a good night's sleep and make sure everyone is in a good mood before the session.  The studio has a very open door policy - bring friends if you feel comfortable playing to an audience. But do realize that maybe someone else in the group might not be comfortable doing (for instance) vocals in front of a group of people, and that should be respected in the interest of getting the best performance recorded.

Tip#6

Avoid the temptation of turning up your volume during a session to hear yourself better.  If you can't hear yourself, let the engineer know and we'll adjust the monitor mix.  However do use your volume knob to fade out at the end of a song. 

Tip# 7

Don't jam or fiddle on your instrument between takes or songs. Do tune stringed instruments between takes, and listen for questions or instructions. Staying relaxed is good, but goofing off just wastes everybody's time.

Tip# 8

You may have to change your normal amp settings to get a better sound recorded. Sometimes your stage settings don't work in the studio and we may have to experiment to find your sound - even to the point of switching amps or going directly into the board through a DI box.

Tip# 9

If you make a mistake, don't panic, but point it out at the end of the take. Most of the time, we can "punch in" a re-take later. If one song isn't happening, move on to another song or take a short break. Don't bother with "I'm sorry" or "I'll get it this time." You're just putting more pressure on yourself. Mistakes happen. Just relax and try it again.  If you feel yourself getting tense about a song, ask to take a break. A break after every couple of songs or at least every 2 hours is necessary.  Everyone's ears get tired and a 10-15 minute break will help your senses "reset" to their best potential.  Be open to suggestions and changes. "Screw-ups" sometimes turn out great. Maybe you didn't hit the note you wanted, but the note you hit may be better.  The more options you get recorded the better the chance the "perfect sound" is achieved.

Tip# 10

After the final tracking session, get away from the music for a while, or you won't be able to hear clearly when you mix. Everybody should take a 2 or 3 day break (or longer) before the mixdown session to rest their ears. Listen to groups you like, and try to get a feel for what it is about their sound and their mixes that you like.

Tip# 11

Before the mixdown session, if you received a rough mix, listen to it and make notes on every song. Is it similar in sound to groups you like? Try to pinpoint the differences. Need more bottom on the kick? Less reverb on the vocal? Vocals too loud or soft? More edge on the bass? Move the lead guitar more to the left or right? Before you start the mixdown, we'll go over your notes and try to get the sound you want.

Tip# 12

When you're mixing down, you want a finished product that's as good as any pre-recorded material. Listen to the whole song, not just your part.

Above all, play it like you mean it, and HAVE FUN. Remember, more than anything technical, your attitude will come across on the finished product.