First-timers Guide To The Recording Process

Online Music Producer
Example of a professional production environment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, you’ve written some songs and you’re getting set to record them but you’ve never been in a recording studio and you want to know what to expect. In this – and in following posts – I’m going to help you prepare.

I’m not going to show you HOW to record your song (there are plenty of other resources for that) but how to feel comfortable in a recording environment when someone else is recording you.  These tasks and terms should apply to any situation – whether your brother-in-law is recording you in his garage or you’re going to a $120/hr major studio.  The goal is to enable you to approach the process with confidence and joy.

Before the session.

There are a number of things you can do before you arrive at the studio (off the clock) that will help you prepare for a smoother recording session.

1. Make sure you’re in the right key.

Experiment with your song to make sure the key is best for your voice.  No matter your range, there’s a “sweet” spot for your voice.  Try out your song in several different keys and see which one works best for your voice.  This doesn’t have to be over-technical.  If you write with your guitar, switch keys with a capo.  If you write with a keyboard, just hit the “transpose” button. Or just sing a cappella and find the key on any instrument. Once you’ve found that key, write it down.  This will enable everyone working on the song (from the engineer to musicians) to quickly adapt.

2. Make sure you have the right tempo

Just like the key, there’s a sweet spot with the tempo.  If you have a metronome, use it.  I HIGHLY recommend practicing your song with a metronome.  It will make things so much easier on the engineer if you’re confident playing with a click track (more on that here). Find the best bpm for your song and write that down too.  The engineer will appreciate it as at least a starting point for recording.

3. Make sure your instrument is ready

Put new strings on your guitar.  Fix any buzzes. Put new heads on drums. Make sure everything you plan to use in the studio is working well. Nothing eats up valuable studio time like a poorly prepared instrument.

4. Know your song!

This sounds like common sense but you’d be amazed at how many sessions I’ve been in where the musicians are still figuring out their parts in the studio.  Some artists use the studio as a place to write – and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if you don’t want to pay for things you could do at home, make sure you know your parts.  Try to memorize your lyrics.  It’s completely acceptable to have a “cheat sheet” in the studio – in fact, I recommend it.  But the less you have to rely on your notes, the more you’ll be able to concentrate on a great performance.

5. Record Your Song At Home

Nothing fancy – you can use your phone.  The point is to listen to your song before you actually record it.  This really helps find the best (and worst) parts of your song BEFORE you go to the studio.

Next

In coming posts, we’ll get into the actual terms and techniques you’ll want to know when you’re in the studio including click tracks, compression, vocal tuning, eq, effects, tracking, mixing, mastering and much more.

Got a specific question about the recording process? Let me know. Comment on this blog or email me at jonah@jonahbrockman.com. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anytime.


Jonah Brockman is an independent music producer and engineer dedicated to empowering songwriters with the resources they need to make great music.  Visit jonahbrockman.com for more information, rates, and work examples.

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