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Top Recording Studio Tips: For Artists and Small Studio Owners

Whether you’re a music artist or a studio owner, getting the most out of a studio session is a no-brainer. While it is genuinely important to aspire to have a fun and relaxed session to bring about great, creative results, a certain amount of prep from both sides should be considered to help ensure a great session. From the musician’s point of view, you can cut costs and not need as many sessions the more prepared you are for each one, while for the studio heads, making each session as positive as possible is important for retaining clients and attracting new ones.

That’s why Headliner is here with the top tips for studio sessions that are productive, creative, and as stress-free as possible. Some might even seem a little obvious, but nonetheless are important to be mindful of.

The top tips for artists

1. Get your parts practised-up and nailed down ahead of time

Yep, we warned you, some of these might seem obvious! You’ll want to be as familiar as you can be with what you’re going to be recording in the studio session. This is where practice very much makes perfect. Sometimes doing take after take can feel like a case of diminishing returns and can become stressful — you can reduce multiple takes due to mistakes by being comfortable playing each part ahead of time. You can also listen back to your demo in your downtime so it’s extra locked in.

2. Come armed with a strong demo

Once upon a time, a demo would usually entail a band getting together in the room and jamming out a song to a basic recording, which they would send to a producer to hear to help the upcoming recording sessions. With DAWs becoming more widely used by musicians in general, it is becoming increasingly common for demos to be much more polished and built up, and being much closer to the end result than a phone recording.

If you’re Taylor Swift and have an endless pit of money, and a producer lined up who has cleared months of schedule to work with you for as long as it takes, rocking up with a piano/guitar line and a vocal part with no lyrics is fine. If you’re on a budget, doing things this way could mean booking quite a few more sessions than you intended and spending more than planned.

Working on a demo in a DAW like Cubase, Logic, or even good old GarageBand could save you lots of time and a good few pennies, and it even helps you retain more creative control in a session — having the parts (even if just VST versions) and some of the intended sounds and effects together ahead of time helps you articulate to the producer where you want your song to go. Don’t worry about creating anything too advanced, it’s just great advice to not only have a tinny recording to use as the basis of your session.

3. Don’t be too attached to a number of sessions

Having said that! Let’s say you book just one or two recording sessions at a studio — don’t become too emotionally attached to getting everything done and not needing to book a few more. It can be very difficult to predict exactly how much studio time will be required, and there are so many variables that can happen in a studio, some negative, and then positive ones like sudden bursts of inspiration adding a bit of time on the clock.

4. Relaxed yet focused is key for your recording performance

Some musicians, especially studio first-timers, will make the mistake of getting into a knot of stress when it comes time to hit record in your studio recording session, thinking this will somehow yield a better recording result. Being relatively relaxed will help immensely — if you are getting nervous, try and focus on slowing down your breathing so you’re not stuck in your head. The more mindful and in the moment you can be, the more your natural creative instincts will take care of the rest.

5. Guide vocals

Something that will make recording a vocal part much smoother and less nerve-wracking is working with a guide vocal. This is a loose version of the lead vocal, a demo of sorts, to help you record the final vocals for the demo. And, as the lead vocal is nine times out of 10 the lead melody, it helps having that foundational part there for recording the rest of the parts, whether they be guitar, synth, keys, bass or what have you.

Recording the vocals without a guide part can actually turn out quite cold sounding, and the guide can help you bring out that extra emotion and take the pressure off somewhat.

6. Recording at a studio is fun, so have fun!

And the inevitable, cheesy advice. Recording your music in a studio should be a wonderful and inspiring experience, so savour it and have fun. You may have seen footage of bands recording in a studio, seeming to spend a lot of time joking around and laughing, while also producing incredible music. There’s a great truth to be found here, in that creating can be a joyful experience — if the studio owner is creating an unpleasant experience to work in, it might be worth considering other options.

The top tips for studio owners

1. Tidy space, tidy mind(s)

If the musicians, aka your clients, have saved up money to work with you at your studio, the first impression of seeing a dirty, cluttered space is not going to go down well in the slightest. If you have some vintage synths and gear, don’t slip into thinking a coating of dust is part of the retro look. A positive space will help set up a positive session. Worst case, one of these rabid injury claims lawyers will love to hear about someone who used your space tripping on a wire you didn’t tidy away.

2. You need to be digitally tidy, too

It’s important to become as component as possible with organising all the files, DAW sessions, stems, samples, as neatly as you can. Not just for the smooth running of a session, but down the line also. It falls on you to be able to send the WAVs and MP3s promptly, especially if there might be a manager or record label breathing down your neck. You will need to invest in some sturdy hard drives also, as it’s essential to never delete anything. That band you worked with five years ago could suddenly announce they want to release the raw demos from their time with you, or they need to send the stems to a remixer in Norway.

3. Have the DAW session and space ready ahead of time

A huge bonus is to be prepared ahead of time with which DAW you’ll be using (if you have more than one), with the project named and dated, tracks and parts named also. Label files as clearly as possible to save headaches later. It’s also very helpful to know the session parameters ahead of time, to save the nightmare of changing a sample rate later on.

The same goes for having all guitars, drums, synths, pedals, and whatever gear you’ll need ready to go before the band or artist’s arrival to the recording session. Also: musicians often run on caffeine, so keeping the tea and coffee flowing throughout goes a long way.

4. The gear you trust

If you’re working with a musician or group who only have a small amount of recording sessions booked, you may have to forego any luxurious gear experimentation that a longer string of studio recording sessions may have allowed. In these instances, keep yourself and everyone happy by using the gear you know and love in the way you know and love so everything gets done to deadline. If a client with more money to spend books longer sessions and is open to experimentation, that’s when you can spend half an hour tweaking the sounds on your Moog with a pedal you’ve never put it through before.

5. Prepare a headphone mix, and always leave time for mixing

Sure, the mix probably sounds superb coming out of your top-end JBL studio speakers. However, you don’t want your client to get home from the recording session and be left bemused when they listen back on their headphones. Make time to do a mix with a pair of more basic headphones for this purpose. Use your client’s headphones if you can! So many music listeners use headphones ultimately, so this is an extra important step.

While on the subject of mixing, it’s also important to schedule in time for a quick mixdown at the end of each recording session. There is nothing more customary than everyone sitting down together when all the creative juice has been used up and listening back to what was achieved that day. The artists will need to hear the music back mixed, at least to a basic degree.

6. Line your studio with plan Bs and contingency options

Occasionally, when running a studio and recording sessions, things can, and they will, go wrong. Embrace this inevitability and avert disaster by being prepared for it. In studio speak, this is a case of having lots of backup cables for when one drops out during a recording session, backup microphones, knowing which preamp to reach for if the first one fails, etc etc.

7. The art of comping

A vital skill in this modern day and age is being able to edit and splice takes together, otherwise known as comping. Oftentimes, you’ll have to do this on the go to keep the session running smoothly.

8. Don’t kill the vibe, man

We mentioned earlier how important it is for the artists to remain relaxed and enjoy their time in the recording session. As you are essentially in charge of the session, encouraging a fun and relaxed atmosphere is arguably as important as having all your gear running and in order. You’ll get better takes and ideas out of the clients, and if they have a fun time in your space and are free to laugh and enjoy it, chances are they’ll be coming back for more bookings. One can only assume you’re getting into this because it’s your passion, so don’t take it overly seriously!

If you have a recording session at a studio coming up, remember all it takes is a bit of prep, and ultimately then trusting in your creative instincts on the day. It has to be said again: studio time can be among the most magical times for a musician, so enjoy that magic when it’s available.

Further Reading:

Starting a home studio on a budget