At the most basic level, the role of the musician in the studio is to deliver a performance of high quality that can be released to the world (or at the very least, be turned into something that can be released).
But the studio can be a daunting place for many musicians, and as a performer there’s a fair bit of pressure on you to, well… perform. Here’s some advice to help you get a grip on your role in the studio and how to make the session productive, effective and comfortable.
This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which is moving on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each Sunday.
Trust the Producer
First, don’t listen to those people who insist you need to be in complete control of each studio session. Unless you’re producing your own work, you’re there simply to be recorded. You have complete control over your work, of course, but once you’re in the studio, trying to run things will detract from your overall performance.
Be willing to be led. You don’t need to be in charge. Giving control of the session to the producer will remove a whole host of anxieties and fears from your mind, allowing you to focus on your performance. They are there to look after the session and the recording. You’re not. You’re there to deliver the best performance of the song that you can.
Practice & Prepare
Don’t come in unprepared. Spend more than enough time practicing the song and knowing each and every second of your performance. Once you know your performance, though, don’t continue the ball-breaking practice sessions.
Knock back to a rate of practice that effectively maintains your current familiarity with the song, without overdoing it. You want to know the song perfectly, but you also can’t get to a point where you hate it by the time you’re ready to record. The lack of passion bleeds through onto the recording every time.
Communication is always very important to a successful session.
Communicate your artistic intention and vision. The producer isn’t there to create a vision for you. They know that the artist is the one with the vision and that’s why the artist has created, painstakingly, these works of musical art. However, they can’t turn around and make that vision a reality without clear knowledge of it.
This sort of soul-baring discussion should take place well before you go in for a tracking session, but keep this in mind and feel free to steer the producer in the right direction and back to your intention as the session moves along. Remember, the producer works for you.
Communicate your physical and mental state. The producer can’t know whether to bother with another ten takes or call it quits until the next day unless you communicate your ability to continue.
There’s a tendency to only communicate negatives—feeling tired, voice is getting sore, fingers are getting sloppy on the frets. Remember that positives are equally important so that everyone can kind of gauge what’s happening and how much longer it’s going to happen for.
Get Familiar with the Studio Environment
Know the space. Know the microphone. Know the engineer. Know the producer. Nothing makes a musician shaky quite like an uncomfortable and foreign environment. Take the time to know the sound and reverberation of the room you’re tracking in, the sound of the microphone(s) you’re working with, and get to know the people who will be capturing your performance.
I’ve spoken with producers who say that some musicians will “go into a funk” in an environment they can’t connect with; if the studio is too tidy, for instance. Leave nothing to chance.
Don’t be an Idiot
Feel free to ask stupid questions, do a million takes and be a pain in the backside in general, but don’t be the moron who goes out drinking the night before a vocal tracking session and then come in with a voice that can’t produce an audible sound.
Don’t be the idiot who forgets to restring his guitar two to three days before a session and comes in expecting to use either old, crappy strings, or strings that keep going out of tune because they haven’t been broken in.
Be smart, respect the time of the producer and the engineer, and the fact that studios aren’t cheap. When you fail to prepare or take appropriate measures, you are letting everyone around you down.