Updated: May 5, 2021
How To Plan, What You Need, and What To Expect
Renting studio time is often stressful for artists. We ask ourselves questions like, How long do I book my session for? Will I have enough time to finish the whole song? and What if my voice doesn’t sound good that day? The pressure of the clock and the need to keep things moving intimidates us. And, as the stubborn artists we are, we don’t like to be rushed. So how do we fix this problem? Unless you’ve got an unlimited budget, spending an hour on the scratch track isn’t exactly on the to-do list. Luckily for you, I’ve put together some tips that have helped me over the years as an independent artist. Let’s dive into the art of planning, preparing, and managing expectations so that your studio time is time (and money) well spent.
Have a plan
Before you book your time, plan out what you'd like to accomplish during that time. This will help you determine how much time you will need to schedule for your session. Many people often schedule a session and try to cram in too much for the time scheduled. Calculating the amount of time needed ahead of time will ensure that you're not adding extra pressure on both yourself and your producer, and you'll end the session feeling accomplished knowing that you were able to complete everything on your list. Here's some things to consider while you're planning.
What do you want to accomplish during your time? What are your goals?
Are you just recording vocals for a single ? Are you trying to track drums for a full record? Is your whole band recording a full song live? The amount of time to complete these different tasks varies.
Account for setup/tear down time
In most cases, setting up and tearing down sessions are part of your session. From an engineering standpoint, it's hard to get set up ahead of time without knowing exactly what you're working with. We recommend accounting for up to 2 hours of setup/tear down time total depending on what you have planned for your session. This includes setting up instruments, microphones, session files, getting levels, dialing headphones, etc. Again, the amount of time to set up and tear down differ depending on what you're looking to accomplish during your session. Recording a single vocalist may only take 20 minutes to set up while recording a full live band could take 1.5 hours.
Communicate with your producer
Take the time to call or email your producer or any musicians attending the session and explain what you're looking to get done ahead of time. Getting everyone on the same page will help you all prepare, and keep the session moving, and allow you to manage your time effectively. Doing so will also give you an opportunity to address any potential questions or issues so you don't get stuck making changes or catching everyone up during your session.
If you're still not sure how much time you need, just ask. Your engineer/producer should be able to help estimate how much time you'll need to accomplish everything on your list.
Send over any files your engineer or producer may need ahead of time (instrumentals, demo recordings, sessions files, etc.) Allow them time to prepare - help them help you
Make sure to include information such as BPM, key signature, lyric & chord sheets, reference songs or anything else that might be helpful. This might be one of the most important steps. Working out all the information before your session saves loads of time and frustration later.
If you plan on recording that day, make sure you've practiced your parts, warmed up, and have all the necessary tools to get your job done.
If you're not used to playing with a metronome or "click track", take the time to get yourself comfortable with one. There are many advantages when it comes to recording with a metronome, but most importantly it gives your producer/engineer a lot more control to make your music sound amazing.
Each part of the recording process is different so the items you need for your session might be different depending on what you do (vocalist: tea, throat spray, iPad, headphones, water, etc.)
Show up on time, ready to work. Typically, the clock starts at your sessions start time, not when you show up. Make the most of your time, stay focused, efficient, and keep the momentum going.
Make sure your expectations, your budget, and your scheduling align. By managing these three things appropriately, you will save yourself time, money, and frustration later on.
If you're just starting out, understand that recording and production is a process. Things take time to work through and things may not click right away.
Even when you come prepared and you're ready to work, there are always unexpected setbacks and bad days. Be prepared for and embrace these set backs in the studio, whether they are creative blocks, technical difficulties, or just unproductive days.