It should go without saying, but finish writing your songs BEFORE you get to the studio. The worst offenders are often the vocalists and lead guitarists. Your band promised to be ready to record when they arrived and now we’re waiting for the rhythm guitarist to teach the bass player how to play a song. And if you haven’t finished the writing process before you arrive, you should be working on finishing the writing day and night until it’s your turn to record. If you’re not the first person recording, you should be using your time to get your parts finalized.
Be prepared with your payments. If your studio requires a payment when you arrive, have it ready when you walk in the door. Also, your studio doesn’t want to receive multiple payments from multiple band members throughout the process. Put one person in charge of collecting payment from everyone in the band and passing along your lump sum payments to the studio. Most studios will give bands plenty of notice of how much is due and when. There’s no reason they should have to prompt you to make the payments you already agreed to make.
Practice your damn parts! Every session is plagued by one member that hardly knows the songs let alone how to play them. Every member should be ready to record their parts front to back, with or without accompanying instruments, and blindfolded. Just kidding about the blind fold but I’m completely serious about putting in the work and practicing your parts. When your band guarantees that all members will be ready, the studio is only booking enough time on the calendar to record your songs if everyone is ready. When one member isn’t prepared, projects run over. And when projects run over, studios have no choice but to work longer hours to squeeze you in between other projects and promises.
Have your shit together. The more items on this list you have ready to go, the smoother and faster your session will be: Tempo map, rough demos, song structures, time signatures, song names, album name, album art, sound effects, composition, lyrics, guitar leads, guitar solos, intros/outros, interludes, and song order. As you can see, there’s a lot of work you can do before you even get to the studio that can improve your efficiency and the final product. A well organized band can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their project just by preparing for the session. When in doubt, ask your studio or engineer what can possibly make your session go smoother.
Another no-brainer is to limit the amount of guests you bring to the studio. This isn’t a party that you’ve scheduled, there’s work to be done. If you’re going to bring anybody at all, bring somebody useful like a roadie. Your 90 pound girlfriend won't be much help lifting a massive guitar cabinet or drum rack but your buddy Greg who benches 225 would be a major bonus to your session. I can’t tell you how many times a bandmate brings their girlfriend to the studio and somebody starts some shit and now we’re all wasting a bunch of time and money because the vocalist is outside on the sidewalk fighting with their significant other. So a good rule of thumb is: if they aren’t needed for the success of the project, leave them at home.
Get your roadies, guest soloists, hired musicians, videographers, photographers, and band managers scheduled to hit the studio with you on the days you’ll need them. Just check with the studio and engineer first regarding capacity, parking, accommodations, and the best day/time for them to arrive for their. Your producer should be able to help you write out a detailed schedule of exactly what you’ll be doing on which days and how long it will take. This should allow you to schedule only the needed people to attend the sessions when they are needed.
Bring a little entertainment along with you. Whether it’s a gaming console, playing cards, books, or art projects, just bring along whatever makes you happy, helps you enjoy your down time, or allows you to unwind and destress. Personally, I like to zone out and play video games in between working. Really allows me to unplug and detach myself for a bit. Bonus points for entertainment that helps you bond as a band or includes outsiders into your inner circle. Most studios provide at least a TV and Netflix but bringing along your favorite form of entertainment can drastically improve your time at the studio.
Along with entertainment, bring along some atmosphere enhancers. Specifically items that give your creative side a boost. Some bands bring along incense, or candles, or lamp shades to create mood lighting, or soft music, or big fluffy pillows, or even shag carpets to add a little soft texture to their surroundings. We see this a lot with vocalists. I’ve had vocalists standing on their favorite rugs barefoot while surrounded by soft lamps and candles and giving the performance of a lifetime. Don’t discount the value of a great vibe while you're tracking in the studio. Most studios will provide a few modern comforts in a lounge style setting but feel free to bring a little extra to make it your own.
Bring your favorite food and drink to the studio with you. Or, if you’re not on a budget, you can have food delivered. A lot of studios even have a small kitchen or kitchenette available for bands. Especially if it’s going to be a long project. Eating out can get expensive. It’s also handy for vocalists and drummers to have clean and healthy food to achieve their best possible performance. I highly recommend Liquid IV, tea, and plenty of water. On the other hand, remember to bring along some beers for the members who aren’t recording that day.
Speaking of alcohol and even drugs for that matter. A lot of studios forbid the use of either while working in the studio. Sounds pretty lame but remember, it’s not just your band’s name on the record, it’s also the studio, the engineer, the producer, and anyone else contracted for the job. There’s a lot of time, money, and reputations riding on these projects and we all need to put our best foot forward to achieve the best product. I’ll have a beer with ya, it’ll just be afterhours when the work is wrapped up for the day.
Bring your instrument ready to record. If you’re a guitarist or bassist, your instrument should be properly restrung and set up by a professional specifically for the tuning you’ll be working in. If you’re a drummer, replace cymbals, replace noisy hardware, and plan on lots of head replacing while tracking. There’s nothing worse than a squeaky kick drum pedal or a noisy jack on a guitar. These kinds of problems slow down the process and/or damage the final product. Go over your instrument thoroughly and the process will be much smoother for everyone.
Warm up before you record. This goes for everyone but especially for vocalists. You can all skip this step if you want but you’re just wasting everyone’s time. That first song always takes four times as long and sounds half as good when you don’t warm up. Slip away if you need to and squeeze in at least 20 minutes of warm up before it’s your turn to record.
Preparing your body is also suggested for everyone involved. Good sleep, good food, and exercise will all pay dividends when you hit the studio in both stamina and preparedness. Preparing your mind and body for the studio can only help the process. For example, I like to do a little yoga when I’m preparing for a long drum session. Doesn’t hurt to limber up and get right to work. We don’t recommend severely altering your regular routines. For example: don’t give up smoking before hitting the studio if you’re a vocalist who's been smoking for 20 years. Major changes can make for a rough record so clean it up a bit but don’t completely change who you are.
And lastly, respect the spot. Especially during longer projects that last days and sometimes weeks it pays to spend a little bit of time each day picking up after yourself, taking out your garbage, or cleaning the bathroom. If you spill something, clean it up. If you made a mess, pick it up. A little goes a long way when everyone participates in keeping the studio cleaned up functional for everyone’s use.