Recording Tips

Here you will find many tips and tricks I have learned over the years that will help make your recordings the best they can be.

Before Your Studio Session…

  • EXERCISE! – No, I’m not talking about going to the gym, although that’s probably a good idea.  I’m talking about your voice or instrument.  If you are a singer and your vocal technique is not where you can sing for several hours, on pitch, and with emotion and dynamics, then your studio experience will suffer.  Singing is a skill that requires endurance, which comes from training, practice and exercise just as if you were an athlete.  Don’t let your vocals suffer, for the recording’s sake or your health’s sake.  If you are having trouble improving, consult a vocal instructor or vocal coach.
    If you are a musician, make sure your fingers, arms, or mouth are seasoned to your instrument.  You should be able to confidently and reliable play well for hours, if necessary.  I would also suggest a teacher or coach to push and encourage you.  The best athletes (and vocalists/musicians) in the world have coaches.  There is a reason!
  • USE QUALITY INSTRUMENTS – In recent years, with the proliferation of inexpensive instruments and gear, I have heard it  said that a quality instrument is not as important as in the past, since an engineer can alter its sound in the studio and make it sound better.  While that is somewhat true, don’t expect a night/day difference in the outcome.  If you do, you will be disappointed.  A recording engineer cannot make a $50 guitar sound like a seasoned Taylor.  The first step in having great guitar tracks (or any other instrument, for that matter), is to start with a great guitar.  This is also true for drum kits and almost every other instrument.  There are no substitutes for quality instruments played by great musicians.
  • PRACTICE! – While this should be a no-brainer, you would be surprised of how many times I’ve heard an inexperienced singer or musician say that they have only “practiced” a particular song once or twice.  Really?  Great recordings come from confident singers and musicians.  While there are professional vocalists that can deliver great performances from a song they’ve seen only once, they are very rare.  If you don’t know the songs any better than I do, then don’t expect them to sound very good.  You need to be immersed in the lyrics enough that your listeners get the meaning of the song from your deliverance of its lyrical message.
  • LEARN THE SONGS – If you are a vocalist, then your familiarity with the song is crucial.  If you have to rely on a lyric sheet, then there is little chance you can be 100% confident in your delivery in the studio.  Great vocal recordings are full of emotion and deliver a message to the audience.  Every song has a purpose, and it is usually the primary job of the vocalist to deliver that message.  What message is your audience getting from your vocal?  Do you sound unsure?  Do you sound like you are reading?  Do you sound bored?  Does your delivery match the words or story of the song?  Seriously think about those questions.  This is the biggest issue I see in the studio with vocalists today, especially in groups, such as trios and quartets.  If you are a band or musician, PLEASE have either sheet music or chord charts for your songs.  They eliminate confusion in the studio whenever questions arise regarding verses, choruses, etc.  Have an extra copy for the recording engineer, too.
  • RECORD YOURSELF – A great idea, especially with all the technology we have today, is to record yourself singing or playing the songs at home.  The recording can be made on a smartphone, handheld recorder, at your church, etc.  This will let you hear problems that you may not have known existed prior to recording them in the studio.  The studio will expose all those hidden flaws that you didn’t know were there!
  • REST – Be well rested before your studio visit.  Your body cannot perform up to the demands of the studio without proper rest.  I suggest 8+ hours of good sleep each night.  Be sure to start this rest routine at least 5 days before your studio session, if you have a habit of burning the midnight oil.
  • DIET – This could be an entire page of itself.  But, I will say that what you eat–especially the week prior to your studio session–has a huge influence on the quality of your voice.  Each voice is different, and certain eating habits affect each voice different.  But, there are some general recommendations.  Acidic foods (juices, sauces, etc.), sodas, and anything with caffeine is discouraged.  These will constrict your vocal chords and make you have to work harder to deliver a great vocal.  There are plenty of resources online that cover this topic in detail.

