So you’ve put years into learning your instrument. Into learning music. And you want to record an album.
You’ve had ideas for your riffs. Recorded them. Re-recorded them. Then finally recorded them in time.
You started turning those riffs into songs.
You’ve put everything you have into your songs, into writing, re-writing, editing… and then started the whole process over.
You fought those negative, self defeating thoughts about your work, that voice in the back of your head whispering “who are you to record your music professionally?”.
Eventually, you overcame that feeling you get, wondering to yourself, “what if no-one likes my music?”.
You’ve fought it all and overcome it, and you’re ready for the next stage in your progress as a musician:
It’s time to enter the recording studio and professionally record your music
… and you’re going to love every minute of it!!
If you are prepared.
Benchpressing 140lb is awesome, but you wouldn’t try it without working up to it and preparing for it. The recording studio is the same, it’s awesome, if you’re prepared.
If you are not prepared… you’re going to be crushed.
If you are not prepared… that recording studio will hit you like a 140lb barbell falling on your chest.
Here’s how you prepare to record an album. I’m not saying that if you don’t do these things, you’ll have a bad time, but what I am saying is, if you do do these things, you’ll find the studio experience easy, enjoyable and you’ll get a great result. These are all things I’ve practiced before going into a recording studio and lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
The earlier recording sessions I did in my life… I did less of these, or didn’t even think about them… which led to recording being stressful and the results not being that good.
The later recording sessions I did, for example, for my heavy metal record, I followed these ideas… and as a result, had a lot of fun and made a great record.
There are some guitar specific points, but a lot of it will apply to all instruments.
16 Ways to have a killer time recording your album
0. Make sure you have good skills
I put this as 0, just in case you are reading this with the intention of making a record at some point. If you are not working on your playing, then get to work, now! If you are guitar player, get some lessons. Brush up on your skills and your technique. This is really something that you should be doing anyway.
Having good skills means:
- Tight and consistent rhythm playing
- Consistent vibrato
- Reliable speed in your solos
- Accurate bends
- Clean chords
- Smooth chord changes
You have to be consistent.
Practice so that your skills enable you to consistently and reliably play your parts.
If you’re a guitar player and you are not consistently working on your skills… then sign up for guitar lessons and get to work.
1. Write down every note of every song
Write out all your parts. If you are a guitar player, use Guitar Pro. It’s killer. Tab out your riffs and solos. Writing out your songs has three main benefits:
- it creates a reference to jog your memory
- it forces you to know the precise timing for every. single. note.
- you know which bars different sections of the song come in it
Remember, the producer doesn’t know what “that bit we did before” means. If you want to reference part of the song, to punch in at, or record an additional layer, you need a bar number.
“There is a harmony line we need to record next, at bar 33”
Guitar Pro helps you with this – you get the exact bar numbers for every part.
Take a laptop with you to the studio, or print out the tabs, so you can see them if you need to.
2. Practice to a metronome
If you are going into the studio, your timing and rhythm has to be on fire. It needs to be precise. Every note of every riff has to precisely hit the right part of the beat. You want your rhythm tracks (if you are double tracking) to line up precisely. Use a metronome when you practice, especially if you are going to the studio. Practice playing through your songs to a click.
If your songs have tempo changes, or time signature changes, program the changes into Logic to create an automated click track and play along.
If you cannot play in time, your record will suck, end of story. To record an album, make sure you have great rhythm.
3. Record yourself and find the weak points
There are going to be some parts of your songs that you find easier to play than others. Practice recording yourself on your computer (programs such as Logic Pro, Audacity or Reaper can be used). Find the parts where you slip up, the weak points. Dissect those parts and practice them to a click.
Put extra practice time and clean up those weak areas so that they do not hold you back in the recording studio.
4. Get your guitar set up by a pro
A good setup makes your guitar more playable and sound better. A good setup will check and fix your intonation, neck height, pickup heights, float on your trem and the action on your strings. The technician can give the electronics a going over to make sure they are all ok. If you need your frets stoning (your frets become flattened from the strings hammering down on them, so you have a technician file the fret to restore the original fret shape. Having the fret re-shaped makes the guitar more playable and helps bends be slightly more consistent), get that done.
Get those weird buzzes your strings occasionally make, fixed.
Fresh strings will make a difference to your tone and the playability of your instrument. Old strings can stick to your fingers slightly and will sound dull. You can’t tell they sound dull, because they gradually faded with time… but if you compare them to new strings, you can tell the difference instantly. Get new strings. Get a pro setup.
