Studio Preparation Checklist
If you want to bring your own drum kit, wonderful! Remember, it will take some time to set it up. Make sure you only bring the pieces of your kit that you really need. A double bass kit with 8 toms and 15 cymbals probably isn't necessary. The more pieces in your kit, the more difficult it becomes to get a good sound from every piece and simultaneously find a good balance. Make sure you address issues with your kit before you come to record. For example, replace old heads that no longer sound as bright or as good as you would like. (EQ cannot make old heads sound like new heads.) Replace any missing lugs. Inspect the snare mechanism and snares. Make sure the snares are tight and rattle-free. Lubricate the hi hat and kick drum pedals if they squeak. Make sure your kick drum beater is in good shape. Also, consider using those O-rings if your drums have too many overtones. Tune. If you have new heads, make sure they are nicely stretched.
If you incorporate electronic percussion in your kit, consider tracking the electronic performance separately from the acoustic performance. Otherwise, the acoustic sound of hitting trigger pads bleeds into the recording.
Don't forget to bring: extra sticks, brushes, mallets, hot rods, etc.; a tuning key, pliers, Allen wrenches, crescent wrenches or whatever tools you need to be able to retighten the hardware on your kit; extra felt washers; whatever you normally use to muffle the kick drum; and any extra percussion instruments like a woodblock, cowbell, tambourine, vibraslap, maracas, shakers, chimes, etc.
During the session setup: listen to your kit to make sure it doesn't make unwanted noises, and check your tuning!
Bass and Guitar
Replace your strings a couple days before your session, unless you especially want to record with dead strings. When replacing strings, use the same brand and gauge as was used when the instrument was last intonated. And remember that no amount of EQ can make old strings sound like new strings.
Speaking of intonation (aka "setting up"), make sure your instrument is ready to go. Proper intonation goes way beyond mere tuning. To check your instrument's intonation, break out your electronic tuner and make sure each open string is perfectly in tune. Every time you make an adjustment, double check every other string. Then, without making any more adjustments, test whether notes in the upper register are also in tune. They should be every bit as in tune as notes which are fingered 12 frets lower. The 12th-fret harmonics should also be in tune. If anything is off and your open strings are still in tune, then your instrument needs to be intonated. If you don't know what you're doing, leave this to a professional technician. Recording with an instrument that's not properly intonated produces horrible results which cannot be "fixed in the mix".
Make sure the volume and tone pots are clean (i.e. not scratchy). If they are, get them cleaned. If you adjust the pots during the recording and they are scratchy, the sound cannot be removed from the recording.
Play each note at each fret. Is there buzzing? This cannot be EQ'ed out of the mix and it sounds bad on a recording. The problem may be that your action is too low, or the truss rod might need adjustment. Again, leave this to a competent technician. Improper truss rod adjustments can break the neck of your guitar. Note that adjusting the action and/or truss rod will result in your instrument requiring reintonation.
If you're planning to play through an amp, test it for noise. Is there any buzzing or scratchiness? That needs to be fixed. Blown speakers, tubes, and fuses need to be fixed, too. Remember that we'll have to mic your amp, and that can color your tone. We may have to spend some time getting your amp to sound the way you're used to hearing it.
Therefore, give consideration to using a preamp/cabinet simulator or a modeling processor. Recording like this is quicker than using an amp because what you hear is what you get. Also, it doesn't require silence in the room as we track your performance. If you don't have equipment like this, you're free to experiment with ours.
Also consider recording direct. A benefit of recording direct (i.e. plugging your guitar right into the console) is the possibility of "reamping". This technique still allows you to monitor your performance using your amp and the tone you're used to hearing. However, it also allows us to feed your recorded guitar directly into your amp (or another amp) later in the recording process. (Your amp won't know the difference between your guitar and the recording.) The benefit is that you leave your options open to using different tones from different amps.
