A terrible recording session taught Michael Ferraiuolo what he most needed to know.
I had written a few songs that I thought were ready to be recorded and so I gathered my fellow musicians and booked some studio time.
We hauled our gear to the studio early one cold Friday morning in January and three days later I left the studio saying, “Well, now I know what NOT to do from now on.”
My first mistake was a lack of patience.
Yes I had the material, but the truth was that it needed polishing and I let my eagerness to record get in the way and I didn’t realize the issue until it was too late.
Then, out of desperation to not go over budget I wound up putting too much creative control into other people’s hands…people who didn’t necessarily have my project’s best interests in mind.
In the end, it would have cost less money to simply start over rather than go back and change all the things that had left me unhappy.
However, I wouldn’t trade that recording session for anything because instead of a few good recordings, what I came away with was invaluable experience that I have taken with me into every recording session since.
Do your homework and communicate
These days there are more people offering recording services then ever before. Just because someone has thousands of dollars worth of gear and a Mac Pro it doesn’t mean they know how to use them properly. Research your potential recording partners. Listen to previous recordings they have turned out in the style that you will be recording in and make sure they share your vision.
Find Reference Tracks
It is a great idea to provide your recording team with “reference tracks” which are professional recordings that you would like your recordings to sound like. For example, if you like the guitar mix of a certain song, use that as a reference point for your own mix. The more detailed you are when communicating your vision, the better the final result will be.
Don’t Rush the Process
When you’re on a budget and working with a deadline it can be very easy to rush to the finish line to avoid spending more than you had planned on. Take all the time you need for rehearsal, re-writes, and re-harmonizing before you get into the studio. If you do get stuck when you’re in session, stay cool and if you can’t work your way out of the problem quickly and in a way that makes you happy…move on. There’s always time to come back.
Create your parts before hand
Studio recording is all about layers. In the best recordings you will find multiple instrument layers as well as vocal harmonies. Take the time to work out all your individual parts before going into the studio. You will save precious time, which equals precious dollars.
Remember: time is money
Remember that every moment you’re in the studio the clock is ticking. If you have an hourly rate you’re paying for literally every minute that you’re in the studio. Be sure to have fun and enjoy yourself but remember that you are there to get work done. Focus and save the partying for the album release!
Pick your team
Studio recording is very different than live playing. Players and singers must nuance their performances in different and subtle ways. Make sure all your players are rehearsed and ready to lay down their parts ahead of time. An unprepared player can waste much time and money.
Chances are you are recording your own original material and are not yet signed to a label. In this case you’ll need someone to produce your songs. This might be the most critical decision in the process. A good producer knows how to make players and singers rise to their highest level and bring out the essence of an artist’s songs. Make sure to listen to every song your potential producer has turned out and make sure that your relationship is one of collaboration. If you’re on a tight budget you can start by recording a single song with a producer rather than commit to an entire album. Not only will you be able to spend significantly less money up front, you can use the experience to see just how well you work together.
Home recording or the big studio
To be fair and honest there is nothing quite like recording in a large studio but the fact is some of the best quality recordings I’ve heard have come out of home studios. Look at your budget and if home studios are offering a better price with a high level of quality your project will be better served with the smaller venue.
Live tracking or overdubs – decide
Live tracking is when all the instrumentalists and singers play their parts together just as they would on stage. This style of recording lends itself to a more natural feel and is often the best choice for certain bands. However it is worth noting that live tracking requires (in most cases) a large studio with specialized sound isolation and a highly skilled band. In general overdubbing parts individually is a more cost-effective way to go.
Relax and don’t lose sight of your vision
Whether this is a solo project or a collaborative endeavor, always remember that this is your project. The old adage of “too many cooks in the kitchen” is never more appropriate than in the recording studio. Make sure that everyone on your team including your producer and engineer are on the same page. Changes may arise during the process and that’s okay… as long as everyone agrees that the changes are for the best.
Studio recording can be stressful. Always remember that you’re just making music. If the process isn’t fun and rewarding then something is wrong. Play and sing from the heart and your recordings will shine!
Michael Ferraiuolo is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and the Owner of Iron Works Studios in New York City. As a vocal coach Michael teaches and advocates for artists worldwide. His music has appeared on film, radio, and television and at #1 on the Billboard charts.