Getting the most out of your session

Before we talk about tangible items like strings, sticks, drum heads, amplifiers and such, let's discuss the intangibles like the proper mind set. If you're on a tight budget, be realistic about what you intend to accomplish. Don't set yourself up for disappointment. Let's first decide what you intend to do in a given amount of time and then let's see if it's realistic. I'll set up a hypothetical situation. . .

The Prehistoric Beavers

The Prehistoric Beavers would like to record a ten song demo of cover tunes. This is a four piece group consisting of drums, bass, keyboard, and guitar with lead and background vocals. The band is well rehearsed and not super fussy about this project. It's a demo EP for bar owners and we all know they're tone deaf. (I think it's a prerequisite to becoming a bar owner.) The band however, wants a decent recording. My generic formula for most artists is as follows. Note: This does not apply to all acts but should be used as a general guide.

The Rule of Thirds

Look at your project in thirds. What is meant by this, is that one third of your time and money will be spent printing the music bed. This is usually the songs with all instruments, but excluding vocals and solos. The second third of your time and money will be spent printing the vocals, solos, maybe an occasional embellishment here and there, and a few repairs. (punch in / punch out) Your last third of your time and money will be spent on mix down. First-timers have a tendency to omit, forget, or just plain ignore this one. Let's assume the band has allocated $500.00 for the total project. Let's also assume the studio charges $40.00 per hour. This would mean the band would be purchasing 12.5 hours. One third of that time would be approximately 4 hours. This should be enough time to print ten songs, music bed only. Many times with a project such as this, it is not necessary to print the entire song since you may be condensing the songs into a total five to seven minute demo anyway. (Not only are bar owners tone deaf, but their attention span is quite limited as well.)

If the band was coming in to record original songs however, I would take a completely different approach. In this case the project will take considerably longer. Originals, unlike cover tunes have no road map to follow. There is always a decent amount of experimentation to determine the best groove, or course of action.

One other suggestion here, for those of you on a tight budget. My experience has shown that, at the end of the day most folks are happier doing fewer songs correctly rather than many songs incorrectly.

The Session

First of all, I'm fussy! I'm the last one to get happy. After the initial setup there is always a bit of fine tuning to dial things in. Microphones may need a bit of adjusting to the proper off axis position. I may determine that the microphone I'm attempting to use is just not the correct one for this application. Drum microphones and placement will almost always need adjusting to conform to different drumming styles. I compress certain instruments on the way in like bass, kick, snare, toms, and vocals so compression will need fine tuning as well. All of these adjustments take time. However, I never want a client to interpret my fussing as a way of nicking you for more money. For this reason, the band is off the clock until I'm happy. Okay, now that that's out of the way. . .

Guitar / Bass:

Guitar players: Throw on a fresh set of strings. Don't spend all of this money on a recording and show up with old strings on your guitar. I consider "old" anything over 30 days. This applies to bass players as well. Now I know a set of bass strings are not cheap; they're about four times the cost of a set of guitar strings, but bite the bullet and spring for the set. You'll be glad you did. There is just no substitute for new strings. No amount of EQ, effect processing or mic placement will take the place of a fresh set. In addition to sounding crisp and lively, new strings will realign your instruments intonation as well. Nothing wreaks of amateurism more than playing your axe out of tune.


If, like the Prehistoric Beavers above, you're doing a demo project, do yourself and your group a favor and leave your kit at home. I know, I know, I must be on crack! I realize it's a supreme sacrifice to play on someone else's inferior kit, not to mention nothing feels right, I'm used to my sound, the sun's in my eyes, I tripped on a rock, oh the humanity! But seriously, I promise it will save you time and money and I guarantee a great studio sound. If, however, you insist on using your set, I understand. I would not feel comfortable doing a studio session with someone else's guitar.

If you're using wood tips, please bring a few new sets of sticks. Wood tips are my favorite for cymbals but the tips don't last long. They get punky and begin to sound like mush. Nylon tips sound decent for the life of the stick but they never sound as good as new wood tips. Drummers should consider the age of their drum heads as well.

Amps: To bring or not to bring...

Bass Players:

Just bring your bass and leave your amp at home. I can probably get you a better sound with my equipment. There are exceptions however, so let's talk.

Guitar Players:

If you're playing anything other than a clean guitar, bring your amp and your guitar effects. Bring extra strings and picks as well. Being a guitar player, I always have sets of strings on hand, as well as singles. I'll sell them to you to you at $100.00 per string.

Keyboard Players:

I have a nice 88 key Kawai with weighted keys and expression pedals. I also have a Hammond XK-4. In addition, I have a ton of keyboard sounds that I can pull up from my modules or DAWs. Having said this however, it is usually advisable to bring your own keyboard. It's quite possible to wallow away a few hours searching for that perfect piano sound. Oftentimes, this does not set well with the rest of the band. You know your keyboard. You know what and where the sounds are that will work best with the selected song. This saves time and money in the studio.