In Part 1, I talked about effective rehearsing and getting your songs arranged correctly. Hopefully, you are now at the stage where you can get into the nitty gritty of pre-production.
First, you must start with the all important click track.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but some musicians see “the click” as an evil-made digital innovation. However, in a genre where accuracy is key (METAL!), a click track is an absolute must for both you and your engineer.
The click track serves several purposes, mainly keeping the drums and the rest of the instrumentation in time. Playing to a click track will ensure that you don’t speed up and “run away” with the track like most musicians tend to do, even if it’s only by 10BPM across the whole song. A click also will allow your plug-ins at a later stage in the production sync up with the tempo of the song, making them fit perfectly (like delays and other time-based effects). Lastly, if there are any stops and subsequent punch-ins, employing a click track will ensure that all timing is perfect throughout each song on your next project.
The first thing a good engineer/producer will ask you is “Have you worked out the clicks?” — meaning whether you got BPM and time signature information down for the varying sections of your song.
This is simple to figure out, and can even be done with online BPM calculators that allow you to tap out a tempo on your computer keyboard — or you can use a mobile metronome app with tap tempo functionality. Either way, this step is crucial and will save you a lot of studio time if you come prepared with it.
Make sure you include info on the amount of bars each section of the song runs for and also if there are any stabs or stops. This will help the engineer (or you, for the DIY folks) produce a tempo map that displays all the differing BPM’s and time signature changes across the track. They’ll also be able to put together a “marker track” for an even easier recording process detailing what sections are where, e.g. Intro > Verse > Chorus > Balls-Out Breakdown > Vegetarian Progressive Grindcore Interlude, etc.
If you are going DIY with your recording, then most DAW’s will allow you to create the above using the tempo, meter, and marker tracks commonly located at the top of your recording software. Once this is done, I would next record a “scratch” guitar or vocal guide track for practice purposes that allow each band member to work on their parts at home before coming to the studio. You can bounce these parts down with the click track so the annoying beep of that metronome becomes part of your rehearsal and practice regime early on. The sooner you are using it to practice, the easier it will be later to record.
On my earlier note, I can’t stress enough folks to practice your parts!
You may think you know them and have played them 100 times at practice, but as soon as it comes to the crunch you definitely will flub them a few times. When you’re in the studio and the clock is ticking, you are going to want to know your part inside and out, and be able to play it without thinking. A great friend of mine once said “Amateur musicians practice their parts till they get it right, professional musicians practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
Next time: How to prepare your instruments for battle in the studio
Graham Waller | Freelance Audio Engineer