Recording music is a creative process. It needs to flow dynamically and naturally for the musicians to feel and perform well. Nothing kills the recording vibe more than having to stop the session and fix or check something that does not work. Here are a couple of tips to make sure that it never happens to you and your recording sessions run as smoothly as possible.
This is super important – you should arrive at the studio before the musicians get there for a couple of reasons:
First of all, you have to make sure that everything works and is set up as needed. This includes getting all necessary gear out, running cables and setting up the session by creating and routing all the necessary tracks. This will help avoid situations where musicians are sitting and waiting on you while you click around in your DAW (Digital Audio Interface).
The band should not be paying to watch you do most of the prep work that could be done ahead of time.
Arriving a little early also helps you to get into the mindset of recording. Playing a couple of reference tracks to tune your ears to the style of sounds you will be recording while you set up is a nice way to prepare for a session. If something has already been recorded in a previous session, play it back and get familiar with the tracks for a minute or two.
Arriving with the band and then rushing to get started is just a less productive way of working that creates unnecessary stress. Be prepared and professional – your clients will definitely notice that.
BE EFFICIENT AND FAST
If you are sitting behind the desk and operating the DAW, you have to be quick and efficient. Be sure to memorize as many shortcuts and commands as you can to be able to quickly switch between the active tracks and do basic trimming/editing on the fly.
A musician that is in a creative flow state does not want to think about the technical aspects of recording and you should be able to take care of that so that the recording speed is limited by the musicians, not you.
This goes back to the first tip of setting up before tracking starts. Make more tracks than you need just so that you can quickly pull them up and record, if needed.
If you can't remember a shortcut or a hotkey, don't be ashamed to check the reference manual of your DAW – this will save you time in the future. It's way better than fumbling around with the basic slow controls.
COACH THE MUSICIANS
Musicians are very dependent on the vibe of the room and the situation – make sure that you provide the best possible circumstances for them. If you feel that a musician is feeling hot, cold, tired or anything else, do what you can to fix it.
Take breaks when the musician needs them and don't push them too hard when they are not hitting the mark. No good can come from bullying a musician to perform better – it won't help. Try to find the best ways to communicate with them and encourage them to do better. If a musician feels empowered, you will hear that when playing back the takes.
Ask repeatedly if the monitor mix is good and adjust things accordingly. Sometimes you will need to make the monitor mix way too harsh or bass-heavy if that's what they need to feel the best.
LEARN TO EDIT AS YOU GO
This takes time to master, but try to make sure that your editing skills are up to scratch for tracking as well. You will win if you'll be able to do blazing fast edits on the recorded takes, as the musicians won't have to worry about you editing the session later, and quick editing on the fly also looks really impressive from the client's perspective.
It’s small but significant details like this that gets you a recommendation and builds reputation.
Editing on the fly is very effective for avoiding dodgy performances later down the line. For example, recording a bass track on top of perfectly edited drums will ultimately result in a better bass performance – now you will need to edit the bass less, as it will probably sound better than it would if it were played on top of drums that aren't as tight.
If you are really fast, you can edit the vocal takes before playing them back to the singer. This will greatly improve their self-confidence and empower them to perform better. The edits don't need to be super perfect, but it sure helps to at least smooth out the rough spots.
Editing on the fly also means that once the song is recorded, it is done – there will be no guesswork involved as to how it will sound once it is edited. Imagine listening to untuned quad tracked three part vocal harmonies and trying to determine if you have everything you need – it might be a nightmare it the vocalist is less than stellar.
SET UP A SAFE BACKUP SYSTEM AND AVOID A CATASTROPHE
One of the worst nightmares we face as recording engineers is the thought of losing our session data. Recording someone else's music is a very serious responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.
Every DAW has at least some way of preserving your files in the case of an error or power outage. Auto save is an excellent way to provide immediate backup if something goes wrong. Be sure to set the interval to something like 1 minute or so – while it might seem a little excessive, a lot of things can happen in a minute when you are recording. A relatively safe system is to set up auto saves that happen every minute and to save 60 backup files, as this way you will be able to recover any minute from the last hour.
Auto saves are a great precaution, but they still don't mean much in case of a physical disaster – the drive might fail, the computer might get fried by lightning, or it just might get stolen (unfortunately the list goes on and on). This is where an off-site backup comes in handy – many backup services offer unlimited cloud storage for as low as 5 to 10 bucks a month.
The saying goes that nobody who has been saved by insurance feels that they have paid too much for it. You and your clients will feel much safer knowing that the session files are backed up all the time.
Sure, mic placement and traditional recording skills are the fundamentals that you need to have down to be able to record audio well, but it pays to have good social skills, safe backup systems and DAW proficiency in check. Most of these tips are very basic pieces of advice that you can start using right away – the rest will come with experience.