PRE-PRODUCTION & RECORDING TIPS
 
When the artist needs a CD of their songs and has a limited budget it helps a great deal to be prepared with a basic guide to the "sound" they would like to achieve. This also allows the artist to maximize the use of their budget. The following hints are not an all-inclusive guide but a basic starting point for consideration. Incubator Recording and Mastering is not saying that these tips are a must but something to consider and may not be applicable to all situations.
 
Ask yourself if the recording is for a CD release or is it a demo to get gigs or is it a pre-production recording. This decision needs to be made before recording commences. Turning a "CD demo" into a "CD release" can be achieved but It may cost more than if you started to record a "release" in the first place. However it is best advised to decide beforehand if your recording is to be a demo or a CD release. With prior pre-production for your recording completed and a "sound" goal set, the artist is free to indulge in the creative process during the recording session because a goal has been set.
 
What is Pre-Production?
 
Pre-Production involves planning out the recording process i.e.: song arrangements (starts, stops, endings, when, where and how long parts need to be and oddly enough what key it is).
The different ideas of sound that you would like to achieve for the finished product. Maybe one song needs a dub feel, the other a slick electronic feel, maybe a big chorus with lots of back up vocals…
Brainstorm with band mates and or other musicians that might have an idea for your song if you are not sure or need some clarification on ideas. Incubator will always suggest ideas for you to choose…
 
Some Factors to Consider Before Recording Commences Recap: 
 
-Is it a live recording that is are all band members performing at once.
-Is it a demo or a CD RELEASE?
-How many musicians are involved, is there a 7 piece horn section, or are there 10 guitar overdubs, 4 part harmonies in each verse and chorus…
-Are you aspiring to be sonically like U2, Neil Young or Lamb of God…?
-Are you a perfectionist with performance, pitch, tone or is feel more important…
 
 
32 TIPS: GET THE MOST FROM YOUR RECORDING EXPERIENCE
 
TIP 1:
 
Decide ahead of time which songs (and which versions!) you're going to record. Prioritize your songs before a recording. List them in order of importance – then at least the most significant and best songs will be on the way first. A hint if you perform live the audience knows best, what's the crowd favorite?
 
TIP 2:
 
Spend time listening to recordings of bands that you particularly like and want to sound similar to. Select two songs that you think are close to your bands own sound and feel. Play these songs to the engineer before the session has started. This helps everyone to work towards the same sonic goal. This process is not an exact science. 
If you want to sound like for example Eric Clapton and your guitarist plays like Les Paul there are some differences. Eric Clapton mostly played a Fender Stratocaster a guitar that sounds quite different than a Les Paul, oh and your guitarist isn't Eric Clapton: a big difference. So don't expect a recording to be exactly the same as your reference songs. However this process helps Incubator to push a sound in your reference songs direction.
 
TIP 3:
 
Communicate with the engineer about what your expectations are for the recording, is it possible to do "this and that" in a ten hour recording session.
 
TIP 4:
 
Think about your overall sound for a song. Is it a live sound or more of a "produced" sounding session? Ask questions. Is the track to be layered with reverb or not, do you want a kick drum to sound like a 'woof' or a "thud"? It can go on and on if you want it to…
 
TIP 5:
 
Don't assume we can fix mistakes in the mix. Fixing mistakes in the "mix down stage" is not really the best approach to capturing the great take of a song. Generally the time taken to remedy the "fix" could have been spent on re-recording the original "duffed" version. It is quite possible to spend hours messing and processing a mistake to then only bury it in the final mix anyway. 
A classic saying in the computer-programming world: "crap in crap out". A mistake is a mistake, performing live at a gig no one probably heard it, but the CD will reveal all after you have listened to it a hundred times. It's possible, and Pro Tools can perform some amazing tasks but the best sound is going to come from the original source, you!
 
TIP 6:
 
When budgeting, allow enough time for the mixing process. Preferably mix down should happen on a separate day. After a day of recording to then start mixing with tired ears is asking for trouble. The next day is always going to be better; being rested and having fresh ears allows Incubator and you to make critical decisions that will be sound. If recording takes about 10 hours, the mix takes a similar amount of time plus a few hours extra.
 
