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Optimizing Studio Time

So you’ve decided to go into the studio and get some tracks done. This could be a commercial studio, your friend’s studio, or your own home studio. These days there doesn’t seem to be much difference between some home studios and some of the commercial places. There are a few things that you should think about when taking this step.

The Plan

You would think that if you were going to do some work in your own studio that there wouldn’t be the need for any planning or preparation. It’s not like going into a commercial facility where you were paying by the hour and time was of the essence. The problem with thinking that you have all the time in the world to get things done is that you usually take all the time in the world. With this mindset, you may spend a lot of time playing around thinking that since it’s your home studio, it doesn’t have the urgency or even is as serious as something done at a professional facility. The problem arises when you go into the studio and spend a lot of time playing with the gear and experimenting without setting any goals or doing what you set out to do in the first place.

If you’re just starting out and are using the studio as a learning tool, then you can use that time to fool around and see how things work. But even this has its limits. There comes a time in the learning process when you have to get down to business and do things on a ‘need to do’ basis. That means doing projects as well as taking time out to learn specific disciplines and working on your craft. There is a huge learning curve when it comes to recording, mixing and professional audio that takes time and concentrated effort. To learn your craft, there is going to come a time when you’re going to have to stop experimenting and get down to getting things done.
There is always a level of experimentation in music that never goes away; the difference here is getting the essentials down so you can use time to experiment when you have it.
So let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

The Band

You’re in a band and decided that you’ve written a couple of songs that you’re really happy with and are ready to record. If you’re a band that has spent some time rehearsing, it’s a good idea to rehearse the songs that you are going to record until you all have a pretty good idea of what you want to accomplish when you go into the studio. Some bands just go right into the studio without even working on the material at all and figure that that’ll come later. It’s usually a better idea to work over the tunes in rehearsal because you end up getting really familiar with the songs and can work through a lot of ideas until you come up with something that you really love. After working through the song in rehearsal for a while, you may find that the song takes on a life of its own. Things may start to gel in a way that they can't when you're just laying down tracks quickly. Just jumping into the studio, you may get the entire recording done, and then realize later that you don’t like the sound or even the song. If you can, write a couple of songs together and see if you come up with a general sound that way. When you rehearse with the band, the sound will further be developed. The basic point here is to work through the songs until you come up with something that you really feel excited about instead of jumping into the studio and spending a lot of time creating recordings that you may not like or doesn’t really represent your sound.

Working on one thing at a time makes you focus on the songs first.

The Lone Gunman

What about if you’re a lone songwriter and are just working on material to demo or songs that you might want to play with a band at a later date? The same basic principle applies as far as working through the material and trying to find that sound that is yours. Too often, since we have the recording studio at our disposal, we’re all to eager to just write anything and get in there and start recording. If your main goal is to write great songs, this usually isn’t a good idea. Some guys will write a song and then start recording right away and work on the song that way. This may work for some people but the problems lies when you get caught up in the recording and arranging processes and lose sight of the song. How many times have you heard industry people complain that there very few great songs out there even though there are millions being recorded? The point is that if you’re determined to write great songs, then focus on that and make sure you have a great song before you spend tons of time and money making a demo, or even worse, a finished product. I’m not suggesting that you forgo the recording process entirely, just the opposite. I always write on the computer. The difference is that I always keep the arrangements bare bones until I have the song to where it can sit on it’s own without any fancy arrangements.

Composer/Arranger

If you’re an instrumentalist or you’re working on writing better arrangements, or trying to write in different styles, then this takes a different approach. Yes, you’ll want to go into the studio right away and get going on recording but you’ll still have to take some time and decide what it is that you want to accomplish. You want to make sure that you’re working toward something and not just messing around with your gear. Messing around with your gear isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s a really good idea. You do want to limit this to a certain amount of time or you’ll be messing around with your gear for years…without really getting anything done. For this approach you will want to decide which style and what kind of song you’re going to work with in the first place. Is an original, or is an arrangement of a standard, or a remix? You get the idea. The thing about doing exercises like this is it’s close to what happens in the real world. You get a call to write something in a specific style, like so-in-so artist with strings added, for example. Of course there are always deadlines and you should include this in your exercise. You’ll need some examples from the different artists mentioned or something in the general style and then work from there. The good thing about exercises like this is that you can take the results and add them to your portfolio that you can include in a demo reel or play to perspective clients.

Studio Wonderland

The studio itself can be a huge distraction to you actually getting to work. I know quite a few guys that have an impressive amount of great gear but never seem to get any work done. They preoccupy most of their time getting the gear and then messing around with the gear. These are the type of guys that make great techies and engineers but unless that’s your goal, you may not want to spend all of your time on this. The best thing to do when it comes to gear is to be really selective about the gear you get and then learn that piece of gear inside and out. There is a learning curve with any piece of new gear that’s going to take time away from your current project. Some pieces of gear are worth the effort to take time out and learn properly but be selective about this. In the end, the point is to make your results better and more professional; and that’s what this article is about…results.

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