I've seen it happen a number of times and I've been guilty of it myself in the past; You can't sleep the week before, you toss and turn with excitement as you look ahead to your turn in the studio. The plan is, you'll show up and your art will turn into something amazing! It's never that easy, though, is it?
Those of you who've been through the recording process know how tedious the work can be and how being unprepared can really handicap your end results. Maybe you're sitting around getting frustrated at your singer who's spending over an hour trying to get a 4 minute song right. Or maybe you don't understand why the electric guitar is "In Tune" at the 3rd fret but not at the 15th. Why does it suddenly sound like everyone is playing different parts?
These are not uncommon issues to be dealt with in the studio for (lacking a better term) "Rookies." There is a lot that needs to be done BEFORE the engineer hits record. Some refer to it as Pre-Production, to others it's just getting ready for the recording process. Either way, it all needs to be considered. So here's a little guide to help get you through it.
1. Practicing & Song Arranging
If I need to remind a new band to practice before they come in, there are other mental issues that need to be addressed BEFORE studio life. However, it IS important to practice the RIGHT parts. That means making sure everyone is playing the right thing in each part. Is the guitarist playing the same chords as the pianist? Is the bassist playing the same rhythm as the drummer or the rest of the band?
Take that one step further and record a rehearsal or three to critique the song structure. Is that pre-chorus working? Is the intro too long? Why do we have 6 songs that all end the same way? Re-work any concerning areas and re-record them.
2. Get Mentally & Physically Ready
Long days in the studio can be incredibly mentally draining. First you sit around waiting for everything to be set up. Then you sit around waiting for each person to play or sing their parts. Then, when it's your turn, what do you have left in the tank? Perhaps in planning you can schedule everyone certain times to show up so they're fresh when it's time for their parts. Perhaps you have something to read, or something quiet to do while you're sitting around. The point is, understand how things will be done in the studio and plan for them. Each instrument should take on average between 1 & 1.5 hours to record each song. Drums, Pianos, Vocals; they're really all the same. If you plan ahead, you'll be mentally prepared when it's your turn.
Being physically prepared is JUST as important as being mentally prepared. The week before the studio try to limit your intake of sugars and caffeine, and minimize your salty/fatty foods. Pre-Studio diets rich in proteins (fish & chicken) and fruits & vegetables are best.
Also of note, smokers wishing to quit smoking specifically FOR the studio should give themselves at least 3 months of NON-smoking prior too, OR just keep smoking right through the session. Nothing kills a performance worse than a hacking cough.
3. Get Your Instruments Ready
Just like your body needs to be ready, each instrument needs to be in peak physical form for the studio. Consider replacing your drum heads, and have someone tune them if you don't know how. Have your guitar and bass guitar "set-up" and put on new strings. Guitarists playing in alternate tunings should have a different guitar "set-up" for each alternate tuning they plan on using. Plan on bringing extra strings and drum heads incase one breaks.
4. Plan Your Time Well
Unless you're planning on hiring a producer to run the show, some time should be spent planning and goal setting. What is the goal for each day? How do you plan on achieving that goal? Are your expectations realistic? Your engineer should be able to help with this. A quick tip to help simplify this process is to chart it out, just like you'd chart out a song. Make a checklist for each song with each part written down that you can cross off as they are recorded. Then, draw out your week and assign each part for each song to a time slot for each day. Remember to include lunch breaks, 'cause the engineer needs to eat too.
If you carefully consider each of the previous 4 points you'll be sure to get the most out of your recording sessions. In the future I plan to expanding quite a lot on each point, though this quick guide should be everything you need for your first recording. Or, if you have the budget, you can hire a producer and they'll make you do all this anyway.