Mayos Music
Guitar Lessons and Instrument Repair

Recording Prep Tips

Here at MayosMusic, in addition to offering great guitar, bass, ukulele, banjo and autoharp lessons, plus complete luthier services that include guitar, string instrument and amplifier repair/restorations, we are also a great resource service. Before you hit the studio, here are some tips to help your experience in the studio go smoother and save you time and money in the process.

So you want to head into the studio and cut a demo or an album, well here are some good tips to think about before hand.  You don't want to waste your time, money, or worst of all, make a bad recording.

Well Before You Head In:
You - Treat your body well and like a good instrument, it will serve you well.  Get plenty of rest, eat well, exercise, don't use drugs, don't smoke, and don't drink.  Hydrate yourself enough.  Rest your ears as well, as they can fatigue like anything else. 

Arrangements - Make sure all parts have been worked out and finalized, which means all instruments, all vocals, leads, and backups.  Figure it all out well before you head into the studio, and get it all written down.  Lyric sheets, proper sheet music, and notes for anything to be edited in the mixdown.  Preparation is key here.  Recording live sets and rehearsal room takes and analyzing them will help find weak spots that need changing. 

Rehearse - Make sure you have practiced and perfected finalized versions of all songs to be recorded.  The tighter everyone is, the less takes, which translates to less time and money wasted, and/or the more songs you can squeeze into a session.

Song Count - Prepare a few more songs than you think you will record, just in case.  You never know if you'll have more time than estimated, or if you find out midway through that one or more of the songs isn't ready or doesn't sound right. 

Gear - Make sure all gear is properly set-up and maintained.  In the studio is not the time to find out your gear acts up, has a bad hum, or won't hold tune. 

Digital - Using any digital material, sequencing, sampling, or other add-ins and effects, make sure you have it all 100% ready to go, and backed up.

Timing - When recording to a click track, make sure everyone is capable, and comfortable with playing along to it.  This is mostly for the drummer in the band, but is not exclusive to them.  All band members should practice playing along with a metronome occasionally.  Timing is everything.

Budget - Budget in for delays and unforeseen issues.  Expect the unexpected.

Contract - Shop around, find the studio that fits your needs and your budget.  Get a contract, signed by all, and review the cancellation policy.  Be aware of all rules on the premises, food, drink, horseplay, accidents, hours, what's supplied and what's not, fees, options, etc.

Right Before You Head In:
Vision - If you're producing your songs, make sure the engineer understands your vision.  Also make sure your whole band and the studio's crew are on the same page, and up to speed.  In the studio is not the best time to be explaining your musical concept.  Ask to listen to other recordings the engineer and the studio have done in the recent past; make sure they are capable of achieving your goal.

Tracks - Find out what you will be recording on and how many tracks you're paying to use (8, 16, 24, 48).  Map out what parts are going where ahead of time.  The more prepared you are the smoother the process goes.

Clock - Show up early, as in most studios the clock starts when the schedule says, not when you got there.  If you're late, the clock is already running.  Also, check the parking situation.  No one wants to come out of a recording session only to find a ticket, or worse yet your car towed.

Energy - Bring snacks and drinks in a cooler.  If you loose energy during a session, it will show on your final results.  Bring towels, as many studios are buttoned up tight for sound, and that can lead to a stuffy or hot environment, and sweat isn't good for your gear or your playing.

New - Use new strings, new sticks, even new drum heads if you can.  Bring extra strings, cords, heads (snare mostly), and drum sticks.  Discuss what backup gear you might need there.  Also, look up the location and hours of the two closest music stores.

Not New - Don't bring, or at least don't bring only new gear to a session, even if it's higher end gear than you normally use.  Untested and unknown gear can cause unwanted surprises at a session.  Understand, studios have some gear that they know records well with their mics and the rest of their gear (for example, cymbals and sometimes amps).  Take a minute to compare and understand that they have gone through this before.

Stuffing - Don't worry about putting something on every track in the recording.  Better to have a clean clear sound with room for everything to be heard, than to try and fill in every multi track spot.  Remember it's just as important what you don't play as it is what you do play.

Guests - Keep guests out of your recording session, as they will distract you and eat up time, or they might try and influence your sound.  Whose song is it?

No No's - Don't eat or drink any dairy products or sodas for several hours (or even a day) before you plan to record.  Phlegm and burping are not good during a session.  Also don't use ice in your drinks or have them too cold if you are singing.  Colder temps constrict your vocal chords and pinch off your range and volume.  Consider drinking warm lemon honey tea for while you're tracking vocals.

