From 2010 to 2014, we included a Tip of the Month in each of our monthly newsletters. These tips have been compiled on this page.
- June – Don't be so quick to dismiss overdubbing.
Some musicians feel that recording "live" in the studio enhances spontaneity. However, how much spontaneity is left after take 5 or 6? I have seen some wonderful performances turned in by vocalists singing over well-crafted overdubbed backing tracks. Overdubbing gives you the flexibility to make some great and very creative music.
- May – Sometimes it's a good idea to take a day off from the studio.
Creativity can suffer from overload and overuse of your brain. Sometimes getting away from the studio can refresh the creativity as well as bring fresh ears to the session.
- April – Put emotion and feeling into your performance.
Mentally block out all of the microphones, studio paraphernalia, and gear around you. Stay relaxed and play or sing naturally. If it helps, imagine you are on stage in front of a friendly crowd.
- March – Come into the studio prepared and ready to work, well-rested and clear-headed.
Recording is a physically and mentally demanding process. You won't perform your best if you're not up to the challenge. So avoid that party the night before. You can always have fun next weekend.
- February – Don't forget about your album artwork.
After spending weeks or months in the studio polishing your album, you don't want to create a album cover overnight when its time to be duplicated. Be thinking about you cover while you're in the recording process. If you plan on hiring a graphic artist, do it at the beginning of the process. Check out more tips for album artwork.
- January – Don't worry if you make a mistake during a take.
One of the advantages of modern multi-track digital recordings is that you can punch in to correct a mistake. That means you can simply record over the error without retracking the entire song.
- December – Use ISRC codes on your master CD. Althouh the Internation Standard Recording Code (ISRC) was once free, there is now one-time fee. Codes are available from http://www.usisrc.org/. With these codes you can assign a unique code for each song on every one of your albums. Then the ownership and royalties can be tracked when they are played on radio stations, both conventional and online stations. You should obtain your codes before you come into the recording studio so there is no delay when your project is finished.
- November – Make sure you have everything you need during the recording phase. It's easy to edit things out during the mix phase, but much harder to add things that aren't there. Avoid going back into the studio to add or fix something that should have done in the first place.
- October – Know your tempo. Knowing the tempo is especially important if you plan on using a click track. Click tracks not only maintain a consistent tempo, but they make editing your tracks much easier. Knowing the tempo of each song will save the engineer time when programming the click.
- September – Warm up before you begin recording. Take 5 or 10 minutes before the session to practice on your guitar, bass, keyboard, or other instrument or to warm up your voice. Limbered up fingers and vocal chords will sound much better.
- August – Add some space to your music. Rests add excitement and contrast to your music. Pause just before your hook. It's one of the best ways to make your listeners stop and listen.
- July – Surprise your listener.
Do something she is not expecting. A volume increase, a key change where it's not expected, a sudden stop—anything that startles your listener will make the song more memorable.
- June – Keep guests in the studio to a minimum.
Guests sometimes cause distractions. They also may cause some musicians to be nervous.
- May – When mixing, listen to the overall balance of instruments.
Mixing is a compromise. Not every instrument can be front and center. You need to consider how the whole song sounds.
- April – Don’t mix on the same day you record.
Coming in with a fresh set of ears will allow you hear things you may have missed during the recording session.
- March – If you make a mistake during a take, don't stop.
It could turn out to be the best take yet, and a small mistake can often be corrected with a punch in or other editing techniques.
- February – Bring music or a lyric sheet for the engineer.
It will aid him in finding his way around the recording, which just might save you some studio time.
- January – Have fun while you're in the studio.
Don't get so caught up in the details of creating a “perfect” take that the music loses energy. If you're having fun, it will be refelected in the recording, and your listeners will know you're having fun.
- December – Stay well nourished.
You will need to sustain a high level of energy for an 8-hour recording session. Creativity and motivation diminish when your blood sugar crashes without food. So have an occasional snack. Don't forget to break for lunch or dinner. The break will do you good, and you'll probably come back more relaxed and refreshed.You don't have to fill up every available track.
- November – You don't have to fill up every available track.
Just because you have 32 or 48 tracks available doesn't mean they all should be used. Multiple overdubs of guitars and adding more instruments is usually not the way to create a great recording. Listen carefully and you may find that less is better.
- October – Always make a backup of your master CD.
You never know when you might lose it, drop it in a crack in the floor, or accidentally step on it. So be safe and back it up.
- September – When mixing listen to your track on several different stereos, such as your car or home stereo.
It may sound better in the recording studio than it does in the car. Then go back into the studio and make your final adjustments.
- August – Don't necessarily double track everything.
Doubling the lead vocal can hide all the nuances that make a song personal and emotional. However, using it in the chorus can help set it apart. For some genres, double tracking can give the vocal fullness, but not every vocalist can pull this off. The overdub has to be spot on.
- July – It's the emotion and feeling that make the best recordings.
If you have to choose between a take that's full of emotion and one that is technically perfect, opt for the one with emotion. The listener can feel the difference.
- June – Know your budget.
Estimate how much studio time you'll need to complete your project. Then double it. It seems like it always takes longer than you expect. Don't put yourself in the position of running out of money and having to say, “It's good enough.”
- May – Singers, take care of your voice.
