Updated: Nov 26, 2022
Photo by Gen Cayer
So you’re planning on recording your songs huh?
You have this deep burning sensation in your soul pushing you to immortalize your creativity by putting it out in the universe in the form of an audio recording?
Well you’ve come to the right place for advice, because here at LOF Audio, our mission is to make your dreams come to life all the while making our job just a little easier!
Follow us on this short but informative journey, where we’ll tell you about the main aspects you should consider taking care of before stepping in the studio, as well as some common mistakes you DEFINITELY want to avoid when preparing to record.
Step 1 - Songwriting and Arrangements
You’ve probably heard some of your favorite artists say in interviews “actually, I wrote that song while in the studio while we were working on the album”.
It’s somewhat a staple of the musician’s life and a subtle brag by the artists that want to show off their creative skills and their monetary resources.
The problem with this situation is that, although it applies to big artists that are signed to major record labels, it doesn’t work quite as well for the little guys who have no funding (and no rich, selfless benefactors).
As you might know, the recording technicians usually charge by the hour for their services and for the renting of the studio, which means that if you’re just starting to write your songs while you’re scheduled to record, you’re bound to go broke in the middle of your session…
To avoid this situation, the best thing to do is to :
Write all your songs prior to booking the studio session;
Have a clear idea of which instruments are used and what structure each song of your project follows;
Have your beat-maker send you all the instruments of the beat individually, and make sure he includes a version of each instrument without effects;
Make sure the tempo and tonality of the song is written in the name of the files you’re sending to your engineer.
All of these steps will ensure that there is no confusion and no wasted time during your studio session.
Remember, time is money, and money runs out really fast when you’re unprepared!
Step 2 - Budget Establishment and Time Management
Now that you’ve made sure that you don’t waste any money, let’s figure out exactly how much money you have!
In order to properly manage our time in the recording studio, we need to know how much time we can afford. That can be done by following those steps:
Determine exactly how much you’re willing to spend on the entire project;
Ask the audio engineer to give you an estimate of how much they charge for:
Every hour of recording
Mixing your project
Mastering your project
The mixing and mastering process usually doesn’t involve a lot of unforeseen extra costs, so it’s safe to assume that the costs the audio engineer sent you are set in stone (or something a little more soft than stone). This means that whatever money is left can be invested in recording time!
Now that you know how many hours you can afford, ask yourself:
“Is this enough for me to finish recording all the parts of my project?”
If the answer is yes, then congratulations! You can proceed to the next step.
However, if the answer is no, you might want to do a little more saving up before heading to the studio.
Step 3 - Communicating with the Recording Engineer
Think of it this way, the recording engineer is the middle point between your ideas and sounds and the final product (which is an album, EP or single).
If they don’t have a clear idea of what you are envisioning for your project, there will ultimately be some ideas that will be lost in translation.
Now, you might be asking “how do I prevent that from happening?”
All you need to do is be as precise and clear with your audio engineer as possible.
Provide them with a concise explanation of what you envision sound wise.
Send them some reference songs that you think match your style, if possible the lyrics, the chords, the keys of the songs, their structures and their tempo/BPM.
Hell, you could even send demos of your songs to them prior to the recording.
It doesn’t even have to be fancy demos; just record yourself playing the final version of your songs on your cell phone and send them over!
Trust me, doing all this will ensure that your project sounds as good as it can be, and it will make sure that the audio engineer wants to work with you again on future projects.
Plus it makes you look like a professional, and you know good well that everyone likes to feel like a pro!
Step 4 - Equipment and Must-Have Tools
Nobody comes to the studio empty-handed.
If you’re a musician, you’ll be carrying your instrument(s), your partitions, your tuner, spare strings, etc.
If you’re a singer/rapper you’ll have your lyrics, your partitions, your computer or anything that as a backup of your tracks if needed and maybe some water/warm drink to help soothe your voice.
Quick trick, make sure that you make a list of all the equipment you’re planning on bringing to the studio before even loading it for the session.
That way, you can check if something is missing or if you’ve forgotten something in the studio space on your way back.
Final step - Instruments and Vocal Preparation
I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me on this one: we all want to sound good on our album.
Sounding “good” is generally something that can be obtained through these three simple principles:
Being in tune
Knowing your song
Maintaining your instrument
Being in tune
In order for the pitch of each instrument to be consistent with each other, musicians have to tune their instruments with tuners.
All stringed instruments can use those little clip-on tuners that go on the headstock, or one of the pedal tuners that you can plug into. At the very least, you can download a free app on your phone and tell the rest of the band to shut up while you’re tuning.
For drummers, tuning is a little more complicated, but still essential in order to have a tight sound. Many drummers like to tune their drums and choose the right components for each song and key.
Knowing your song
Knowing your song implies having to practice.
I know, who wants to do that, right?
Well, think about this: during this studio session, you’re about to capture a recording of what is supposed to be the BEST version of your song.
If you want to immortalize something, you’d want it to be as good as possible, and that means you probably have to do a little rehearsing before the session.
Make sure you start early: try giving yourself a few weeks before the session, you should already have started to rehearse the songs. Through repetition and exercise, you’ll start finding the best ways to play your parts, the difficult segments will start flowing effortlessly and you will feel more comfortable playing every song in your repertoire.
For vocalists, make sure that you know your lyrics well so you don’t stumble and get lost (even if you have your lyrics in front of you).
You should also make sure that you express the right emotions at the right times during your songs. Remember, you’re making a FINAL version here.
Maintaining your Instrument
Finally, you have to make sure your instrument is up to standards for the studio.
Guitars and basses should have fresh strings installed 3 to 5 days before the session, or at least make sure they’re in good playing condition for the studio. Don’t forget also to change your batteries if your instrument needs some;
Every part of the drum should be in good condition, and the moving parts should mostly be noiseless;
Every electric instrument should function properly and without unwanted noise;
Your vocal cords should be rested and healthy, you can do that by not straining your voice right before the session, drinking beverages that are good for your throat and practicing to control your voice long before going to record.
***Note: Some people think that smoking before singing helps give you a raspier voice, but that’s a hoax that ruins many potentially good recordings, so beware of the sudden studio smoking sessions.
If you follow these steps, you’re mostly ready for the studio!
Of course, there’s always going to be some unexpected things you’ll have to deal with, but that’s part of the game of life.
The most important thing to remember is to have good communication skills and to not be afraid to tell people the information they need to know in advance, even if it’s bad news.
Trust me, it’s better to be told bad news you can prepare for rather than finding out at the last minute.
That being said, have fun on your musical journey!
Yazid is a Moroccan-born singer-songwriter, musician and record producer from Gatineau, QC. He joined the LOF Audio team in the fall of 2022 after finishing his college studies in audio production at Recording Arts Canada. He has been writing music for more than five years and has been performing since 2007; he is also currently working on the final touches for his first single and album that are planned to be released in early 2023!