Tips For Your First Recording Session
First and Foremost: Focus on your Songs
The greatest recordings in the world are the greatest songs. If you have a pile of hit songs, trust me - you will have success in the studio. If all of your songs need some work, the recording process is going to be laborious and frustrating. Everything from tracking to editing to the mix is going to be so much easier if the song is good, and the arrangement is compelling. The greatest production/recording/editing/mix in the world can’t save a bad song, so I really urge you to make sure your songs are ‘ready’ to be recorded before you hit the studio.
Of course the definition of a good song is different for every genre of music, but if you have a great song, it won’t be long before people let you know it.
Second: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Preproduction goes a long way once you actually start recording in the studio. When you are on the clock and every minute counts, and having done your homework before hand (such as knowing which key fits the singers voice the best, which tempo the song needs to sit at, what the arrangement is, what the song structure is, what the instrumentation is, who is playing what part where, etc) will save you lots of time and money when you are actually in the studio. If you are a solo artist, make sure you have proper charts for the session musicians, and if you don’t know how to make charts, hire someone who does. Last but not least, make sure you hire the right guys for the job. Just because your buddy plays drums and was in a studio once does not make him fit to be a 'for hire' session player!
Practice with a metronome (a click track) and develop a good sense of timing/groove. Poor timing/groove is one of the main sources of editing, which eats up a lot of studio time. If you and the band are completely in the pocket the whole time you won’t have to spend any time ‘fixing’ these things, which means you have more time for tracking and mixing. Most people don’t realize this, but I would bet about half of most artists/bands studio budget is most likely going to go to ‘fixing’ their performance (timing, tuning, pitch, etc). The better you are coming in, and better you can execute your parts/songs, the cheaper your recording is going to be, and the better the end product will be.
Also, you really have to be honest with yourself and your abilities. If you just started playing your instrument and joined a rock band of beginners, its not likely that your band’s recording is going to come out sounding like the Foo Fighters (who have been playing together for over 20 years and have arguably some of the greatest rock musicians alive in the band, plus virtually unlimited time and money to spend on their record).
Most importantly, if you have a limited budget (and, let's be honest, who doesn't?) you need to spend it wisely. If your band has a budget of $1000 and you are trying to make a full record, it isn’t going to happen. Quality recordings take time and money, and there is no easy way around it. So, if you do have a limited budget, focus on making something great - even if its just a single song. Quality over quantity is so important in this industry, because at the end of the day the people buying your records aren’t going to know how much you spent on making your record, or how long it took you to make it. If you or your band only has $3000- $5000 dollars, don’t try to do a full record. Do a couple of great singles or an EP rather than stretching it too thinly. You will be much happier with the end result because you will have 2-5 songs that you can be really proud of rather than 10-12 songs that you are on the fence with how they turned out.
Last but not Least: Don't Forget About Mixing
Often, artists/bands only budget for ‘tracking/recording’. In the end, the ‘mixing' costs will most likely be at least equal to the time you spent tracking - especially if you want an end result you can be really proud of. A mix can really make or break a song, and in lots of cases, can even save poor recordings. Make sure you leave a decent portion of your budget for mixing. After all, what good are days/weeks/months spent in the studio if the end result that people hear is mediocre because you couldn’t afford a get a great mix of your album done?