Preparing to Record (Pre-production)

Now that you have all the equipment needed to record and you’ve set up a recording space, it’s time to get ready to record your demo (or album, as the case may be).

When a top selling artist gets ready to make a new record, the first step in the process is pre-production. During pre-production, the artist, producer, and recording engineer will review the songs, looking for ways to improve them, discuss arrangements, and start to envision what the record will sound like. The artist or band will spend a lot of time in pre-production getting their playing ready for the recording process so that once they enter the studio, the recording itself will go smoothly.

In The Studio

If you are recording in a home studio, pre-production is still important. Pre-production can help you improve the quality of the songs you want to record and give you a coherent vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Whether you are recording a full rock band or a solo performer, pre-production will help you iron out the kinks and help you achieve your goals.

It’s the rare song that is ready for recording after it is first written. During preproduction, you can tweak songs in different directions, consider arrangements, and figure out what types of sounds you want from each instrument. How punchy do you want the drums? Are you looking for certain fills on the cymbals? Do you want the bass playing more of a lead line or a I-IV-V style?

Since you’re in a studio, perhaps you might want to layer things, adding in an acoustic rhythm guitar part underneath the leads. You’ll also want to look at the vocals lines and decide if you want harmonies on certain parts.

The last aspect of preproduction for the performers is making sure everyone is on the same page as far as their parts. You want the band to be playing almost effortlessly. Make sure all the songs are well rehearsed and ready to go. Having to re-record again and again because someone can’t nail their parts is a waste of time.

As a home recording engineer of course, preproduction is more involved. Before starting the recording process, you should consider how exactly you want the recording done. Start by envisioning the sound you want the recording to have, and then figure out how you are going to build your mix to achieve this.

Recording Live

Recording live is still probably the best option. It gives you the most natural sound, and there is an energy that comes from playing together that can’t be duplicated. However, if you do decide to record it live, you’ll need to look seriously at microphone placement and figure out how to control bleed, and also consider how to mix it to minimize what bleed you do get.

Having the correct microphones is imperative for recording. In rock music, the mix is built from the drums and the bass. There are specific drum microphones that are built to mike the kick drum. Audix D6 microphones and Shure SM91s are two popular choices for the kick, while Shure SM57s, Beta 98s, and SM137s are popular choices for toms and overheads. For guitar and bass cabinets, a directional mic is often the best choice to minimize bleed. Some engineers like to use hypercardioid microphones for this purpose, though the Shure SM57 works well. Another alternative for the bass is to use a straight D.I. box. Some engineers like to combine a D.I. with a mic on the cabinet for the bass as well.

One other option is to record each instrument individually and then layer it. This can especially be helpful if you don’t have a lot of microphones, since you can then use what microphones you do have to record the drums first, then record the rest of the instruments. It is also a way to address recording in a small space. This may give you a more canned sound, but in some cases it may be the only option.

If you are going to record individually, it is imperative to have the drummer play to a metronome that is set at the pace of the song, since the drummer won’t have any cues from other instruments. Again, this is where pre-production and making sure that each person knows their parts becomes crucial.

Now it is time to record your music.

BY THE WAY… if you find that any of this isn’t going deep enough down the rabbit hole for you, you need to visit my buddy Joe Gilder’s Home Studio Corner. He goes deep and when he’s finished with you, you will be a pro – not kidding (tell him Corey at Musicgoat said hi).

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