Recording is a very rewarding process. I love spending time in the studio creating music with my bandmates, who are also some of my closest friends. But the time is not cheap, and if we are not prepared it can be quite frustrating. I’ve learned that a bit of pre-production can go a long way to making the recording process more fun and successful. Here are some of the things I do before recording.
1. Rehearse. I get together with the band and we run the songs the way we will be recording them. Usually we record live, but we might double a guitar part or overdub vocal harmonies, so we also rehearse those parts. I will typically take notes. I want to be sure we are all on the same page regarding tempo, intros, endings, and song structure. If the drums are going to drop out on verse three then we need to run that.
2. Know what equipment I am using. My main guitar is a tele but I have an electric 12 string and some other instruments I regularly record with. I like the Matchless that lives at my favorite studio so I often use that if I don’t bring my own amp. The point is to know my sound before I arrive at the studio so that the engineer can do his or her job of getting my tone recorded. If I am using effects I make sure that they play well with the rest of my gear.
3. Have a schedule. Be realistic about how long it will take to mic up drums. Know the order that the songs will be recorded and how long to spend on each tune. I like the three take rule. Take one should sound good, take two should sound awesome, and then since we know we have the tune in the bag we do a third take, just in case it actually sounds better than two. Sometimes it does because everyone can loosen up. Have a lunch break and a plan for getting food.
4. Communicate with the engineer. Make sure he or she knows the plan and what is actually being recorded in terms of instruments and genres.
5. Pick musicians who don’t need direction. I try to play with people who already sound good to me. Just because a bassist is skilled does not mean that he or she plays in the way that is right for the particular project I am working on. I don’t want to tell the Jaco accolyte to play more whole notes. I’d rather hire the guy who is really good at whole notes and then call the Jaco clone for the project where I need badass bass-ness. This rule applies to the engineer and the studio as well. I spend more per hour at my favorite studio in town but I spend fewer hours there because my engineer knows me and works efficiently.
Recording is not something that most of us get to do often, and so we are not always as prepared as we are for gigs. The idea of pre production is to go in ready so that we can maximize our time. It sucks to pay $80 an hour to rehearse when I could be standing in the control room saying, “Wow, I can’t believe how good we sound!”
Alex’s Bio: Alex Anest has been performing, recording and teaching music in the Southeast Michigan area since 1996. He was a founding member of the Jericho Guitar Trio, Never Nebula, and Delta 88. With Delta 88 Alex performed across the Midwest and played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004. Since then he has toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with songwriter Kevin Meisel. Alex currently performs with Ryan Racine and Gas for Less and the electric anti-jazz ensemble Giraffe. Giraffe is a chance for Alex to bring his many musical influences together – a very enjoyable, though sometimes difficult task for a musician who finds inspiration from artists as varied as Paco de Lucia, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix. The common thread among these giants (and the goal to which Alex aspires) is the ability to transcend stylistic boundaries while keeping their own unique musical voice intact.