The Song, the Song, the song!
Pre-production is one of the most overlooked aspects of recording. Obviously the most critical aspect is writing the song. And by write I mean you get lots of input from people you trust about how it sounds, flows, feels. If possible you should be gigging the song, even if it’s just to friends in your living room, to see how people respond to it.
Often people come to the studio before the song is complete and hope to finish it in the studio. And don’t get me wrong, more than a few artists over the years have approached music this way and done it successfully. It’s actually why I first created my studio – for me to experiment with different ideas and arrangements. IF this is how you want to approach it you need to know that it’s going to be a challenge and that it will definitely cost you more money.
Even if your song is ready to go and well-rehearsed (everyone in the band should be able to play it forwards, backwards, sideways, and slant-ways) it’s a good idea to find a friend who knows a bit about music and ask them to critique the song. I had a band come in and they had a well-rehearsed good song. As I often do I broke the song down into its parts (verse, chorus, etc) in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as it’s easier to track and edit that way. It turns out the song had several bridges which is a bit unusual. I understood why they wanted to keep each part. On their own they were really solid but collectively the song was a bit adrift. I suggested that they should pick one bridge and they DID! My respect for them went way up not because they listened to me but because they were willing to do whatever it took to make a good song even better – even take advice. They were good enough players that they took a little time to rehearse it and then we re-tracked the song. It cost them a bit of time but it was worth it. If that could have happened BEFORE the studio that would have been even better.
What’s the goal of this recording?
This is the 2nd most critical aspect of pre-production. What are you wanting to accomplish with this recording? Is it for fun? (That’s allowed by the way). Is it a demo to get gigs or a record deal? Is it for an EP or full-length CD? A singer/songwriter once came to me looking to do what he told me was a demo. At first I thought it was him with his guitar but as I asked him more and more questions it was clear he wanted a whole band and that it needed to be CD quality. Basically he wanted a fully-produced EP but didn’t want to spend the money.
So what’s your goal? And you need to be realistic about it.
Again I can’t over-emphasize how important this stage is in the recording process. If you’re unclear about your song or what it is you want when you leave the studio sort it out. It’s worth the time and effort.