The Realities of Recording

by Jon Hasz Nov 2011

Headed into the Studio? Try these tips to save time and tighten up your album!

No matter the music scene, it seems that most bands make the same mistakes in the studio. I’ve learned about these mistakes from the bands that I have been recording, and from making them myself in my first band. These mistakes are typically what separates the polished from the amateur band and a lot of these will also help your stage show.

For the guitarists.    One of your most important responsibilities in the band is so often overlooked. You have six strings, and they will sound terrible if you don’t keep them in tune. This one can get very complex when the younger guitarists don’t quite know about intonation yet. If you don’t know what intonation is, take your guitar to a qualified technician and have them check the neck.Intonation is adjusting the  neck so that it stays in tune all the way up the frets. A cheap guitar will play out of tune the farther you go up the neck. This can contribute to hours of frustration in the studio because you “swear you’re in tune”.

The second oversight for guitarist is the sound coming out of their amp. I see a lot of players out there  assume that because they have a brand name amplifier or because the preset on their effect pedal is named after a famous player, that their tone is a good one. This most often means the opposite. Spend the day listening to reference CDs and tweaking your amp while you sit or stand in front of the speaker. Most often guitarists think that they sound great but never realize that a large percentage of the frequencies go flying past their knees on the ground blowing out  the audience or mic. If there are two guitarists  in the band, you might want to spend some time blending your tones. Find the frequency range where you both shine, but don’t over power each other. Finally, try and practice your parts at either low volumes and/or without the drummer. You’d be surprised how much sloppiness can be covered up with pure volume.

Now for you bassists.  Although I have fewer tips for you, they are equally as important. Again, check your intonation. If you don’t know what that is, have a good tech shop look over your bass. There is nothing more unsettling and harder to pin point than an out of tune bass.

A small tip that could solve  a lot of problems in mixing sessions would be to think through the kind of pick you use.  Harder pics can cause a short treble spike that might not be desirable in certain recordings. As with the guitar, you should think about your tone and what best supports the band. Try to find the frequency that no one else is covering and minimize the frequencies that everyone is in.

For the drummers. Quality drum sounds are a large measure of  a good recording. Experiment with tuning and different heads to find the clearest and punchiest tone for the album. Most engineers do not like editing or  micing  for toms that ring out too long, so do your part to control them. This can be some kind of muffling system take or just tuning them appropriately.

Options are king . If you have any extra drums or cymbals, bring those. If you know other drummers, borrow their snares and cymbals. What works live doesn’t always come across the best in the studio.

Ok this next point is paramount. Metronome. We all hate them but the truth is it could save you hundreds in editing. Metronomes prevent speeding up, slowing down, sloppy fills, and sloppy intros and outtros. They are a necessary evil in the studio, so spend your time up front getting use to it. Don’t underestimate how difficult this can be. It might not take much practice to play along with the metronome, but playing naturally can take years.

For the band.  Pre-production recordings aren’t always necessary or available but simple recordings of a practice can give you the feedback that you need. A lot of money can be wasted on changing song structure, harmonies, and melodies in the studio.

When you schedule your recording, make sure to allow some time to listen to the recording between sessions. Something that sounded flawless the night before could sound horrible the next day. Ear fatigue, enthusiasm, and anxiety can all color your perception.

The final tip I can give you, is that you should never expect the studio or engineer to “fix it all in post”. Relying on someone’s editing capabilities can kill the performance of the song. You should try for perfection in all takes and in all recording if it is within means. Beware of auto tune and beat detective. They are everyday tools in the industry but can lead to totally sterile recordings and to disappointed live audiences. If you follow these tips, then hopefully you won’t have much need for these tools.

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