TIP 7:
 
Lyrics and melody parts should be finalized before you commence recording. Before the recording date, write out all of the lyrics, along with notes for any special arrangements. 
Writing lyrics, harmonies and back up vocal parts on the day of the session or the night before is not always a good idea. Other band members might not be comfortable with a new arrangement on the day of the recording and may need time to let the new arrangement or part settle. Some artists can re-write and arrange on the day of a recording however it is strictly up to their ability and bands needs.
 
TIP 8:
 
Vocals in most recordings are usually recorded last, don't underestimate the time they can take. A common mistake that is made is to use up all your studio budget time recording the perfect rhythm section and then rush through the vocals putting up with second-best because of time constraints. The vocals are usually the first sound a listener will listen for and relate to. The vocal part is very important!
 
TIP 9:
 
Record your vocals/back up into a tape deck or any basic recording devices at home to determine what is sounding best, (or book a pre-production recording).
 
TIP 10:
 
The Click track (or metronome) is a valuable asset to record with. Not only can click tracks help the artist record steadier tempos, but these days, with the advent of computer based recording solutions using a click track/metronome can greatly assist the artist in using techniques such as "cut and paste" editing. 
Therefore to take advantage of this powerful tool the music needs to be in time. The click track/metronome also helps to avoid tricky over dubs at later times when perhaps a session player or friend might add another part. YOU MUST PRACTICE BEFOREHAND WITH A CLICK TRACK. Simply bringing up a click will not make you play in time, it is a learned skill working with click tracks. Once you have learned to play to them (it took me approx two weeks of maybe 10 minutes a day before I could take advantage of a click track) they are a very powerful tool. You know when you are ready to record with a click track when you practice at home and you no longer hear the click track (because you are in time with it).
 
TIP 11:
 
One point of serious mention is the ability to play with a click track (I am repeating information thats in Tip 10 however this needs repeating if you are interested in recording with a click track). If you have not rehearsed with a click track it is advisable to practice with one before you commence recording. The click track can be tricky to perform with if you are not familiar with them. Some people love clicks and some don't. It is the artists decision. The disadvantage is if you are not skilled with it the recording can have disastrous push and pull points that are not musical and can be a nightmare to edit out or play to. For example you randomly slow down over a bar because you hear your not in time or the opposite you speed up. Sometimes this can go unnoticed until you try and add bass or guitar and the other band member is pulling their hair out because they can't get what they usually cruise through...then you need to back track.
 
TIP 12:
 
Check equipment for rattles and noises before recording. Drums are notorious for time involved in quieting noises. Squeaky kick pedals... Amplifier hum and or loose connections will be heard on the day of the recording ten fold. Leave faulty or suspect leads at home or fix them.
 
TIP 13:
 
New strings achieve a bright cleaner sound for bass and guitar. Change strings a day or two before you record, this allows the strings time to stretch. (If you like the string to sound "flat" and this suits your sound don't change them).
 
TIP 14:
 
Check your guitar output jack for solid connection. If you have had trouble with a "crackle", on the day of the recording you can guarantee that it will be ten times the problem.
 
TIP 15:
 
Scratchy pots (the knob of your guitar is connected to a "pot") need to be looked at. A de-ox-it spray from an electronics store will most likely fix this. DO NOT USE WD-40! Wd-40 is a solvent and will damage your "pot". It is a temporary fix that will damage your instrament. There are specialist sprays to fix/clean scratchy pots.
 
TIP 16:
 
When plugged into your amp if you tap the guitar body or around pickups and if you hear a loud tapping sound there is a chance your pick-ups are in need of some attention…
 
TIP 17:
 
Are your amps sounding like they should? How many years since you last changed those tubes/valves, maybe this recording will need it.
 
TIP 18:
 
Buzzes and amp hum (single coil pick-ups are notorious for being hummed out) get it looked at before you record if you can. Quiet moments of light playing can be drowned out by a loud amp hum…mixing trouble. Also does your amp sound like it has a snow blizzard coming out of it? Get it looked at, you may spend more money in studio time trying to lower or get rid of the sound then if you had it repaired. 
 
TIP 19:
 
Get you guitar/bass set up! That is the action and intonation…if I am speaking another language you will be amazed at how good your favorite guitar can sound with new strings and a set up. Ask your guitar shop guru for a set-up…(average set up price $40-$70). One way to check intonation is to pluck a string open, then fret the same string on the 12th fret...the note should be the same.
 
