Doing your first studio recording is an incredibly fun experience.
At least… if you are prepared for it, it will be fun.
If you are not prepared, it will be stressful and embarrassing.
After doing 2 professional albums and a handful of EPs with various bands over the years, I’ve (unfortunately) experienced both sides of the spectrum when it comes to recording in a studio.
Here are some of the best tips I’ve learned when it comes to preparing for recording in a studio – if you follow these, you will be completely prepared and have a lot of fun in the process.
Plan Your Practice Time
Look at how much you are currently practising, and how much you want to be practising.
Increase your daily practice by a little bit each week, moving towards your goal amount of time.
You want to gradually increase your practice time, hitting your peak “maximum practice time” before you go into the studio.
Don’t suddenly increase your practice time by 2 hours a day – this is how you get injuries.
Plan Your Practice Material
Draw a checklist in a notes app, or using a spreadsheet, that has all your song titles in a column and all the parts you need to learn for each song.
As you learn each section, you can check it off your spreadsheet.
This helps ensure that you learn everything that you need, and you don’t accidentally miss a section in your practice.
Take Care of Your Body
With all the extra practising that you will be doing, seriously consider doing a bit of yoga to stretch and warm up your ligaments and tendons, before you sit down to practice.
At the very least, give your arms a good stretch before practising.
Make Sure Every Note is Written Out
Before you even think of going into a recording studio, you want to make sure the songs you are playing are tabbed out in full, with the solos also tabbed out.
When you write out your songs in full, you will know exactly where every single note is going in relation to the metronome.
This means that when it comes to playing in a studio, you won’t get lost or caught off guard when it comes to playing tightly in time.
Guitar Pro is great for this, and so is Logic Pro. You can also use MuseScore if you want a free option.
Practise to a Metronome
Make sure you have custom drum tracks for EVERY song you are going to be working on.
I like to write out a metronome drum track for each guitar part I’m recording, that counts the subdivisions that I’m playing – so there is a “noise” on the metronome track for every note that I’m going to play.
If you have not practised this way before, you will be astonished at how easy this makes it to learn songs, and also how accurate your playing will become from doing this.
You can make these drum tracks in Guitar Pro, Logic Pro or MuseScore; depending on which program(s) you use.
Don’t Only Work On Your Songs
When planning your practice routine, have some “technique” material that you work on in addition to the songs, but make this a smaller part of your practice.
I find that just working on songs is LESS effective than working on songs and some technique stuff.
Get Your Guitar(s) Professionally Setup
Before the recording date, plan on getting your guitar setup.
Having your guitar setup will ensure that it is as playable as it can possibly be, and any little faults are fixed.
This will also ensure that your intonation is tight, so that you sound in tune over the length of your fretboard.
If you are taking an amplifier with you, you may want to get it checked – at the very least, take some spare fuses and pre-amp valves with you, as these are the things that are most likely to fail on your amp.
At the very least, make sure you have a new set of strings on your guitar – the difference not just in tone, but playability, between old and new strings is huge.
Memorise Everything Beforehand
Make sure everything that you are playing is memorised.
You do not want to be trying to play from printed out tabs while you’re recording in the studio.
Having said that, take the tabs with you anyway, whether they’re printed out or on a laptop (or both).
Manage Your Practice Time Carefully
Practice in 15 minute blocks, taking a 5 minute break between blocks.
This helps rest your hands, allowing you to play for longer.
It will also help you with your focus.
Overall, taking lots of mini breaks like this will allow you to practice consistently for much more time than if you try and practice in one big go.
Approaching your practice this way will also help you organise your practice around your life.
Scheduling 15 minute blocks here and there throughout the day is much easier than scheduling a 2 hour block.
Here is a free eBook on how to practice guitar effectively, that is packed with useful tips.
Make sure you are well rested and getting to sleep at a sensible time each night.
Studies have shown that good sleep improves procedural memory (procedural memory is your muscle memory, which is useful for playing guitar).
Avoid alcohol aside from maybe once every two weeks or so, alcohol can impede your mood and playing the next day, even if you are not suffering from a hangover.
Practice Recording on Your Computer
Recording is different to playing.
When you’re practising, you may let the odd mistake pass by without worrying too much, but when you are recording, everything should be note perfect.
In the studio, you will be able to “cut in” at any point you want, but you should be able to get a flawless recording within a few takes.
Recording yourself will also help you spot any “systematic” errors”.
A systematic error is a mistake that you make consistently, because you can’t properly play a part.
You want to ensure that you have eliminated any and all systematic errors from your playing before you are in the recording studio.
Another aspect of recording is “red light nerves”, where you find knowing that you are recording gives you a little bit of anxiety, compared to practising normally (this is similar to performance anxiety).
Practising recording will help you get used to this bit of pressure, so that you can handle it better in the recording studio.
So at the end of each practice session, take 15 minutes to practice recording some riffs.
Keep a Written Log of Your Practice
Keeping a written log of your practice is very, very useful, especially when preparing for the recording studio.
When taking notes, record any weak points that need to be worked on the next day.
If there is a section you are struggling with, make a note of it and adjust your practice priorities the next day so that you can work on this section.
I use a notes app called Bear (mac only) for this, but Evernote (PC and Mac) or OneNote (PC and Mac) will also fine.
Turn Up On Time
I shouldn’t have to say this, but it doesn’t hurt.
Turn up on time!
When you are working out your travel time, aim to arrive early AND allow time for traffic / problems on the way.
Make sure you know exactly where you are going – remember that a postcode is not the same as an address.
Turning up late not only looks bad, but it is a waste of money.
Your first time in a recording studio can seem daunting, but with the right preparation you will have a lot of fun and, fingers crossed, you’ll get a great recording that you’re proud of at the end of it.