Are you planning to record with effects? Figure out which processors are part of your sound (preamps, compressors, distortion pedals, etc.) and which are fluff (reverb, flange, phase, chorus). Consider recording without the fluff effects because they can always be added after you record. If you do so anyway, remember that the intensity or settings of the effect cannot be altered if you decide they were wrong. Also, your perception of what is right can sometimes be different between playing and listening.
Don't forget to bring: extra strings (the same gauge as was used during the last intonation process), your strap, your tuner, your whammy bar (or other removable hardware), effects, power supplies, spare batteries for your effects and active pickups, picks, spare tubes, your slide, capo, EBow, or whatever other gadget you may need.
During the session setup: make sure you're in tune!
Before your session, make backup copies of your patches and sequences. It's a bad day for everyone if the whole band is set up and ready to go and you can't load your patches or sequences because of bad media.
Multitimbral keyboards are cool, but in the studio we'll record most of the parts separately instead of premixed. That means that most patches in your sequence will be tracked separately. Make sure you know how to solo and mute the individual patches on your multitimbral setup. If we're recording drums off your keyboard or drum machine, the same applies. We generally track bass drum and snare drum each on their own track. Then we can usually track the overhead and the toms, each in stereo. This technique gives us more options for applying EQ and reverb later in the project.
Make sure you know how to set the level of individual patches. (This is aside from adjusting your keyboard's volume control.) Set the patches to maximum. We'll reset the mixed levels when we monitor the playback. The point is to record with as hot a signal as possible. If we do this when we track your keyboard, then we won't need to amplify line noise later.
Make sure you know how to turn off the effects on your patches because it is usually better to record without them. (One exception might be tempo-synchronized delays that are "part of the song".) It is easy to add effects like reverb and chorus later on, but it is impossible to remove them when they're on the track.
Does everything need to be tracked in stereo? Probably not. Decide beforehand. Consider that if you pan a couple mono tracks toward the sides, you might have a wider stereo image than if you record every patch in stereo. If you have two patches that you'll be recording in mono, you can send one on the left output and the other on the right. This will save studio time (and the two sounds can still be repositioned when you listen to the mix).
Have you allowed for a two-bar count-off in the beginning of your sequences? The other musicians (or you, if you're overdubbing) won't know where to come in unless there is a count-off.
Consider recording all your performances on your sequencer before your session. In the studio, it is faster (and therefore less expensive) to push play on the sequencer than to manually record a keyboard performance. But if you're playing with a drummer or if your work contains many tempo changes, this might not be an option. (Most drummers aren't used to playing along with click tracks and sequences, but they can usually learn. Talk to your drummer.)
Learn how your sequencer can be triggered by an external device. (Our recorder can automatically start your sequencer via MIDI.) By recording this way, the material can be indexed by bars and beats throughout the recording process.
Don't forget to bring: a stand and bench that fits you and your keyboard (or you'll have to use ours), the power cable for your keyboard, manuals for each device, and backups of your patches and sequences.
During the session setup: preview the sequences on a pair of headphones so you don't interfere with instruments that need to be tuned. Make sure everything is MIDIed properly. Make sure your keyboard is set for equal temperament and that A above middle C is set to 440 hz, otherwise you'll drive the other musicians crazy.
Your voice is part of your body, so take care of yourself. Get a good night's rest. If your voice sounds groggy when you talk, it will sound groggy when you sing. Avoid excessive drinking because it dehydrates you (even the next day), and that changes the timbre and range of your voice.
During the session setup: warm up!
Before your session: make sure your instrument is in good shape. If it has moving parts (valves, keys, etc.), make sure they don't make unwanted noise. Bring along anything else you may need, such as reeds, strings, rosin, oil, a tuner, etc.
We've got some very nice instruments that can be ready for you to use. We don't charge extra for this. However, if you want to use our instruments, please give us a couple days notice so we can make sure they are ready to record. Of course, you can stop by to check out what we've got. You can also refer to our equipment list.