Stop the insanity! Engineer and recording studio owner Travis Harrison constantly sees bands sabotaging themselves in the studio. Want to make better recordings? Know the secrets.
1. IF YOU’RE ON A BUDGET, DON’T BE TOO AMBITIOUS
The majority of the bands I work with are on a limited budget. If you can only afford two days of studio time, it probably isn’t in your best interests to attempt to record and mix your entire 45-minute live set.
Speak frankly with the engineers and producers you are working with. Make a realistic plan. Focus on fewer songs and get them right. I’m all for moving quickly and efficiently. But maybe it isn’t wise to lay down seven basic tracks when you can only afford to complete three.
Schedule some rehearsal time specifically focused on preparing your music for the recording studio. Perhaps your producer or collaborator will be at the rehearsal. Record these rehearsals. The most primitive recording apparatus usually works fine. Listen back together.
- Is the singer out of tune? Try the song in a different key.
- Is the intro too long or are the transitions between sections clumsy? Tighten, expand or polish your arrangements.
- Is the drummer slowing down? Use a metronome to pick and practice a definitive tempo that works.
- Does the song sound cluttered? Everyone doesn’t always have to be playing all the time. Maybe the second guitar player should lay out in the verses.
- Does the track need something else? Plan your overdubs.
The more you can prepare before you enter the studio and the clock starts running, the smoother and more fun the sessions will be.
3. DON’T PLAY/SING STUFF THAT YOU CAN’T PLAY/SING
If there’s a guitar lick, vocal riff or drum fill that feels way too difficult, that probably means that it sounds way too difficult. Have the good sense and humility to edit your parts and performances before you enter the studio, waste precious time and money, and attempt many many takes of something that is unrealistic.
Keep it simple. Sometimes the problem is fundamental. Often songwriters will write songs that are difficult for them to sing. Embrace your limitations as well as your strengths, and choose or write material that will showcase how awesome you are.
4. DON’T SHORTCHANGE MIXING
Often bands will spend a lot of time tracking, then get hung up when it comes time to mix. They either try to jam pack a half-dozen mixes in one day, or get obsessed with one mix at the expense of others.
Know what you want, communicate clearly with your engineer about how best to accomplish this. Maintain focus without developing tunnel vision. Keep an open mind. Talking, laughing, eating and constant commentary from the peanut gallery can often distract your engineer’s ears and detract from the efficiency of your session. And time is money.
P.S. It may not be in the best interests of your recording to have the entire band attend the mixing sessions.
5. DON’T SHORTCHANGE MASTERING
Don’t underestimate the power of a top-notch mastering job. I’ve seen bands release unmastered mixes on MySpace, CDRs, even manufactured CDs or iTunes. BIG MISTAKE. No matter how sweet the final mix sounds, compare it to other mastered records. It should compete, it should sound good on a mix tape next to your favorite stuff, it needs to be mastered. Budget it in from the beginning.
Can you suggest any secrets that would help bands in the studio?
Travis Harrison owns and operates Serious Business Music, a bustling New York City recording studio, production facility, and record label.