When recording an album, there are just certain things that sound better recorded in an acoustically designed room with professional recording equipment. You can get A LOT out of a home studio with some ingenuity and the basics, but sometimes your production can jump up to new levels by renting out another space.
Being in the studio can also change your mentality about the whole project. This is no longer something you’re just doing when you have the time with some friends. You’ve invested in it. You’re going into a professional studio because you know the results you’ll get will pay off once you’re music is released.
Even with all of the benefits that come with a huge recording space, it’s expensive and it’s not always the right move for every band. Most bands will reserve the studio for specific instruments – tracking as much as they can at home before renting the space and re-tracking afterward for anything that doesn’t fit. If you’re taking this hybrid approach (which I recommend for any budget-conscious band), here are a few things you can to make sure you’re ready for the studio:
Get All of Your DIs At Home
If you’re recording guitars for your project, do it at home. When you’re in your own recording space, you’ve got all the time in the world to nitpick the performance to death. You can criticize every take and comp together a handful of them for the perfect track if you want.
DIs are low volume, so you’re not going to annoy any neighbors tracking them. Simply plug in and load up your virtual guitar rig and you’ve got a huge sound right there in the box in front of you. The results you can achieve with a well-tracked DI and a plugin like Toneforge Misha Mansoor are professional enough to compete with any big studio tone.
If you do end up arriving at the studio and start drooling over the amps they’ve got available, a DI track is going to come in handy once again. You can take that DI and reamp it through any guitar amp you want. What’s more, you can dial in the tone while looping what you know to be the perfect track you’ve already spent hours refining.
The same approach can be taken with bass guitars. A clean bass DI on it’s own can sound great in a mix with just a little compression or you can use a virtual bass rig like Bassforge Hellraiser to bring a grittier amped bass tone to your song.
Make Sure Your Drummer Is Ready
Your drums are the single biggest instrument that will benefit from recording in a professional recording studio. If that doesn’t just seem like common sense to you, let me repeat myself:
YOUR DRUMS ARE THE SINGLE BIGGEST INSTRUMENT THAT WILL BENEFIT FROM RECORDING IN A PROFESSIONAL RECORDING STUDIO.
Unless you’ve sunk thousands of dollars into microphones and preamps, you’re not going to be able to compete with live drums recorded in a studio. Even if you do have the tools for the job, it doesn’t mean your environment is going to come close.
By making sure your drummer is prepared as they can possibly be for the session, you’ll be able to make every second count. No wasted time re-recording drums over and over and no learning their part as they go.
A great exercise for drummers to lock in their part is to have them work with you during pre-production to program the drums into the session with samples. By doing this, you’re building a mental map of every hit for the drummer, which is reinforced by practice and repetition.
By the time you go into the studio, your drummer should know their parts like the back of their hand.
The Vocal Decision
Recording scratch vocals early on in the recording process is a good idea, even if they’re going to get re-tracked later. By recording vocals upfront, you have one of the biggest drivers of the song available to other musicians that might follow the voice to pocket their performance correctly around it.
Depending on your situation, recording vocals in a professional studio may or may not be a good use of your time. If you’re working with a new vocalist, I recommend at least trying out some microphone/preamp combos while you’re there. Every voice is different and you might find that certain mics or pres compliment the vocal better than others.
If you’re tight on time and know that you’ve got a great vocal chain at home already, by all means use that and save the studio time for really nailing that drum sound. You can always enhance a home-recorded vocal with saturation and delays to really fill out space around the voice.
Trust Your Ears
The biggest mistakes made in professional studios come from overcomplicating things. Engineers and producers feel like they’re never going to have access to all this great gear again, panic, and then end up recording way too many takes with way too many mics and way too many variations.
If you’d rather go into the studio confident in your recording approach, check out all of the resources available to JST VIP members. Membership includes access to member-only plugins, complete guides to tracking and mixing drums, and even includes mix crits where I’ll listen to your mix and give you my honest feedback once you’re done.