Simply stated, what you need in order to record music in a studio is to ask yourself ‘why do I want do this’? Whether you’re a songwriter getting a demo cut or a solo artist or a band, you need to know why you want to do this. Secondly, have an understanding of the process.
There are plenty of good articles everywhere that tell you some ins and outs of ‘how’. Let’s stick with the ‘why’ and some of the background stuff so you know what you’re getting yourself, and possibly your mates, into. After these questions are answered you can get more into the ‘how’.
What are your goals?
Why do you want to record you or your band? Are you a songwriter that needs a demo? What are the goals for doing this? Answers to these questions will help you decide how to proceed. For example, if you are a solo guitarist and your goal is to just have some CDs of a couple of songs to pass out to friends, why not ask around at the local guitar shop or ask friends of someone who has a decent recording set-up that would be willing to make a few extra bucks?
Let’s look at the larger picture. If you want to record with intention of replication and distribution, then be totally aware of copyright law. It would be illegal for you record a song that someone else wrote with the intention of distribution. Go to the Harry Fox Agency and google on ‘how to secure recording rights’. The answer on how to secure recording rights, in a nutshell, is this: pay for the mechanical reproductions you are making by contacting the owner of the rights of those songs. The cost is usually very reasonable.
If your songs are original compositions, protect yourself by getting the songs copyrighted before you record. This is job #1 for the serious songwriter. It takes sometimes up to 6 months to receive a copyright registration, but proof of your submittal is good enough for government recognition of your work.
Ok, back to the topic at hand. Why do you want to record? Are you a solo artist that is recording a project for demo purposes? Then maybe you don’t need to spend huge bucks on a top-of-the-line studio, maybe you need to find a smaller studio or a recording geek to help you out. Are you part of a full band that wants to record for the purposes of getting a demo for distribution to bars? Then seek good quality, but don’t break the bank. Are you a songwriter in need of a great sounding demo? Sadly, a great sounding demo is what is expected. Make a list of the studios in your area. Call or surf and find out recording rates.
Have a plan before getting into the studio.
Do you want really great quality? Then be prepared to spend some money. But fear not, you will save a ton if you your sessions planned far in advance. Think of session planning as you would songwriting. A little incubation time is required.
Before even getting into the studio, contact and prepare the musicians. This means send them charts, mp3s, CDs tapes, whatever. Get them prepared for the parts they’ll be playing. Even if you want them to come up with some ideas, prepare them with whatever you have. Even if it’s only a description of the song.
Plan the sessions with the studio manager. After setting up the blocks of time, tell him or her what you’ll be doing that day. “Today we’re bringing in the drummer and he’s (she’s) gonna play these songs”. In tomorrow’s session, we’ll split the time between recording the bass part on x songs and the acoustic guitar part on x songs.” The session on that day will be all about certain players and certain parts of certain songs.
If you’re planning on recording your band all at once, no problem. Most places can do that. Just be prepared that there’s a goodly amount of set-up time.
Speaking of set-up time, this is all studio time as well. Be prepared because you will have plenty. Especially when it comes to drums.
Even if you’re a solo performer, make session plans. No matter whether your solo or in a band situation, you will need to be flexible and re-structure your plans. Things happen or things take longer than you expected. Learn when a part is good enough and move on. If you’ve got the time to wait for the ‘perfect’ take, then wait. Just remember that time is money.
Build the house. Start with the foundation and build upward. Begin by recording the drums, then get the bass track down. Then the rhythm parts, then any highlight or lead parts. Finally, get the vocals tracked (you may want to record a ‘scratch’ vocal track during the drum session for reference). There’s no hard and fast rules about producing this way, but this is what works well. If you don’t have tight tracks from the drums and a tight bass guitar track to them, nothing else will groove. These ARE the grooves! You might decide to record the band all at once, and this is ok. This also works well. Do what you think would be best for you.
If your band or session musicians are playing and recording a song all at once and you think it will take multiple takes to get it right, think about recording each instrument separately. You’ll have more control over the mix and less frustrations overall. It just depends on musician availability, whether or not the band performs together better or other time constraints.