By Jay Glaspy
Music production is a dynamic and evolving process that benefits from having a good plan. Every recording artist or band that enters the music studio wants the end product to be a high fidelity work of art that is ready for public release. Bands have dreams of entering the studio, tracking their songs, having the engineer mix/master the session and come out 36 hours later with a completed product ready to crash the airwaves. But wait, the drums took 18 hours of the 36-hour studio block, the guitarist didn’t nail his solo on the first take (or second), the vocalist was flat, or the song seemed to drag too slow or rush too fast. In addition, after your band heard the song recorded for the first time they were amazed on “how good they did NOT sound” and begged the engineer to press the awesome button and make it sound like a major label epic awesomeness! A lot of these aforementioned issues could have been alleviated in the preparation phase before entering into the studio. This phase is also known as pre-production and is a vital aspect of the recording process. Pre-production ensures that your project enters the studio fully prepared and efficiently uses their time to create the best product for release. Some bands with large budgets have the luxury of doing pre-production in a fully equipped studio, which is ideal but unrealistic for the band on a budget. On the other hand, some projects may only have their smartphones or Boss 8 Track recorder to record the song with. Either way, it’s imperative to get the songs recorded, listened to, analyzed, and corrected before dropping cash at the studio. There are endless concepts that can be discussed in regards to pre-production. This post will focus on four aspects to preproduction such as the arrangement, tempo, tones, and performance. Following these concepts will enable your band to make the most out of their next recording session as well as becoming better musicians overall. Before entering the studio, take a very close listen to your songs and ask the following questions:
How is the Arrangement?
Has your band or project entered the recording studio and found out the song was not completely written or you were still writing parts while trying to track? This can be a serious detriment to the recording process where time is money. Blue Room engineer and producer Ben Green states “To me, pre-production is about efficiency, clarifying the purpose, and defining what is needed conceptually and arrangement wise, so that the recording can be as effective and emotionally engaging as possible.”
Some bands or artists enter the studio thinking they have a song completed but have never even heard the song recorded. Recording the song on any type of device can help improve the song. I’ve personally been in some sessions when the suggestion of a guitar solo, bridge, or pre-chorus should be added to the song. These types of suggestions are ok but should be thought out in the pre-production phase in order to keep the recording process running smooth. Listen closely to the arrangement, make corrections and improve. Does the song really need to have 16 different parts in 17/8? Or does a simple “ACDC” rock beat suffice? Also, are the instruments fighting each other? Does the band need to go all-in right from the first measure or maybe build it up into an epic and soaring chorus? Just some things to think about…
Is the Tempo Right for the Song?
A recording engineer once told me that most bands play their songs 10-15 bpm faster when they perform in front of a live audience. Have you ever watched a video of your live performance and found this to be true? I have. Finding the right tempo and practicing it to a click will only help the recording process. This will make the recording engineer’s job much easier when it’s time to track and edit the rest of the instruments. And it sounds so much better when everyone is playing in time. In addition, some songs may be more progressive where the tempo fluctuates creating a push-pull effect. This can be really cool if your band can own it…bottom line, find the tempo and get your groove on and maybe reduce the intake of Red Bulls and Monsters before the session.
Do the Instrumental Tones Support the Song?
Some guitarists can spend hours dialing in their tones. Does that crunchy Triple Rectifier tone fit this pop song? Maybe that 5 String Fodera Bass with 7 knobs and two switches is way too bright and modern for such a vintage influenced tune. Advice, know your tones and sounds before entering the studio. Know if flat-wound bass strings or steel strings are more fitting for your track. The drummer should be aware of the sounds he or she can attain with certain drumheads or nylon tip sticks. Some drummers come in saying they want the huge Ludwig drum tone and they try to record on a jazz kit. The engineer can only do so much. If you want large drums, record the track with huge drums. Want that classic guitar vibe? Maybe that vintage Fender Reverb amplifier is better suited than the Bogner Guitar head. Advice…know your instruments, know your tones, and how they support the song overall.
Can the Musicians Nail their Parts?
You think you nailed that guitar solo? Take a closer listen and try again. Is the drummer’s blast beats all over the place? Is the bass player rushing or dragging? Or, can the singer “actually sing? Even worse, are they aware of any weaknesses or shortcomings? Pre-production will certainly open your eyes to the truth before entering the studio. I’ve been in sessions where other musicians were playing clashing notes and did not even know it beforehand. The recording session will put you under a microscope and it’s imperative to have your parts down and be proficient enough to perform them while you are on the studio clock. It’s very easy nowadays to “punch in” and “cut and paste” your parts. This is acceptable to some projects, but for the most part, don’t you want to be a better musician who can also shred live or in the studio rather than being the studio guitar hero?
Taking the time to employ pre-production concepts and really evaluating your tracks before entering the studio will definitely result in a more professional product. Your band will enter the studio with a good plan, make things efficient for the recording engineer, save money, and create a good environment to record your project. Before entering the studio, listen to your song…is the arrangement finalized? Is it the right tempo? Are the instruments supportive of each other? Most importantly, can the musicians perform their parts when the pressure is on? These are only a few concepts of pre-production that can help bands enjoy an efficient recording session. The reality is that most bands do not have the luxury of entering a fully equipped studio for the pre-production phase. Getting your songs down on any recorded medium and employing these techniques is a step in the right direction to achieving your musical dreams. JG- Blue Room Productions
Jay is the Studio Operations Manager for Blue Room Productions and is the primary point of contact for booking, project inquiries, marketing, and artist outreach. He has a very unique background in multiple industries and provides a wealth of diverse experiences to the team at Blue Room. Jay was actually a client for Blue Room Productions as a recording artist prior to joining the team. Jay is also a driven bassist (http://www.xeonesbass.com) and provides expert advice for artists, musicians, and bands on career development in the music industry. In addition, Jay served in the United States Army for 20 years and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). He holds a Bachelors Degree in Psychology from American Military University (AMU) and is currently enrolled at Liberty University Masters of Arts Program for Executive Leadership. Jay is dedicated to assisting recording artists accomplish their musical and artistic endeavors here at Blue Room Productions. [email protected] or call 240-707-7993 to schedule an appointment.