As a musician, a good recording means everything.
Anytime you want your band to move forward, you will need to provide a recording. You will need to submit it to press and you will use it to shop to record labels. If you submit to radio stations, it may end up getting radio play. You may also put your music online or press it to a DVD to promote your band and make money.
If you make a video, your recording will be the backing track.
The unfortunate thing is, I don’t think there is any musician that’s 100% satisfied with their recordings. As time moves on, and they improve their skills, they may feel that they are able to play the song better. They may have come up with new parts for their songs since they recorded them.
And if there are any mistakes on the recording, no matter how small they are, you can bet they sound amplified to a musician so they hear them loud and clear every time they listen.
But just because you may never be 100% happy with your recording, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to make it as good as it can be. Here are some tips that will help you get the best recording possible.
Practice, Practice, Practice
When you play live, you may be able to flub difficult parts. In the excitement of a live show, it’s likely no one will notice small mistakes, and even if they do, they will quickly forget about them if the rest of your performance sounds good.
On a recording, you will need to nail your performance. Any mistakes that are recorded will be heard over and over again. And even if you don’t care (which you probably do) it’s likely that your engineer or bandmates will hear these flubs and make you play the parts again.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there are techniques that can be used to fix mistakes electronically. In some cases, you may even be able to slow down tracks and record them that way. This will help you nail the fast parts so they are clean and neat.
However, the amount of work that can be done in post-production is limited. It depends on how skilled your engineer and producer are, and the quality of equipment being used.
What this really boils down to is how important it is to get it right the first time and that takes good old-fashioned practice.
Never think that you have played your songs so often that you don’t need to practice them before a recording. Go through them and think of what it will be like while you are recording them. If there are any difficult parts, go through them again and again, starting slowly and building up speed gradually. This will help you nail them at a recording.
Have a Pre-Production Rehearsal with Your Bandmates
Most recordings have some sort of live element. Typically, the drums are recorded when all players are playing together. The drum tracks are saved, and every other musician has the option of doing overdubs or recording tracks along with the drums.
Essentially, this means that you will all be playing along with each other in one way or another while you record. That’s why it’s important to be on the same page.
A pre-production rehearsal will help you nail down all the small details.
During a pre-production rehearsal, you will figure out a tempo for your songs. You will go through the songs to make sure they are tight and work on any problem areas. You will also want to talk about anything extra you want to add during your recording.
For instance, if you have one guitar player, you may want to add extra rhythm tracks that you can’t achieve in a live setting. Having these planned out in advance will save you time and money in the studio.
Find a Studio
Finding the right studio is important.
If you ask around, it probably won’t take you long before you find a studio in your area that other bands with similar genres have used. In just about every city I’ve lived in, there’s always been one studio that all the metal heads went to, all the punk kids went to, all the indie kids went to… and so on.
And usually, this is a pretty good way to find a studio. If there is a recording studio that your friends have gone to and a lot of people are telling you they were happy with the results, it will probably work out well for you. But don’t go by reference alone.
It’s also important to take a tour of the studio to see what their layout is like and look at what type of equipment they use. Listen to recordings that have produced to get an idea of the quality they can provide.
Note that you should find a studio you feel comfortable in. Remember that recording is a stressful process. A studio with a soothing vibe can go a long way in helping you get an excellent product.
To Home Record or Not to Home Record
Today, there are many devices you can buy to make for a great home recording set up. However, it’s important to remember that even after you get the right hardware and software, it doesn’t end there.
You may have to soundproof your recording studio. You will have to buy a good pair of headphones to listen to tracks as you record. You will also need quality speakers for listening back. And if you’re recording a full band, you will need the space to make it happen.
Basically, home recording is an investment, but it could be worth it. You will save money on your own recordings and you may even be able to use the skills you learn to make money in the future.
However, if you are just starting out with home recording, it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket. If the musicians you are working with are willing to experiment, that’s great. But if you really want to get a terrific sounding product, you may want to make a plan B with a professional studio.
Use the Right Equipment
The equipment you use will play a major role in getting you the sound you need.
You will notice that most professional recording studios don’t have their own gear. That’s because most musicians will want to bring in their gear so they can get the sounds they are looking for. Sound can play a major factor in the band’s identity as well as the quality of the recording.
It’s advisable to use an amp and instruments that you are happy with and that you can rely on. If an amp (or any other piece of gear) breaks down during a recording, you may have to stop your work for the day even if you prepaid the studio with a non-refundable fee.
If you don’t have the gear you would like to use, you may consider renting or borrowing equipment. However, it’s a good idea to spend a few days playing with the gear so you know how to use it, you feel comfortable with it and you get the sounds you want.
Some musicians may choose to bring a variety of amps, instruments and pedals in with them during a recording. This will allow them to get different sounds on every song. It will also give them a back up if anything happens to the gear they are using.
