Are you the truth in the booth?
Ok, so you wrote the words to the song. You rehearsed it over and over. You rehearsed it under your breath and out loud. You even read it to a friend. Finally after hours of editing, scratching out, deleting, and re-writing, you’ve got the lyrics right where you want them. It’s STUDIO TIME!
The studio is the place where we lay it all out. We bear our very souls and are immortalized in time. The dead remain among the living by way of the things they recorded. The legend of the great Bob Marley. The eloquent teachings of Malcolm X. The soul haunting voice of Billy Holiday.
All recordings are literally records. Time Stamps. Like photographs, they mark the mood of a moment. Like time machines, songs can take you back to the past like it was yesterday. A vibration engrained in your memory. Like a groove in the vinyl.
Needless to say, the studio must not be taken lightly. Serious musicians should prepare diligently before entering the booth. We at Soul Trust Records have spent many years studying the science of recording and engineering music and we’d like to share the knowledge we’ve gained. Here are some key elements to consider in order to get the most out of each recording session.
BEFORE THE STUDIO
The writing process is strongly connected to the recording process. Whenever a professional musician writes he/she has the studio in mind. They don’t wait until they get there to start putting the song together. Remember: You are a professional. You want to show others that you take your career seriously by always being prepared.
This goes without saying, but write the rhyme before you get there. After all, it’s called a recording studio, not a writing studio. Not to say that you can’t write in the studio at all, but if you are paying for it, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s better for you and for the engineer when you already know your song. It gives you more time to work on the actual recording.
Learn your song. Get familiar with how it sounds out loud. Rehearse it to yourself and in front of others if possible. Be able to comfortably perform it. Have the song prearranged into all its parts (chorus, verses, bridge, etc.) Know all the bar measurements. The more you help the engineer, the more they can help you.
Pick the right studio for you. Do a little research. Find out the hourly rates and services they provide. Ask around. If you hear a recording from another musician, and you like the mix, ask them who did it. Inquire about engineers with good reputations. From there you can shop around until you find the perfect studio for you.
AT THE STUDIO
So now you’ve found the ideal studio. The session has been scheduled and the time has come to record.
Time is money so be on time. Studios can lose profits due to tardiness. Scheduling means everything to an engineer. Building up a rep for being late makes studios not want to book you, and is the opposite of professional. Whatever time you set is the time you should honor.
Now, we understand that the music industry is pretty much synonymous with substance abuse. But if you MUST smoke and drink, try to hold that until after you record. Many people feel that being a lil’ toasty or tipsy in the booth enhances their studio experience. But we’ve found that to be a myth. Cottonmouth and slurred speech are never your friends when performing on the mic. Being under the influence while making music leads to inconsistencies in your recordings. Not to mention how smoke damages studio equipment over time. In general, it’s just better to be clear minded.
Prepare your vocal instrument before each session. Drink some hot tea with honey. Suck on a lemon. Eat some soup. Be well rested. If you are a singer, practice your scales. Get your voice in tune. Erykah Badu said before she performs on the mic, she eats some potato chips to oil her throat. Do whatever it is you do to get your voice ready.
Having a good relationship with your engineer is paramount. If your engineer doesn’t like you or your music, they probably won’t give you their all. Pick someone who seems to love what they do. When shopping for an engineer, be sure to find out what genre(s) of music they specialize in. Recording and mixing R&B is different than recording and mixing Hip Hop. Different genres require different skills.
Ideally you want an engineer who gives you honest feedback, not someone who will just let you record some garbage. Although the engineer didn’t compose the song, they still have a HUGE effect on how the song comes out. Be open to suggestions and criticism. Don’t get upset, rather consider what the engineer is trying to say. You don’t have to agree.
Learn studio etiquette and techniques. It’s helpful to have an overstanding of how to punch-in, do adlibs and double – ups, etc. Again, this is also where knowing the bar measurements, and how the song is arranged comes into play. Imagine you were paying a tailor to make you a suit, but the tailor had to guess what size you wear. The tailor can’t work like that- and neither can the engineer.
You need to be clear about what you want. Does the engineer need to set up to record any instruments or just vocals? Are you recording the hook first? Does the engineer need to extend the beat? Do you need a copy of the wav files to take to another studio for mixing? These are the kinds of things you should know. The engineer is not a mind reader. Communication is key.
Don’t allow others to detract from your session. Recording a song is an intimate affair. Don’t let Joe, Bob, Susie, Jim, and Tony sit in on your session unless they have a reason to be there. If they must be present, make sure they understand not to cause distractions. Try to only have people there who are either in the song, or are there to provide guidance while recording.
Whenever you record, have the engineer make you a show version of the track (a track with the main vocals muted). It saves you a lot of trouble to simply get the show track up front, rather than waiting until you have a show. Come prepared with a thumb drive to receive your copy of the song.
Don’t expect the recording engineer to do a dynamic mix of your song for free. Most recording engineers will do a rough mix for you to take with you, however they usually expect further compensation for mixing, mastering, etc. In fact, in the industry, it is uncommon to have a song that is recorded, mixed and mastered all by the same person.
There are many other factors that contribute to a professional studio recording session, but these are the core elements. If you consider yourself a REAL musician, and you implement these practices into your artist development regiment, you are sure to have increased success in your career.