While Recording:
Emotion - Emotion, not precision make hit songs that people can relate to and connect with.  Concentrate on the feeling and project that into the recording.

Tune - Tune up constantly.  Tune several times before you get started, as your instruments will need to acclimate to the temperature and humidity of the studio environment.  Also, right before each take, tune up again.  And remember always tune up to pitch, not down, as that will put the gears in your tuners under tension and reduce falling out of tune during playing.

Sound - Get the sound you want at the recording session, don't assume you can tweek it in post.  However, if you use effects, unless they are unique, consider recording clean and adding the effects later, or consider cutting the track twice, once dry and once with effects. Better yet, see if you can feed the dry (pre) and wet (post) signal into two individual tracks on the take.  This is best for digital recording as you can easily turn off any track you don't want, but save it for changes later.

Errors - If you make errors during a take, keep going.  See if they can punch in a fix later.  Too many takes can burn you out faster.  Keep in mind one mistake doesn't mean it's not your best overall take, and don't forget you're looking for emotional deliverance.

Focus - Focus on what your sound and goals are with the song.  If it's vocals, focus on spending more time on nailing them.  Don't get caught up and waste time on factors that aren't the main point of your song or sound.

Double Trouble - Don't double up everything.  Doubling the background vocals, or the chorus in a song is one thing, but doubling up the lead vocals can loose that emotional feel and hide the subtleties that make people connect with a song.

Breaks - Know when to take breaks and eat snacks, or go outside and move around a bit.  Tired or restless behavior will interrupt your session and show up in your final sound.  Don't forget it's not just hand and vocal fatigue (both of which are obvious), but ear fatigue can also ruin a recording session. Infact, it can be worse as most people don't think about it.   Also, be aware when to call it a night.  Better to stop for the day than to lay down a bunch of tracks that will all need to be redone next time anyway.

While Mixing:
Time Off - Sometimes it's good to take a day or more off and come back with fresh ears.  Remember ear fatigue…

Leader - Pick a band leader to be the voice of the band to the engineer.  You don't want multiple people talking to him at the same time.  The engineer might feel crowded or rushed or rush through the mixing process to get your band out the door.

Choice - Once you have chosen your engineer (or even a producer) to help with the mixing, let them make the first pass at mixing, as they are professional and trained at this.  Be open-minded and receptive to their input, but polite and diplomatic with your counter suggestions.

Listening - Listen to your songs at various levels, on near field mini monitors, near/mid field regular monitors and higher volumes on the big monitors.  Also, if you can, take the mix down and put it on CD and listen to it on a boom box or in your car.  This gives you a more averaged idea of how it will sound at all levels and on various qualities of sound systems.  And bring some CDs you know well and listen to them in the studio to get a mental calibration of their sound system so your ears don't get tricked.

Whole-some - Think about the song as a whole, and not just one specific instrument or track.  You don't want to think about only one instrument at a time otherwise each instrument will keep going up in the mix until it's all a mess.  Each musician will want their instrument to be in the spot light.  Play and mix for the music, not yourselves.  Make sure you can hear all the instruments and keep your ears focused on the final result you had in your head.

Copies - Always make a back-up master and backup copies of every recording session.  It's not just for a lost or damaged master later, but you never know if you want to go back and remix something later.  Or you might want to pull out of it a take or track not used in the final for something else.  Also, get a track listing and accurate time log from the studio.

Formats - Decide on which formats you want for your final mixes, do your research and ask what options are available.  Multiple formats are a good idea for flexibility.  

Thanks - Be thankful and courteous to the staff and crew at the studio, and periodically keep in contact with them.  Remember to network.  You might need their help on a future project, or their recommendations for future sessions or replacement musicians, or maybe they can help you network for more gigs.  You never know…

Instructors Hot Tip:
Now go forth and promote, promote, promote!

Experience since 1968
Providing Guitar, Electric Bass & Ukulele lessons and Guitar/Amp Repair in the Greater Phoenix Valley area of Arizona including Maricopa County and The Salt River Valley.

Mayos Music will continue to provide Guitar/Amp Repairs in Southern California's South Bay cities and Greater Los Angeles Area.
Originally located in Manhattan Beach and Torrance, California.

Now located in:
Gilbert, AZ 85298
Torrance, CA 90505

(310) 955 - 0246