The Day of the Vocal Session…

  • WATER & SNACKS – For vocalists that struggle with dry mouth or throat, bring regular Lay’s potato chips and room-temperature bottled water to the studio.  You need plain, greasy potato chips–nothing else.  Yep. That’s right.  Greasy chips are one of the best snacks you can have that helps lubricate your vocal folds.  Stay away from anything acidic, hot, or saucy.  Drink room temperature water, not ice water.  Besides, only bottled water is allowed in the studio.  Sodas and other beverages are not allowed.
  • PUNCTUALITY – Be on time…not too early and not late.  In many cases, the studio has been prepped for your session and is ready to go when you arrive.  There are occasions where some prep will be needed once you arrive, depending on the nature of the recording.
  • VISITORS – Limit the amount of people that come with you to one or less.  First of all, visitors not directly involved with the recording project can unintentionally make the artist nervous or uncomfortable in the studio.  The studio environment is already tense for many people that have little experience recording.  On the other hand, someone that would help you be more at ease and confident would be nice to have with you, if needed.  Secondly, many visitors give inaccurate feedback to an artist’s performance; either giving them praise regardless of the performance’s outcome, or being too negative or picky when the results were great.  And, lastly, there is simply limited room in the studio for visitors.  But, if you feel a visitor will enhance your studio performance, then they are, by all means, welcome!
  • PERFORMANCE – As a singer or musician, you are trying to record what should be a performance where your goal is to deliver the message of the song.  That’s it.  The technical stuff should have been worked out during pre-production or practice.  In the studio, I’m looking for the emotion… the feeling… the message of the song.  It’s going to be harder to deliver the message due to the fact that the audience won’t see your body language.  So, your vocals have to do double-duty.  If the emotion doesn’t deliver the message, it doesn’t really matter that you sang it in tune and “technically” correct.
    So, how do you bring out the message?  First, you have to understand the meaning of the song.  Every song has a message. Then, it’s up to the singer to deliver that to the “audience.”  So, in the studio you will need to imagine the audience is listening.  Imagine you are in front of a live audience.  You need to be excited, or serious, or silly, or whatever the lyrics are calling for.  And, you have to over-accentuate those emotions to be effectively captured on the recording… Much like actors in a Broadway play.  Believe me, it will make a difference.
  • WORK ATMOSPHERE – Keep in mind that when you are in the studio, you are basically on the clock.  Be intentional and have a plan of what you need to accomplish.  While all work and no play makes for a bad day, just be serious about what needs to be done, and at the same time keep it light and fun!  Be sure your recording engineer has a copy of your lyrics and/or sheet music and chord charts.
  • QUIET, PLEASE! – It is important to keep the control room quiet during playback so the engineer and/or producer can closely listen to what was is being, or has just been, recorded.  Conversations in the control room, especially unrelated to the task at hand, need to be kept to a minimum during this crucial time.  Remember, the engineer is trying to hear the performance to see if anything needs to be re-recorded.  Talking can hinder that and cause him to miss something that needs attention, and possibly causing the artist to have to redo the performance, possibly at a later date (if missed during the day of recording), costing you additional time and money, and a delay in the completion of your project.
  • EVALUATE – Listen closely to your performance and honestly evaluate your work.  Will the listener believe your performance?  Does it convey the message of the song?  Do you sound like yourself?  Do you sound like you are reading?  You probably know your talent level better than the engineer.  Be honest and give your absolute best.  Don’t be offended if the engineer pushes you to try harder.  He simply wants the best for your recording, and that’s all that is expected…your best.
  • QUESTIONS?– Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  You are the artist and it is my goal that you are involved totally in your recording project.  There are parts of the recording process that you may not understand, and you are certainly welcome to ask questions.  Answers are, however, optional. 😉
  • BE PATIENT – Recording in a studio can be a time consuming adventure.  For every minute of recorded time you have in a song, there will be anywhere from one to several hours of behind the scenes editing and mixing to make the final master.  That means, for a typical song, the engineer may have up to three or more hours in editing and mixing to make your song sound its best.
  • “FIX IT IN THE MIX” – Have you heard that before?  Well, please do not adhere to that philosophy.  It’s usually always best to get it right as it is recorded–not later.  The engineer is your resource for knowing what may need to be re-recorded or simply left alone for later editing.  The best recordings are those that are as natural as possible with as little “tweaking” as possible.

After The Session Is Over…

  • BE PATIENT – Now, for the short term, your part is mostly over.  The engineer will now spend some time reviewing everything that was recorded, making any necessary edits, and mixing all of the song’s individual elements into a song.  You will be receiving a rough copy of all the mixes for review.  This part of the recording process was probably discussed with the client in person, including a projected time frame.  But, be patient as this is one of the most important stages in the project’s process.
  • WEBPAGE ACCESS – Rough mixes in the form of MP3 files will be posted online at a web page setup for you and/or your group only.  You will be issued an username and password for site access.  CD’s for review can be made as an alternative method, but they will incur extra charges and shipping, causing delays.
  • LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE ROUGH MIXES – While the rough mixes are just that, rough, make sure you review them, and make sure they do not contain major flaws that you would not want in the final mixes.  Your engineer wants you to be in control of your final project, so feel free to make any notes of what you hear that you may not like and discuss this with the engineer.  Also be aware that the engineer will be reviewing and making notes on these rough mixes along with you.  All notes should be typed within an email, or an attached Word document, for documentation purposes.  No text messages.
  • DO NOT USE – Please, do not post rough mixes on your website or social media site for any reason.  These mixes are intended for review by the client only.  Once you receive the final mixes and have paid all applicable invoices, you are welcome to post them wherever you wish.
  • PAYMENT IN FULL – Payment in full is expected before any final mixes are released.  Rough mixes are not for public distribution or sale for any reason.