1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT STUDIO
In order to achieve the results you want and within the budget you have set, it is crucial to assess your abilities and needs. Answering the following questions can help you to decide what studio suits your project best:
- How many songs do you want to record? This is the first question any producer or engineer will ask because it directly affects the amount of time and money you'll need to complete the project.
- How long can you realistically work in one day? Your voice, patience and focus will all tire out by the end of the day. Don't try to push yourself beyond what you know you can do.
- Will your vocal arrangements require a lot of overdubs? This not only affects the amount of time you'll need but also the number of tracks required for each song.
- Is the studio producer / engineer experienced in your genre?
The best way to communicate the sounds in your head with somebody else is to find sonic examples. Go through your music collection and find vocal tracks that have the kinds of feel you want on your recordings. Studio professionals should know what it takes to record similar sounds and this is especially helpful when you're on a budget and looking for someone or somewhere that can produce that sound without a bunch of extra frills you won't need.
Do you need "just" an engineer or also a vocal producer?
This question is kind of tricky. To say "just" an engineer might give the impression that he or she doesn't have an important role. On the contrary, the engineer is responsible for the entire recording process, from setting up the right microphones in the right places to hitting "SAVE" after every take. If something isn't working, the engineer has to be able to fix it. The better your engineer, the more smoothly your day will go. When looking for an engineer, you'll want somebody who knows their way around the studio and is familiar with many different recording techniques. Most studios can provide an experienced engineer for your session, so if you find the right studio, you probably won't have to look for an independent engineer.
But, with your vocals being the focal point of your recording, you might also want to enlist the help of a professional specialized in getting the best out of a singer’s voice in the studio. So, what does exactly a vocal producer do? Everything from helping a singer warm-up its voice, to advising on the right microphone, selecting the best takesor alternative approaches to your takes, suggesting vocal arrangements, and the list goes on. If you can afford a vocal producer, that can definitely help you take the end product to another level.
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2. BEFORE YOUR SESSION
Rehearse as if you were recording
Recording music is a skill with its own set of nuances that differ from a live performance. Before your recording session, make sure you schedule plenty of rehearsal time specifically for the recording. Unless the plan is to capture the essence of a live show in the studio, it helps to practice as if microphones are picking up every bit of sound in the room. Studio microphones are very sensitive so if for instance you're usually animated on stage, you might need to practice sitting or standing relatively still to prevent extra noises like squeaky floors from creeping onto your recordings. Also, use this time to finalise structure and arrangements of your songs, as making these decisions before going into the studio will save you time and money.
Rehearse the material in the order you'll most likely record it
Pace your session by doing an easy song first and then getting into the difficult material early in the day when you’re sharp, focused, and can deal with the potential frustration from messing up the challenging parts a few times. End the day with another easy song so everyone goes home feeling good.
3. IN THE STUDIO
Allow enough time for setting up
The process of setting up for a recording session can be laborious. A good engineer will know where to start, but every singer has their own preference as to how they want their voice to sound and will need to make many small adjustments to capture exactly the sound they want. There are a few ways to speed up this process, such as giving the engineer sonic examples from albums you like, but ultimately you need to do a lot of recording, listening back and making adjustments until you're happy. It's much better to do this before you start tracking. Otherwise, you risk an inconsistent sound throughout the set of songs you're recording or worse, you won't be happy with the end result. Talk to your engineer ahead of time to get a realistic idea of how long it will take, then add another 30 minutes to the estimate. Setting up can be taxing, give yourself a little break before you start recording.
Don't rush decisions
Take your time each step of the way to make sure you can live with the results after the recording is done. This is why getting a fixed rate for your studio time could prove to be the best option. If you're looking at the clock between every take, you're much more likely to rush your decisions.
Budget for mixing and mastering
Many musicians focus so much on the actual recording session that they forget to save money for mixing and mastering. These stages can be just as time intensive as the recording. Figure out how much this will cost before you schedule your studio time. Don't sabotage your high-quality studio recordings by rushing your mixing session or being cheap with mastering. This is where the brilliant music’ve you recorded really comes to life!
Don't be afraid to use several different studios
If you need to be very budget conscious, you can record different stages of your songs in different studios. Perhaps the best way to start is to record scratch vocal arrangements at home. Then find the best place you can afford to track the rest of the parts. This might mean carrying your project around on an external drive (be sure to have a backup) but can also lead to a cost effective yet amazing end result.
Finally, just be sure to trust your ears and enjoy the recording process. Take advantage of all a studio has to offer, but don't go overboard and try to use everything sitting around the studio just because it's there. If you properly prepare for your recording session, it will be a fun, productive and rewarding experience.