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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Preproduction: What to do before tracking your project

It's the most important part of any production

This may seem like a bit of a surprise to people who are just starting to get into recording. But just ask anyone who's been doing this for a while and they'll tell you that if you do your homework before you hit the record button your project will have a much better chance of being successful.

The Big Question

Before you even think about recording -- heck, even before you begin to put together your studio -- you need to ask yourself the following question: "Why do I need to make this recording?" There can be many valid answers. Here are some common ones:

  • Attract a major label
  • Procure a publishing deal
  • Document your craft
  • Help to get gigs
  • Gift for friends and family
If you don't have a good answer, you're not ready. Think long and hard about this because it will affect every aspect of the rest of your project. It will dictate your technical needs... Maybe you can get by with a four-track cassette, maybe you need a full blown ProTools rig. You don't need to pull the trigger on that killer mic pre if you're making a CD for Grandma, but if you're going to submit your recording to a major label, it might make all the difference. It will dictate your budget. Don't spend more than you'll get back on a club demo. It will dictate what your finished product will be whether a hand printed cassette or a professionally designed, four-color CD.

The Checklist

OK, you've decided why you need to make a recording. Now let's talk about how you're going to get the job done. First of all, is the material ready to be recorded? This is hugely important. Unless the lyric is polished, the progression flows properly and the parts all work together, it's going to be impossible to wind up with a great song when you're done. Ask yourself: What is most important aspect of the song? Is it the heartfelt words? The killer dance groove? The smokin' guitar solo? You must decide and then build the rest of the arrangement around this one thing. This can take a while, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Many times, an outside opinion can really help, so bounce your ideas off your bandmates, friends, other artists, and anyone who is willing. If you're thinking about using an outside producer this is the time to start working together.

Next, figure out how many tracks you're planning on using and write them all down. Then you'll be able to check them off, as you record them. At the same time, make up lyric/arrangement sheets. This is especially important if you're using other musicians. Then you'll “all be on the same page.” Gee, I wonder where that phrase came from?

The Big Day

You're finally ready to start recording. Take a look at the technical issues: Are your instruments ready to go? Do you need new strings, drum heads, tubes or cables? Do you have plenty of tape or hard disk space? Is your studio relatively neat, and is everything in working order? Well-lit? Comfortable? It should be, as you're going to be spending a long time there, and having to jiggle that connector or step over that jury-rigged cable is going to get really old, in a hurry. Now is the time to fix it.

With that done, take a look at the issues involved with being a 21st century human. Did you get enough sleep? Is there an ample supply of healthy food, drink and snacks? Have you made sure that there won't be a constant parade of intruders barging into your sanctum? And don't forget to turn the phone off -- it's distracting and you don't want any electronic beeping on that once in a lifetime vocal take.


All that's left now is to relax and have a good time. Although it can be tiring, being in your studio should be enjoyable. Why else would you do it? If you've followed the advice given here, the hard part is over - relax, rock out and have a good time. You know all the parts, the arrangement is happening and you're comfortable. Push record.

--Mark Gifford

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