Artist Tip of the Month - Preparing for the Studio

No doubt that you’ve already read an article or two on the subject of preparing for a recording session. It probably listed a good amount of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”. I’m venturing out a little to the left of the playing field to give you some beyond-the-basics advice.

But a quick recap of the basics, just to be sure you’ve got them down.

  • Come warmed up. I mean, like, really well warmed up. Not a quick 5 minute bubble lip run in the car on your way over. If the session is in the morning, give yourself a couple of hours to wake up, sing in the shower, do vocal exercises while getting ready, etc., etc.
  • Know your body and what certain foods do to your voice. Some people would tell you “Don’t consume dairy or don’t drink soda or whatever, but after 25 years of working with singers, this I know for a fact: everyone is different. So, know your body. Heck, one of my very best vocal days that had me and my voice teacher scratching our heads was when I was living on Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas, and not much else. However…
  • Caffeine is just plain bad for your cords. Don’t drink it before or during a session. Here’s a great article, complete with a chart showing the least caffeinated drinks to the most.

Ok, now let’s get back to the left field.

  • Know your music. Duh, right? But I mean, really know it. Memorized. Inside and out. Music needs to marinate inside you. That’s my own way of putting it, but I believe it completely. If you’ve ever heard a recording of a song just as it was written and then hear the artist sing it months or even a year later, after they’ve had time to stretch out and get comfortable in it, it’s different. You won’t always have the luxury of letting months go by from learning or writing a song to recording it, but do yourself a favor and sing it like it’s your favorite song until the session. WITH the same instrumental you will be using to record with, if possible.
  • Practice recording. This doesn’t mean you need to have an immaculate set up. You can do this with a laptop, garage band, your earbuds and a $30 USB mic. If you don’t have any of the equipment to do this, then plan your budget so that you can invest in it. As a singer, you really need to have the ability to record. Here are the 3 reasons why it’s important.
    • You need to hear what you sound like so that you are not surprised when you hear playback in the studio. Not only will this keep you from having a deer-in-the-headlight moment as you listen to yourself in horror, but you can also scrutinize your performance closely – on your own time. Nothing sucks more than paying everyone in the studio hundreds of dollars while you figure out if you want to sing the phrase “this way” or “that way”. Get that all figured out before hand.
    • Headphones – singing with headphones on is a very different experience than singing to music played in the room. Experiment with options like; one ear on, one off; your voice monitored back in your headphones or not; your voice monitored with reverb or dry, loud or soft; music loud, music soft. Etc., etc. This might just be the most important factor in the success of your recording session. Knowing how you like your headphone mix before going to the studio will save a lot of time (aka $$).
    • Nerves will inevitably creep in once you are in the studio and the red light is on. The more often you record with this anxiety, the easier it gets and the more relaxed you’ll become. You may still get the nerves once you are in a different environment. That’s fine. It’s possible that the anxiety or nerves will never go away actually, but you will learn how to sing through the nerves and how to get your body to relax.
  • Find the right studio. Don’t just go to the lowest bidder. And don’t just go to the nicest, fanciest studio for the sake of going to the nicest fanciest studio. Find the studio where you are happy and comfortable. Every studio and every engineer has their own style, their own vibe. As a singer, before I became a producer and engineer, I was amazed at how different it felt from studio to studio and with different engineers. Some engineers could put me at ease with their laid back style, others really intimidated me and made me feel like they were annoyed that I was there, which then made me feel rushed and nervous (=sucky vocal performance). Talk to your fellow singers and find out where they like to go. Talk with the engineer to get a sense of their personality. Make it about getting your BEST vocals, and not about the dollar amount or the “status”. Who cares if you recorded in the same studio as Rihanna? No one, if you sound like crap.
  • Avoid rushing in to record. Ah, bands especially. They want to get in and record as soon as they have their first 5 songs written. The singer is still figuring out lyrics and melody. Vocal performances are more of an afterthought. WHY???? Do you not know that the vocals are the most important part of your recording? Whether you like it or not, the most amazing guitar tone is not what sells records. So, take the time to, once again, let the song marinate inside of you. Bands, if you want to book a discounted weekend at a studio and record your entire album, fine. But please, I beg of you, just record the instruments. Do the vocals separately, a different day, a different time. That is my humble plea.

That’s it folks. In a nutshell, take the time to do it right.