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Album Recording Preparation Tips

album recording

You’ve only got one shot at this! Don’t screw it up!

It’s done. You’ve been whittling away at those tracks for months and months, slotting in those parts, getting that transition working between the bridge and the final chorus – and it all fits. A slick six-song EP. Or a 24 track double album? An eight track tour-de-force in under 20 minutes?

Anyway, it’s done, whatever it is. You and the rest of the band are ready to get those tracks down onto tape, get them mixed, mastered and pressed onto transparent splatter marble vinyl going for 30 bucks a pop down at the club.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before that record goes platinum you might want to check if you’ve still got any guitar picks that aren’t worn down into circles. Boil them strings – or better yet, buy some new ones!

This guide should get your head out of the clouds and into the recording prep zone.

Listen up! Here’s what you’ll need:

Let’s Get Technical

Tempo: Recording to click? Those BPM better fit!

The single most underrated aspect of recording an album is getting the tempo right. You MUST make sure you rehearse each song at the right speed, with your drummer playing to click. Every member of the band must be comfortable with the tempo both during rehearsal and afterwards. It makes sense to make a rough recording and listen to it during the week to make sure you’re not too fast and not too slow. I had a song once that was recorded a few ticks to fast. I noticed at the vocal tracking stage. Not fun! So put your heads together and make sure you’re all up to speed on the …speed.

Make sure you tell your recording engineer too – he’ll no doubt ask you – so that he can set up his session beforehand to give your drummer the click as soon as his drums are set up.

The engineer will also need the rhythm, especially if the track isn’t in 4/4, in order to set up the click track properly.

Guide Tracks!

If your drummer is going to be recording to click, and he’s not going to be playing along live with a guitarist in the studio, he’s going to need guide tracks. Make sure you speak to the recording engineer about what format he needs them in. And make sure you have them on a hard drive ready to go the moment you get into the studio. There is no time for “yeah I think they’re on my phone” or “can I send you a dropbox link?”. Either send them over to the studio beforehand, or have the USB-Stick in your hand when you arrive.

Song Structure

It’s also a good idea to map out a rough song structure as a guide during the recording process. Type it up on your computer or write it out by hand – just make sure you make a few copies of each song. It could save you and the engineer a lot of hassle whilst recording overdubs if you’re all on the same page regarding which parts of the songs you’re to work on next.

Album Track Listing

Getting the track listing sorted before recording might seem like getting ahead of yourself, but hear me out. If you don’t know where you’re going, then you’re going to have a hard time getting there. Having the end goal in mind can bring you to focus. Knowing exactly how your album is going to sound, how each song transitions to another and which role each track plays will give you a sense of clarity and purpose from the very first day of recording.

Get Your Gear Sorted

If you want your record to sound clean, sparkling and fresh, you’re going to want to clean, sparkle and freshen up your instruments. Every piece of gear you own should be ready to go, serviced oiled up and purring.

Strings

This is a no-brainer, but I’ve gotta say it. Change your strings. Don’t go cheap on this. The difference between the sound 1 month old and 3 day old strings is phenomenal. You do not want a dull sounding solo, a riff that’s flat and lacking dynamics. Bass players have to shell out a bit more for their steel and I’m sorry, but you gotta do it. Make sure you change them about 3 days beforehand and play them in a little. Too much jangle and twang and isn’t what you want and new strings can be a nightmare to tune.

Drum Heads

Drummers have the biggest financial deficit when preparing for an album recording, but that only reflects the importance of their instrument, especially in a rock, pop or jazz setting. That kit has to sound tight.
Put some thought into which heads you are going to use if you haven’t done so already as different types of heads produce different sounds for different styles of music and personal taste.


Replace those drum heads (the batter heads at least!) about a week before and tune them properly. If you don’t know how to tune your drums, there are many videos on YouTube all basically showing the same technique. For a quick guide, check out my article Tune Your Drums in 5 Minutes.
The difference between old, worn out drum heads and new, tuned and resonating heads will be massive. Your album will feature bone-shaking drums rather than flat, worn out cans.

Cables

You know that lead that seems to crackle and cut out every second practice? Replace it. Now is the time. You’ve been meaning to for months but haven’t got round to it. Do it. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And cause you unneeded hassle when you’re trying to lay down your parts.

Effects

“What’s that noise coming from your amp?””Oh it’s always there, whenever I have my homemade fuzz plugged in”Fix it. If you’re using the fuzz, get the noise out of the way. Try a DI transformer, a different power supply, the effects loop of the amp. You’re going to waste precious studio time if you don’t get it out of the way beforehand.

Are all your pedals working and switching properly? Are all patch cables ok? Do you have enough power to run your whole pedalboard? The footswitch on a very decent distortion pedal of mine gives up the ghost every 2 years and I know, it IS a pain and it works MOST of the time. But trust me, it WON’T work when you really need it.

Amps

Really get your ear down in front of the speaker and see if there is any unwanted noise coming from your amp. When was the last service? It might be time for new valves. Make sure you plan enough time ahead of your studio dates in order to get anything fixed in time. Repair shops sometimes take their time in getting your gear back to you, so don’t leave it to the last minute.

Musicians

So your gear is ready, your amps are purring (but not humming!), instruments shining, but wait! What key was that solo in again? How did I play that a#m dim7 chord again? Yes sir, you have to know your stuff. Spend the final two weeks before the recording session honing your parts. You should be aiming to practice at least 3-4 times a week, if not every day. For optimum muscle memory, make sure to get enough sleep, too. Trust me, it’s like magic. Your hands just take over after with a mind of their own.


Also make sure that rhythm and melody instruments sit down with the vocalist and go through the parts together quietly. We musicians often think we have to practice at full concert volume all the time. But often we overlook clashing notes and unwanted dissonance between instruments. It’s a real pain to find out what your bandmates are playing while they are recording!


You might be getting a sense of overwhelm with all these tips and to be honest, they may not all apply to your project. Just be aware of the various pitfalls and issues that may arise if you are not fully prepared for your recording session.

About The Author

Nick Braren is an audio engineer and musician with over 15 years experience in the studio, on stage, back stage and front of house. He is the owner and operator of Upaya Sound, guitarist and vocalist of Vandemonian, father of 2 and husband of 1. When he’s not in the studio or in the band room he’s either travelling in his van or at the beach – or both.

Mixing Engineer

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