First Time Recording
Is your band recording in a studio for the first time? Don't fret, at one time every experience was a new one. Your first punk show. Picking up your first instrument. Asking someone out on a date. They all stirred up anxiety, but in the long run, they were rewarding and came to define you.
I am a mediocre bass player, which is fine, lends well to post-punk. I can certainly empathize with any stress you're feeling at the prospect of having your "talents" placed under a microscope. I had never even heard of a DI box the first time I recorded, I feel your pain. (A DI is a device to connect a high-output impedance, line level, unbalanced output signal to a low-impedance, microphone level, balanced input)
My experience wasn't an exercise in humiliation, but I did have to do multiple takes, it did take time, and my bandmates were likely a little annoyed. I have gleaned a little over the years though and hope to help some of you. After all, you are paying for this time, it is prudent to make it as productive and pleasant as possible.
Play Alone Records Recording Recommendations:
1. Know your goals before heading into the studio. How many songs are you looking to record? What are they for?
2. Only go into the studio if your songs are entirely written. Writing in the studio wastes time and will likely annoy the person recording your band. If you write in the studio, you'll probably hear an early version from the session and want to change parts and will need additional studio time to complete a polished version.
3. Only go into the studio if your songs are tight. Make sure you know every nuance of every song and how the instruments fit together. It can be discouraging realizing only after you get in front of microphones that the vocals are fighting with the guitar or a bass riff doesn't quite fit with a drum pattern.
4. Make sure all of your instruments are in optimal working order. Get your guitars set up and get new strings. Make sure your drums have new heads and that they are correctly tuned. Have newer cables and the proper speaker, instrument, and patch cables for the right applications.
5. I've found it useful to get feedback from friends and other musicians before going into the studio as well. Get feedback from someone who likes the same styles of music you do. Ask them to tell you if parts don't sound right or don't make sense. Chances are if they know post-punk, darkwave, or dark punk, they'll know what your band is going for. Don't be afraid of criticism.
6. Have any samples or field recordings ready and in high-quality WAV files if possible.
7. Trust the person you're recording with and listen to their suggestions and insights, but stay true to your vision. This is like a tattoo, if you don't speak up you'll end up with something permanent that you will always wish was slightly different.
8. Mix your tracks on a different day than when you record them, even if you're only recording a few tracks. You will have heard the same songs over and over, and your ears and perspective will be worn out. A fresh and rested session will always produce your bands ideal sound.
What is mixing?
Mixing is the process of normalizing tracks to make sure all the instruments are at relatively the same volume or the volume you want them at, and that each individual instrument sounds the way it was intended to sound. The person you are working with should EQ all of the tracks to make sure that each instrument is clear and present overall in the song.
What is mastering?
Once the recording is complete, you will need to have them mastered as well. You will likely work with a different individual as your mastering engineer. You should send the person who will master your tracks notes about how you want the finished product to sound and even some reference material if you have it. This way, the engineer has a clear understanding of what your going for and doesn't change something intentional on your part.
The mastering engineer's job is to EQ, compress, limit, and add stereo enhancement to each song as a whole, not the individual instrument tracks, as was done in mixing. The mastering engineer's goal is to polish a high fidelity, high clarity, final professional album, or EP that is consistent throughout. The engineer should give you separate masters CD or digital distribution versus vinyl records.
Now that you're armed with what you'll need to know before heading into a studio do a little research. Check out the studio or sound person you'll be working with. Check out their website and social media pages. Look them up on discogs.com and see if you can find and listen to other things they have recorded.
No matter what you choose to do, keep doing it. Passion projects, bands, and art are all about trial and error and perseverance in the face of mistakes and failures. Your first projects might not be so great, but you'll learn something new every time you head into the studio. I love music, and I love learning new things every day. I hope all of you feel the same and keep striving to do what you love. Have fun!
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