How to Record a Song Professionally & Get It Heard…
Part 3: Tips for Rehearsing Before You Record
Rehearsing before you step into the studio will not only save you much frustration, it will ensure your recording sounds as amazing as possible. The recording studio, frankly, is a bit of a jungle for musicians. It’s not their home turf. It’s not a live setting where they feel the most comfortable. You’ve got monitor headphones to deal with, engineers and producers yelling at you, and all sorts of odd arrangements where you’re not hearing the music or seeing the band as you would normally on stage or in rehearsal. This can throw band off. Without rehearsal, it might also ruin your recording. Here are 14 tips for how to rehearse and prepare for your valuable recording time:
1. Build the foundation: rehearse rhythm section first! The drums, bass, and perhaps rhythm guitarist (or keyboardist) provide the backbone of your band. Make sure they’re solid before rehearsing with the full band. In addition, if you need to rehearse vocal arrangements with singers, do it separately at another rehearsal. Don’t waste the rhythm section’s time. Once rhythm and vocalists are ready, do a full band rehearsal.
2. Record your rehearsal and make written notes from it to use in studio. Just set-up some easy recording device during your rehearsal, and then listen to it afterwards and make notes to use as reference in studio.
3. Give the less experienced musicians a helping hand and send mp3s in advance. They may not be less experienced — in fact, they might even be professionals — but if you’re bringing in people who don’t know your song as well as the regular band members, send them mp3s over email so they can practice on their own.
4. Do all arrangement work before you record. Never waste precious studio time hammering out arrangement issues. That’s what rehearsals are for. Map out your song in advance.
5. Have your producer (if you have one) attend a rehearsal. If it’s possible to get him or her in there, let your producer weigh in on your song and provide tips before you record. This will save time.
6. Bring in the sound engineer to rehearsal, if possible. Same reason as previous tip: get your engineer’s input before you step into the studio — everything from performance tips to equipment issues.
7. Define tempo and practice with click tracks. Figure out which BPM you want for your song in rehearsal, not in the studio. If your drummer will be recording with a click track in his or her headphones, practice with a click track so that it’s not an unfamiliar, tricky thing in the studio.
8. Rehearse individual parts, one-by-one; don’t be shy! Have your musicians play their parts by themselves in front of the whole band during rehearsal. This will help other band members know how to craft their own parts, and it will give other band members a chance to critique and refine each person’s part. Don’t wait for the studio to do that.
9. Rehearse your equipment’s sound/tone settings, not just your band’s performance. Figure out the exact settings you want on all of your amps and instruments during rehearsal and take pictures or make notes about where each knob is positioned.
10. Get creative conversation going between musicians before recording. Though sometimes magic is created in studio — like when U2 improvised the entire song “Moment of Surrender” in one take in the studio — make sure you’ve explored all of the creative possibilities with each song before you record. Get everything out in the open, which might mean debating things or having disagreements, before you waste money having those conversations in the recording studio.
11. Cut musicians if necessary. If you’re bringing in additional musicians, screen them first. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s tempting for bands to say to friends who play this or that instrument, “Hey, it’d be really cool to have penny whistle in this song, and we heard you play it; wanna be on our recording?” Invite them to rehearsal first and make it clear that you’re just testing the waters. Don’t make promises to someone, and then find out that the way they play along to your song is terrible or just doesn’t sound as good as you thought it would. Don’t get yourself in that embarrassing situation where your friend hears your final mix and realizes only then that you cut their track out of the mix altogether. Don’t even bring them into the studio unless you know for sure they will be adding something you want.
12. Use rehearsal to figure out if you’re missing instruments or if you want to add new ones. Besides arranging the song during rehearsal, you also want to hammer out all instrumentation issues. Do you want to bring in extra musicians? Is the song missing something? Don’t wait to ask those questions after you’ve recorded tracks and have sat down to mix the song. Record a demo ahead of time during your rehearsals and discuss if the song has the proper instrumentation.
13. Change drum heads and guitar strings long before you step into the studio. Brand new drum heads and guitar strings both have the same problem: they stretch and change pitch. Drum heads are more of a headache to deal with than guitar strings, so make sure you’re not beginning your studio time with freshly changed heads or strings. Obviously you don’t want old ones, but change to new ones a couple days before your record to give them time to stretch.
14. Hammer out vocal technique in rehearsal not studio. This is true especially if you’re bringing in additional singers besides the regulars. In any case, use your rehearsal to get confrontational about poor singing technique. Don’t wait for your recording session to criticize someone’s lack of enunciation or breathing techniques. Get all that out in the open and fixed before you record.
While rehearsal is crucial, just make sure not to overdo it. You don’t want to wear out your band until they’re so sick of playing the song that they have no patience or excitement in the studio. Remember, the goal of recording is to not only capture a great song but to capture the energy of the band. If you’ve sapped all of their energy with too many rehearsals (or really long, exhausting rehearsals), their lack of energy will show in the recording.