Planning Your Recording Session

Decide what the purpose of your studio session is, and ensure all band members are in agreement. Are you doing this recording for personal pleasure, or maybe you want a CD to get gigs or possibly you want a demo to try and get a record deal? Knowing what your aims are will help you make the right decisions during the session.

How Many Songs Should I Record?
Please try and decide this before the session starts as this can kill studio time. If you’re unsure how many songs to record, get in touch and we’ll talk you through it. We’ve worked on thousands of sessions, so we have a good idea of what is achievable.

Quality or Quantity?
I feel quality is always better than quantity. Most venues, management companies, publishing and record companies will probably only listen the 1st minute of each song and won’t get past the 4th song, judging you on the songwriting, production, level of musicianship and the quality of the recording.

Turn up on time with all your equipment checked and ready. We’ll be there on time getting set up so the clock will be ticking. Bring everything with you that you’re likely to need. Spare strings, plectrums, batteries, leads, etc. You can guarantee that the item you forget will be the one thing you need. Test all your gear the day before. Instrumentation, Scores and Lyric sheets – Please try and have all scores, lyric sheets written and brought to all sessions where needed. Think about different vocal parts like backing vocals and harmony parts before sessions. Also think about any string arrangements or percussion that might be needed.

Rehearse your songs thoroughly and make sure all band members know all their part(s) to each song.

Less is More
Your recording is not the time to try out your chops and blistering solos. A simple part played well tends to be more effective on recording rather than someone’s flashy self-indulgent routines. Remember the song is the most important thing, not your playing.

Click Track
I highly recommend that you play to a click track as this not only keeps the tempo even through the song, but makes over-dubbing process more straight forward. It also makes any track editing easier and more accurate. We cannot, for the sake of example, take a bass phrase recorded during the first verse and copy it to the last 2nd verse if the song speeds up, So playing to a click gives you more flexibility at the production stage and enables things to be achieved faster.

How long does Recording last?
This is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string of string. If you are organized, well rehearsed and tight the recording procedure will obviously prove a lot quicker. Also if you are working with session musicians this will usually save time as they are used to working in a studio environment daily and will tend to race through their parts. Either way preparation is the key and around 70% of your session should be spent on the recording phase.

Once all the recording is done, the next stage is the mixing. Mixing is where we apply EQ (equalization) and dynamic effects (e.g. compressors, expanders, noise gates) to each track, and set the correct track volume relative to all the other tracks. I also decide where each track should be panned in the stereo mix for the arrangement to gel and to highlight certain aspects of the arrangement.

How Long Does Mixing Last?
Similar to recording this can vary. It depends. On how much track editing there is, whether you want to alter the sound of any tracks using other effects, whether you have a clear idea of how the finished track should sound. Simply put, the more time you can devote to mixing, the more likely you are to come out with something that you are really pleased with. As a very rough guide, i would suggest planning to spend 20% of your session time on mixing. This is estimation and can be less or more.

When Do We Mix?
I recommend that you don’t mix straight after finishing recording because you will be tired. Leaving at least a week between the recording and the final mixing session will enable you to come back with fresh ears and fresh ideas about the songs you recorded.

This is the process where we prepare and transfer your recording to a format that can be duplicated on CD. During mastering, the final stereo mix will be processed to even out the highs and lows, boost the overall volume, and make it sound more consistent across different formats and playback systems. I myself use a combination of PC based audio editing and mastering applications to achieve this. And yes the mastering and CD burning stage will probably take at least an hour. So this is another thing to factor in when considering how long you need.

Lastly, despite everything I have said, I always say to my clients who come into my London recording studio, to come prepared to have fun and enjoy the whole studio experience.

Post by: Matt Walters
Matt Walters is a professional sound engineer/producer and runs his own recording studio in London.