TIP 20:
 
Replacing drum heads like strings need prior stretching. New heads can be amazing. Again this is a cost not many would undertake however it is an option to achieve amore "expensive sound" i.e. brighter, cleaner... This of course is subjective to the overall recording the performing artist wants (i.e. demo or CD release).
 
TIP 21:
 
Make sure your drums are tuned for the session regardless of new heads. If replacing all heads is too costly opt for just the snare head.
 
TIP 22:
 
Tune, tune, tune. It is important you tune your drums to the style of music being recorded. Do you want boom or thud? Tune before you record and re-tune in the studio. If you are new to tuning ask an experienced friend to help out or visit a drum shop for assistance. Guitars and bass need tuning too, especially between takes in the recording process, very important to keep tuning. Sometimes a passionate performance may have bent the strings a little to much so check tuning afterwards....
 
TIP 23:
 
Listen for rattles and squeaks (kick pedal, and drum stool…) and over resonance, that is some toms can be too boomy its up to you but be aware when microphones are in place, it puts a drum kit under the microscope and everything can be heard.
 
TIP 24:
 
We prefer a front kick head to have a hole for easy microphone placement and flexibility with the sound. It also helps to achieve the "click" sound of the kick. A kick drum with some "click sound" will cut through a mix better. This is however to artist taste...
 
TIP 25:
 
Fresh batteries are always a good idea. Making sure that you have remembered to pack amp leads/cords, power transformers for effects pedals, patch leads, drum sticks, FX settings... If it happens to be a Sunday session such little details can be devastating and time consuming to remedy. Some guitar and drums shops are closed on Sundays.
 
TIP 26:
 
If any musicians are relying on charts, make the charts neat and easy to read and rehearse beforehand and know what it is that you want to put down. Single sided charts with PAGE NUMBERS, avoids confusion. This also applies to voice over scripts for the "talent" and engineer.
 
TIP 27:
 
Recording and mix-down are time consuming tasks, for best results when recording a demo work on fewer songs instead of seven or eight, pick two or three. The one or two songs recorded well are going to impress your audience more than eight or nine roughly recorded and mixed songs. When you think about it quality over quantity is better for most recording situations. 
Too many times artists will want to record their set and pick the best version, fine for pre-production. However when time is crucial and more times than not the set turns into one take of this song three of that one and two of this one and so on. What the artist is left with is the potential of twenty to thirty songs to sift through at the end of a day. 
I feel this is a nightmare and a drain on the vibe of a session and your budget. Pick your best songs! If you are not sure which songs are shining at the moment, Think to the last gig you played, what songs did the punters comment on? The punters will be the ones who will be buying the CD. Fewer songs equate to a better sounding CD. This will be for your first impression and you want it to be a lasting one!
 
TIP 28:
 
Don't forget to eat something and take coffee breaks to rest your ears and brain every now and again while you record. Bringing your own food can be advantageous. It saves time and at the Incubator we can heat it up for you. So it makes sense to make up a couple of sandwiches or even cook up pasta to feed the whole band (including the engineer!)
There is usually enough time for at least one member of the band to keep everyone fed while they are not recording a take. That being said, Incubator is close to the Croxton Hotel, Fish n Chips, Chicken and chips, Thai, Subway, KFC and pizza (pizza is open after 6PM).
 
TIP 29:
 
With some basic ideas of the sound you desire before you start to record you have a better chance at walking away with a good sounding recording instead of an average recording.
Contact us today to discuss all your recording and audio mastering needs.
 
TIP 30:
 
Communicate with the engineer your intentions on the days you record, let the engineer know if you have decided to add drums to a song when an acoustic guitar session was booked. 
 
TIP 31:
 
At your next practice one player doesn't play and simply listens to what everyone else is playing. Listen for inconsistencies, make sure everyone is playing the right part "for the song". For example make sure the kick and bass are locked in rhythm, each player can take turns with this exercise, is there any overplaying? 
 
TIP 32:
 
Reference headphones. Bring your own headphones to the session, this gives you a better chance of achieving the "sound" you want because you are used to the "sound" from them. Can save time and money and the back and forth of mixing.
 
TIP 33:
 
Acoustic guitars and the CAPO. It is advisable to get your guitar set up that is the guitars intonation. With a capo on the intonation comes into focus more than without...strange dissonace can occurr, be wary...
 
 
03 9480 1211 / 0411 479 023 
info@incubatorstudio.com.au
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