OK, so the drummer can do a lot before a session to save time, and your money, when you arrive; but what can the rest of the band do?
As far as instrument preparation goes, guitars and basses should always turn up with fairly new strings and a couple of spare sets, or at least spares of the strings that tend to break regularly. Old strings sound dull and won’t sit so well in the mix; at least not without some harsh EQ. However, don’t re-string immediately before the session or you may find you’re tuning up every 5 minutes. Put a new set on perhaps the day before and break them in with a few hours practice.
Keyboard players – Well these days you’ve got it quite easy as the baby grand wont fit through my door so, sorry, but you’ll have to leave that at home. By all means bring the Hammond, so long as I don’t have to carry it! Hopefully its a new one and not one of those retro 60’s machines that keep going out of tune! Seriously, though, modern keyboards and synths are great. They stay in tune and are mostly easy to transport. You can park right outside and from there it’s only a few yards on the level and you’re in the studio.
Vocalists – On day one, apart from a few guide vocal tracks, you’ll probably be on tea duty, or on the sofa! Your hard work starts when all the backing tracks and most of the overdubs are complete. This could well be on another day. If you are starting your vocal tracks straight away, you should warm up your voice for at least half an hour before arriving so that you can launch straight into that perfect take! There is nothing more disheartening to the rest of the band than to sit around for the first hour listening to you singing out of tune….and I don’t like to use Autotune if I can help it! That bandwagon has been jumped upon too many times already! Don’t forget to plan some backing vocal arrangements and harmonies. Particularly if you’re recording a master for release. Demos will have far fewer vocal tracks.
Brass, Reeds and Strings – Hey, I’m sure you’ve been in a few studios already. You know the score, right? If not, just follow the advice above … Rehearse, Tool up & Warm up before you start.
So, it goes without saying that whatever it is that you want to record should be well rehearsed. However, you may not have rehearsed the songs without certain instruments or parts of the arrangement, or without vocals for instance. This is something that is often overlooked. When you play live, you know exactly what you’re playing and when; and you are all guided by each other, particularly from the lead vocal. So if, for instance, it was necessary to play the song without hearing the vocal, would you lose your place?
If you are the lead guitarist, do you know what you’ll be playing as the rhythm track underneath your solos? Do you have any other riffs, or hooks, planned for overdubs? Have you rehearsed the harmonies of lead melodies in case you need them?
Bass & Drums – You’re the anchorstone of the band and have the most stress on the first day. You are the guys who need to really nail the feel and dynamics of the music. Yes, it is possible to drop in bits of bass to fix mistakes, but it’ll never quite feel the same after it’s messed with.
If anyone has to play the song from start to finish without errors it’s the drummer. The best time-saving rule is if anyone else makes a mistake, carry on as you can be dropped in later. If the drummer makes a mistake, stop and start again. It’s incredibly time-consuming and difficult to edit and drop in on drum tracks, due to the spill to other parts of the kit. I can work miracles, but it’ll cost you! Save time and money by rehearsing so that you can get it right within a few takes. I’ve known whole songs to be ruined because slight errors were overlooked on the drum track. With all the other members of the band trying to compensate for the timing error at different times, it is impossible to fix without starting again from scratch, and as I’ve said before … A recording is there to remind you forever!