Avoid eating ice cream or drinking milk or other beverages containing dairy products. Avoid ice-cold drinks as they constrict the vocal chords. The best choice is to drink warm water or tea with lemon and honey. Rest your voice periodically.
- April – Practice, practice, practice.
The answer to: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Also, a very good way to minimize your recording studio expenses. If you are well rehearsed, you can come into the studio and lay your tracks down in one or two takes, saving considerable studio time.
- March – Practice with a cheap recorder.
Some people have red-light syndrome—that is, they get really nervous when they're recording. To overcome this problem, you and your band can record your practices using an inexpensive recorder. Even an old cassette recorder will do. The more you practice this way, the less chance of freezing up when you get to the studio.
- February – Keep the volume down.
It seems like everyone wants to turn the volume up. However, you will get a better mix if you reduce the volume to a moderate level. And it will help reduce ear fatigue.
- January – Listen to what you have recorded.
When you finally nail that performance in the studio, come into the control room and give a careful listen. Don't assume that a take was good enough just because it felt right. It will be easier to fix a slight flaw now rather than later on. So make sure you really nailed it.
- December – Tune your instrument before each take.
A good instrument will stay in tune for a good while, but other factors can affect tuning. For example, if you have just brought your instrument into the studio from the cold (or heat), it may not have completely acclimated. The last thing you want is to lay down a great performance only to discover that your guitar or bass was out of tune. Be safe—tune it.
- November – Stow instrument cases and any items you don't need for the session outside the studio or back in your car.
Keeping the floor uncluttered and with as much space as possible between band members will make for a better studio experience. Your mind will be uncluttered as well, and it will show in your performance.
- October – Prepare one or two songs more than you plan to use on your CD.
You may have trouble recording a particular song, or it just doesn't sound as good as the other songs, or it doesn't match the theme of the album. In the end if you have trouble deciding which songs to omit, you can always put the leftovers on your next album.
- September – Do more than one take, but no more than five.
Each take tends to improve, but if you reach a point where you just can't get it right, stop and come back to it later. As an alternative, you can always comp it. [See the glossary for definition of comping.]
- August – Keep it simple.
If you use mulitple overdubs of multiple instruments, before long your song will loose its sparkle and begin to sound like mush. Listen to your favorite artist on the radio. Chances are you can pick out every instrument. That's the sound you should strive to obtain.
- July – Stand when you sing.
Your vocals will sound better if your lungs and diaphragm are not cramped due to being in a sitting position. If you prefer to sit while singing and playing your guitar, use a high stool rather than a chair. A good upright posture will produce much better vocals.
- June – Plan ahead by knowing who’s playing what and when for each song.
A lot of studio time can be wasted by trying to create your arrangements in the studio. Work all that out ahead of time. Then rehearse each of the parts so that you have them down pat. You'll sound better and use the studio time more efficiently.
- May – Take occasional breaks.
Whether you know it or not, your ears can become fatiqued. After giving them a break, things may not sound the same as they did. Also, singers need to rest their vocal chords periodically. To sound your best and to hear what you sound like during a recording session, give your voice and ears an occasional break. And remember, the engineer also may suffer from ear fatigue. Give him a break.
- April – Remember to bring extra strings, drumsticks, heads, batteries, cables, or anything else that might break or go out.
The nearest music store to our studio is 8 miles away, but even if it were next door, you don't want to waste time while you're on the clock driving to the store to buy parts. Be safe—if it can break, bring a spare.
- March – Practice with a metronome.
Click tracks have many benefits. Besides keeping a constant tempo, it makes it easier to edit tracks later on. Playing with a click track the first time can be confusing or disconcerting for some musicians. So to get used to playing with a click track, practice with a metronome. Choose the most annoying tone it has. Then you'll be prepared for whatever sound comes your way in the studio.
- February – Know when to quit.
It's natural to try to accomplished as much as possible during a recording session. But if you or your bandmates have become tired and irritable, your performance will suffer. When that happens, call it day. You can come back fresh the next day. You'll be glad you did when you listen to the recording.
- January – Memorize your lyrics.
By all means bring the music and/or lyric sheet in case you need it or for last-minute changes. (And while you're at it, bring a copy for the recording engineer.) However, you will have a better performance with more passion and spontaneity if you are not constantly having to look at the sheet and worrying about what line comes next.
- December – Take care of your ears before your recording session.
If you're playing a gig the night before your recording session, you need to be mindful of your ears. We all like to rock out and playing louder is fun and more energetic, but loud music can impact your hearing. When you come into the recording studio your recording will sound better if you can hear what you're recording. You don't have to turn your amps down, just put some earplugs in. There are many varieties of earplugs that will block out the sound without makinng it sound like you're listening through marshmallows.
- November – When recording a song, allow the final note to go to complete silence before saying anything or making a noise.
This is one of those things you'd think everyone should know, but it is surprising how often an experienced musician (possibly in the heat of the momemt) says something like “Hot damn! We nailed it that time!” as the last note slowly decays. Well, you may have nailed it, but you're going to have to do it over. It is nearly impossible to edit out something like that.
Other tips for the musician:
Tips for the Musician Before Arriving at the Studio
Tips for Recording Sessions
Tips for Mixing Your Tracks
Tips for Artwork
Other articles that may be of interest:
Recording Studio Articles