Tips for a successful Session
It’s been a year since the first 3 episodes of this series. Those first three episodes actually covered just about everything necessary in the advance preparation, so this new episode is really about what you can do DURING your session to ensure the best end-result.
A recording session can often be a bit disorientating for hard-working musicians. This is because the session may start at a time of day that a heavily-gigging band rarely sees! E.g. 9am! Yes, at the time you are usually tucked up and fast asleep in bed, you have to be alert, warmed up and ready to play at your best.
So if you are booked in on a daytime session, make sure you have an early night if you can. Of course if you have a gig the night before, this can be difficult; and potentially a money-waster.
I still remember the worst session of my professional career… My band was signed to a London-based indie label who wanted to get our second single recorded whilst there was a good stream of interest and publicity surrounding us after the success of our first single. The problem was that we had just been gigging for about 20 days without a break, and the south coast studio session was scheduled for 9am on the morning following a 3am finish at Dingwalls in London. After the drive down to the coast immediately after the gig (and we had no road crew – our bassist did all the driving); we arrived at the residential studio at around 6am! Two hours sleep, a quick shower and breakfast and we were bundled into the studio with the producer expecting us to perform at our best. After spending 5 or 6 hours just trying to get a decent take for the backing track of the A-side, and failing miserably, our producer eventually decided that an extended lunch break down at the local pub was needed. After 2 hours we returned sufficiently refreshed and finally managed to get a satisfactory take. The delay meant that we were still laying down tracks at 2am (by which time we had woken up, but everyone else was falling asleep!); costing our record company (and ultimately us), a few hundred pounds extra.
So although the above example may be a rather extreme case, it does indicate how things can easily go pear-shaped if you don’t take care. This goes particularly for the rhythm section and especially the drummer, who is relied upon to get the feel and dynamics perfect on day one.
So, get the most value out of your session by turning up on time. That extra half hour in bed is costing your band money. You will be charged from the time you booked, not from the time you decided to turn up!
If you are a bit weary when you arrive, take your time setting up and relax for a while; have a cup of tea, and make yourself at home. I now have a nice new private patio area (although I’m still waiting for the gardener to arrive with the plants) where you can go out and relax between takes (weather permitting). Alternatively, you can relax on the sofa in the front room and chat. If you are interested in the “techie” side, you can hang out in the control room and watch the little wiggly lines appear on the the screens as your fellow band members make their own particular noises in the live room!
Make sure that you’ve either booked plenty of hours to cover your project (I will refund you for any unused hours at the end), or you’ve brought some extra cash as a contingency plan. It is often cheaper to book more hours than you think you need and qualify for the next price break, than to have to extend the session or book an extra session at the higher price. As I explained in another article, the recording process often takes longer than expected. The last thing you want is to be worrying about fitting the work into the session and rushing your performances. A stressed artist doesn’t perform at their best, and you don’t want to end up with a recording where you know you could have done a lot better given a little more time.
Booking well in advance is recommended in order for you to prepare yourself, rehearse everything thoroughly, and of course be sure that the dates you want are still available. However, a lot can happen during this time that you are waiting for your session. Your band may split; your singer may come down with a throat infection; your drummer may break an arm playing football … Rest assured that given plenty of notice, I wont be too hard on you if you need to move your booking until people are well enough to perform. If need be, I may even be able to find session musicians to stand in for you if you need to keep to a deadline.
If you’ve booked a full day, please bear in mind that at some stage people will start to get hungry. There are plenty of takeaways local to the studio, most of whom can also deliver. If the weather’s nice, we may even be able to organise a barbecue on the patio! You’re also welcome to bring a packed lunch. You can help yourself to my tea and biscuits at any time, but they can’t possibly sustain the whole band all day! During the overdubs, work can continue whilst you take it in turns to have a bite to eat. For your comfort and sanity, it is not a good idea to work through the whole day without a break. Take a little time out here and there to relax and have a bite to eat. This will encourage better and more relaxed performances when it is your turn to contribute to the tracks.
Finally, to get the best performances, don’t take the whole thing too seriously. Yes, you are here to work, but you need to have fun too! People always perform better when they are in good spirits. You are welcome to take your own pictures and videos of the session. Those always raise a few smiles as I’m sure you have at least one person in the band who is not camera shy! I will have the studio webcam running throughout as well, so some of you will also be likely to end up on this blog at some stage in the future (unless you request not to be filmed).
Also remember that I probably wont get a break at all unless you all decide to go out for lunch at once. So just keep me well supplied with tea and I’ll be OK!
In the next episode, I’ll be handing out a few tips for getting good vocal performances.