A return to regular activities might mean you’ll be stepping into a recording studio for the first time in many months. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for your recording session.
As things open up in the real world and the music world, you may find yourself in the position to return to the recording studio for the first time in over a year. If you’re feeling rusty, intimidated, or just plain excited, here are some quick tips to help you re-acclimate and get back to the business of tracking beautiful music.
Be up front about pandemic-related safety
Before the first note sounds, spend some time thinking about how to best create an atmosphere in which everyone will feel comfortable and safe. Make sure to discuss health-related measures ahead of time with your engineers, bandmates, producers, and anyone else involved. Have you and your collaborators been vaccinated? Will masking in the session be expected or testing beforehand required? Will everyone feel safer with an open window or air filtration in place? Is anyone involved with the recording or production immunocompromised or in need of special accommodations?
Blunt conversations about health and disease may feel awkward, but don’t let that deter you. It’s much wiser to discuss ahead of time than to leave things unasked and unanswered. You want everyone to come in feeling safe, comfortable, and ready to create when the red light goes on.
Brush up on best practices
It’s easy to forget what works and what doesn’t in the studio when you’ve been away — and preoccupied with a pandemic — for a long time.
When you go back, remember to emphasize communication and flexibility. Hopefully, everyone you’re working with is talented and committed and you’ll end up with the best music when all involved feel empowered to do what they do best.
Be aware of how your collaborators are using the space. Always check before walking into a live room or iso booth, in case anyone’s recording or testing sound.
Give your engineer the space, time, and quiet he/she needs to get the job done; a harried or distracted engineer does nobody any good.
While the hang can be a great part of any recording session, it’s important that you stay on-task. Don’t get lost in long-winded stories, engrossing video games, drugs and alcohol, or anything else that will eat up your focus or valuable recording time.
Keep your eye on the prize: your aim in a recording studio is to record outstanding music. Make that your priority while you’re there.
Plan your music ahead of time
Even if you love having flexibility in the studio, going in with some sort of game plan will help you use your time as productively as possible.
Are you trying to fill out an EP of stripped-down arrangements, or lay down demos for full production later? Do you just need to capture some guitar overdubs, or are you bringing in a full chorus for a song’s epic finale?
Regardless of the specific tracks you want to walk away with, define your goals for the session as clearly as you can — especially if everyone’s just getting back into the studio and feels at all awkward or distracted. The more focused you are on what you’re trying to accomplish, the better your chances of meeting those goals will be.
Plan everything else ahead of time, too
The more time you spend handling logistics before your recording date, the more you’ll be able to focus purely on music when your session begins.
In practice, this means getting everyone on the same page when it comes to nitty-gritty details. Are you backing up your session to a hard drive or to the cloud? Are there specific soft-synths or physical instruments you need ready for action? What kind of sound isolation does your session require? Do you have preferences for particular mics or preamps? Who is getting paid what, when, and how? Are there release forms to be filled out? Who owns the recorded material in the end?
Especially if you’re out of practice, hammering out these details can seem tedious, but it’s worth it to clear space for creativity, inspiration, and collaboration.
As I highlighted many years ago in a post on this blog, the better fed you and your studio collaborators are, the better your chances of having a successful recording session. Invest in healthy meals and snacks for all involved and encourage everyone to partake. If any of your collaborators feel uncomfortable or out of place after being away from the studio for so long, good food will go a long way towards making them feel welcome and ready to create.
This has been an abnormal, difficult, and dangerous year. If you or any of your collaborators feel strange coming back into a studio setting, give yourselves the space and time needed to settle back in. Focus on positive energy, clear communication, mutual respect, and the amazing music you’re all there to create.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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