That first ever studio experience is a definitive moment in the career of any artist or band, bringing their music from small live performances and home recordings into the realm of professional and marketable pieces of work. There’s just one catch: artists need to duly prepare! The studio environment takes some getting used to and the recording process can be difficult, so it’s crucial for musicians to make the very most out of each and every session.
To help understand what to expect from your first studio experience and prepare accordingly, Kore Studios have compiled a list of informal ‘ground rules’ for any recording session. Hopefully, artists gearing up for their first real session in a professional studio will end up with a more clear understanding of their expectations on the day, as well as a better appreciation of the hard work involved in making your music a reality.
Every project starts with a conversation between the artist (or group of artists) and the producer. At this stage, the producer needs to fully understand your intentions upon entering the studio. What are you hoping to get out of the session? How many tracks are you looking to record? Which process works best for you: meticulously recording individual parts of a track one by one, or powering through entire tracks in the live room? With answers to such questions at the ready, your producer will find it much easier to prepare the session and set up the studio in ways that are tailored to the specific demands of your project.
After all, no two projects have the same requirements. For instance, if the artist knows that they want to record three tracks during one session and they already have rough demos on hand, the producer can listen to the demos and structure an appropriate session around the music. Furthermore, they can establish which parts of each song need recording and overdubbing, what kind of equipment is required on the day, and how much time to allow for each recording. This will save the producer from second guessing the artist and wasting studio time.
In a similar vein, artists need to set realistic and achievable goals before their session. Cramming as many recordings as possible into one session does not ensure value for money (as many musicians seem to think), but rather the opposite – it leads to strained performances, unnecessary pressure, and ultimately poor results. You should be efficient with your studio time, but not to the point of rushing and forgetting the bigger picture. If you want quality recordings, you need to accept that the process takes time. Focus on a manageable amount of material, clarify your workload with the producer before recording, and then take all the time you need in the session itself to get the material spot on.
Preparing for a studio session means figuring out your expectations as well as your intentions. This is especially important when thinking about gear and equipment. In a professional studio, only a fraction of their gear will be suited to a given recording – and there’s a lot to choose from! So ask yourself the following: Which equipment do you expect to be using during the session? Are there any particular pieces you would like to experiment with? And will you be bringing your own amps and pedals on the day? While not all of these decisions are solely the artist’s to make (with the producer often knowing which gear works best), their input is nevertheless essential. Again, the producer can only work with what you give them!
Artists should try not to assume that certain pieces of equipment will be available in the studio, and it’s always worth checking whether a studio has the necessary gear before a session. Artists should liaise with producers to establish which equipment will be required on the day. You may like the look of a certain microphone, or intend on using a particular amplifier – however, if you don’t ask whether they are available beforehand, you can’t bet on using them.
Speaking of amps, lots of musicians choose to take their own into their first studio session. When an artist is more familiar and experienced with a particular amp this can be very useful, but the equipment used by younger bands sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. In such cases, artists should be open to using the backline gear provided by the studio as this will guarantee a more professional and high-quality recording. Being stubborn with your gear never helps!
It’s largely the artists’ responsibility to ensure that their own instruments are ready for recording, keeping them in good shape and priming them before the day. Faulty guitars, broken strings, torn drum heads, cracked cymbals – these are a massive roadblock in the recording process, especially when you’re pressed for time. Thoroughly maintain and optimise your instruments, restring your guitars and reskin your drums (just not on the same day as the studio session, otherwise you’ll have a hard time keeping them in tune), and bring spares of almost everything, from drumsticks and picks to batteries and cords.
Not all instruments are suited to a studio context. Some instruments will prevent your recording from sounding as good as it could possibly sound – that’s why studios have their own backline. Artists may benefit from using instruments that are guaranteed to work alongside the unique equipment and acoustics of the studio in which they are recording. Ultimately, it’s your choice; but if you don’t plan on using the studio’s instruments, be transparent with the producer about the specifications and requirements of your own instruments. They may still have suggestions about improving your set up and making your instruments work better in the final recording.
Finally, artists should think about the time it takes for the studio to set up all the equipment. Drum kits need to be assembled, mics need to be plugged in, the sound needs to be checked, and this all needs to be done before a single note is recorded. To help speed this process up, artists can give the producers a clear idea of their preferred set-up before the session begins. This way, the studio staff (if they’re a dedicated bunch!) can get a head start and leave more time for recording and mixing. You should also establish with the studio how long set up takes and whether or not you will be charged for this time. Whatever the circumstances end up being, just don’t expect to start recording as soon as you walk into the studio!
This post follows from an article published in Sound on Sound magazine about the recording process at Kore Studios, co-authored by studio owner George Apsion. Get in touch with Kore to book a tailored studio session – just remember the follow our advice in the process!