5. Check over your equipment
Make sure your equipment works. Plug in your amp, make sure it’s all ok. If you have a tube amp, consider putting new tubes in for the studio, or having spares on standby. Make sure you have spare fuses, for the plug and the HT fuses in your amp.
Make sure you have spare patch cables for your pedal boards. You may want to consider running your pedals on batteries (for recording) to eliminate any mains hum you get.
If you have particular amp settings you like, write them down, or take a photo on your phone of the front of your amp. The producer may want to spend some time tweaking tones, but if you have a few you like, that can make a good starting point.
6. Think about how the parts will be recorded
When I recorded Impetuous Desire, the producer wanted to do all the rhythm guitars, then all the clean guitars, then all the solos. We didn’t do each song in its entirety one at a time. Talk to your producer / engineer about how the process is going to work on the day.
Practice recording parts in the order that you will be recording them on the day.
Recording is different to performing. Be prepared for it.
7. Write out session information for each song
This is the information needed to setup the Logic / Pro Tools file before you start recording. It should include:
- The bar each section starts at (e.g. Verse 1 at bar 10)
- The bars each section lasts for (e.g. Verse 1 – 6 bars)
- The bars that time signature changes happen at (e.g. change to 3/4 at bar 22)
- The guitar part that will be used￼ (rhythm, lead, clean etc)
8. Turn up early
The last thing you want to do is turn up late on the day. Leave early. Leave time for traffic. Worst case scenario you sit in your car for 15 minutes outside the studio because you’re early, so you read a book or mentally rehearse the recording session. If you are going to record an album, you don’t want to be stressed from being late.
Apart from anything else, turning up late is rude… and it costs you money.
9. Let the producer run the show
Yes, you are paying for it.
Yes, it is your music. Your baby.
But… that producer has recorded 100s of records. He knows the process. He knows how to make it work and get a great result. You want to record an album. He has already record 100s.
When you step into that studio, you’re in his domain. Put yourself into the role of being a session player for your record. Follow his advice, let him run the show… and enjoy the results.
If you don’t trust the producer to do a good job in the first place, don’t hire him.
10. Talk to your producer
Communication is key. Do not make any assumptions about what he will / will not be providing. Ask him if there is anything you can do to make his life easier on the day. Talk to him for a few minutes about the process you will be going through.
If you think a section you have recorded needs something done to it, don’t be afraid to ask. To record an album, and to make it good, requires a team effort.
11. Warm up before recording
Run over some scales and chords to warm your fingers up before you leave your house. Don’t practice things at the limit of your ability, practice things that you are comfortable with. This will help get you into a confident frame of mind as well as warm up your fingers. Use some guitar mental warm ups too, to get your brain working.
12. Get a good nights sleep
Pretty obvious, but I thought I’d throw it in. You function at a much higher level with a good nights sleep, your mood will be better and if any unexpected problems come up in the studio (equipment failures or something going wrong – even when you prepare something can happen), you will be in a much better state of mind to handle it.
13. Book enough time
One of the worst things you can do is run out of time. This leaves you with an incomplete record. You want to record an album… not a few songs. Make sure you book enough time. Ask the producer for a recommendation on how much time you need. He’s seen bands record a 100 times before so his estimate will be pretty good.
14. If you run out of time, offer to pay for more
Guess what… your producer likes having money. And just like you, he wants more of it. So offer him some. Want to do an extra hour that night? “Hey man, I know we said until 6pm today, but can I pay you extra to goto 8pm?”.
Don’t ask to take up his time for free. That will piss him off. If he starts to resent you… he will do the bare minimum to complete the project. No more. He isn’t going to agonise over making the best record he can for you.
The more he feels respected by you… the harder and more focussed he is going to work on the record to bring out its best.
15. Make sure you have space on your phone / camera
Record LOADS of video footage and take LOADS of photos. These will be great for promoting your music afterwards. One mistake I made when recording my last record was not taking enough photos and videos in the studio. When you record an album, and it becomes popular, these photos and videos are great for fuelling your social media content.
16. Book the studio
Human beings have an incredible ability to make excuses. Nearly every band I was in talked about recording an album… and did nothing but talk. But once you book a studio, you are committed and it has to happen so you will be forced to get ready for it.
Book a studio. Make it happen.
If you want to record an album, book a studio. If it isn’t booked… it isn’t happening.
Until next time,
PS Liked the article? Got other ideas on things I missed? Comment below.