Tuning and Other Tips
No matter what instrument you play, make sure you are in tune before recording. You may do your entire track not realizing that there’s a small tuning issue. Then when other players play over it, they will find out that something sounds a little off. And that’s all it takes to get you recording your tracks all over again.
If you play guitar, it’s a good idea to change your strings before recording, but not the night before.
Changing your strings will get you a nice bright sound, but it will also make strings more likely to go out of tune. New strings will also be tight and harder to play so you may have trouble with parts that were easy for you in the past.
Breaking in strings takes a while. I would consider changing them weeks before a recording to make sure they are ready on your big day.
Drummers will have similar issues with drumheads. New drumheads will get a nice clear sound but they are likely to go out of tune while recording. For best results, change them a few days before your recording and play on them a couple of times to break them in.
Working with a Producer/ Engineer
When you get into the studio, you will end up working with an engineer and you may work with a producer as well.
An engineer is responsible for setting up the session and doing the actual recording. They will mic the instruments and do the tracking and playbacks. They may occasionally tell you that a note is flat or that a riff needs to be played again, but their creative input will be limited.
A producer will have way more creative control. They will help you get the sounds they think are best suited for your band and they may suggest additional parts (instrumental or otherwise) that can be used to enhance your music.
A producer can be brought in for several reasons. The main reason a producer should be brought in is to help the band get a better sound. However, often times, a producer wants to put their name on the recording so they can shop the band.
For instance, there have been many famous musicians who made names for themselves in the music industry and then tried their hands at producing other bands in the hopes that they can get that band signed.
The truth is, producer/musician clashes are pretty common in the music industry. It’s not unusual for a band to get in the studio with a producer who tries to take over the recording by getting them a sound they aren’t happy with.
It is for this reason that many producers are fired midway through the production process leaving the band to start from scratch. In other instance, bands end up with recordings they are not happy with.
Of course, there are also many great musician/producer relationships in the industry as well.
The overall message here is, if you are going to take in a producer, be careful of who you are working with. Make sure they share your vision and are willing to do some give and take when it comes to creative input.
If you are working with a producer that will have the power to successfully shop your band, you may be willing to give up some creative control. Just make sure they are worth the sacrifice.
The Mixing and Mastering Process
After your song is recorded, it will need to be mixed and mastered. Your studio engineer will usually be in charge of the mixing but, in some instances, you may want to bring in a mixing engineer.
It is customary for the band to be present during the mixing process. Everyone will show up for the session and provide input on how their instrument will sound. This will mostly involve making sure all instruments are well balanced volume wise. In some instances, effects can be added during mixing to enhance the sound.
In other cases, the engineer may send the band members a rough mix that they can listen to it and provide feedback. Then tweaks are made and the mix is sent back until everyone agrees they are happy.
This can be a more time-consuming method, but it allows everyone to spend time with the mix and listen to it on several devices to make sure they like how it sounds.
Mastering is the process of making sure the entire album sounds good as a cohesive unit. In some cases, the engineer will master it, but in other instances, the recording will be sent to a mastering house for these purposes.
Mastering does not require creative input from the band. Usually, the recording is sent to be mastered and is returned as a finished product. However, I’m sure there is recourse the band can take if they are not happy with the results.
Get Some Good Cover Art
Once you have a recording you are happy with, you can begin to market it.
You may have heard the expression, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but when it comes to album art, a great cover can make all the difference in whether someone decides to listen.
Fortunately, there are tons of artists out there, many of which are happy to work at a relatively inexpensive rate. Just make sure the artist you go with provides a professional looking product that fits the identity of your band.
For instance, if you’re a punk band, you may want to go for an artist with a cartoon/animated vibe. If you’re in a metal band, something serious may be more appropriate.
Cover art will also work best in square format as this will be best suited for CD and vinyl covers as well as most music streaming sites.
Submit for Pressing
With so many digital platforms out there, not every band will opt for a physical CD release. However, CD’s are good for selling at shows and they make the release seem more credible. CDs are also relatively inexpensive to press depending on how elaborate you want to get with the packaging.
In any case, it’s a good idea to make your recording available in as many formats as possible. If you are planning a CD release, find a reasonably priced company. They will take you through the submission steps and you will have copies available in a few weeks time.
If you choose to take the digital route, there are plenty of services that will get your music up on various streaming sites, usually for a pretty affordable fee.
Promote, Promote, Promote
After all that hard work, you’ll want to make sure your music gets listened to. Advertise on social media, do videos and sell your recordings at live shows to make sure it gets as many listens as possible. You may even make some money in the process.
Getting a great recording isn’t easy. The tips in this article will help you get a terrific sounding product that you can be proud to give to other people and that you can listen to without cringing! What helps you get recordings you are happy with?