The Recording Studio – Newb to Pro

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recording-studioAs we draw near the end of our first recording project for Gospel Light worship, it seems appropriate to try and jot down some thoughts about what I’ve learned during the process, and what I can pass on as advice for those who may be thinking of doing the same thing.

We had been asked for quite a while to make a record, by members of the congregation at Gospel Light Community Church, and by friends and family. This endeavor has taken over a year from conception to completion, and I can tell you that the learning curve was steep. I would not suggest that a worship team who aspires to create a recording of worship music take on such a project lightly. It is not for the faint of heart, or for the weak of commitment.

In the Studio Some things I’ve learned:

  • Evaluate your commitment early on. If your team is not committed to the time and effort it takes to produce a quality record. There is rehearsal time, practice time, arranging time, studio time, mixing time, promoting time, designing time, production time… a lot of time. You are not going to fly into the studio, lay down your tracks, and zip out in a day, especially if you’ve never done it before.
  • Check your families’ sense of commitment. Your family is going to be as much a part of this project as you are. Extra rehearsals, late nights in the studio, more practice time… all of this will take away from family time. Be sure they know what they are getting into, and are willing and supportive. Share your project with them as it progresses, and trust their input.
  • Make a plan. This is vital. If possible, get with someone who has done studio-recording before to help you work out your plan. Your plan should include what order you will be recording songs and parts in, equipment you will need, and who does what. Arranging and planning go hand in hand. If any licenses are needed for cover music, get them out of the way.
  • Rehearse and practice. This is especially true if you are renting a studio or paying for an engineer.  You don’t want the meter running while you work out your harmonies or that blazing guitar solo.  Spend time nailing it down before you get in the studio.  Have people commit to practicing on their own.  If you can, get some rough recordings of your sessions to work with.
  • Read, read, read. Learn all you can before you start.  Some great resources are included at the end of this article, but try and absorb all the information you can about tips, tricks and processes.
  • Your studio album is not a live album, so don’t make it try and sound like one.  If you want a live album, record yourself live.  Recording a studio albums has some drawbacks, but a lot of pluses.  Drawbacks include trying to capture your “live” dynamic when recording in parts, being overly critical of your performance to the point of obsession, having a hard time finding “the pocket” when not all the band members are playing at the same time, and burnout from long hours in a small space with the same people.  Pluses include being able to use tools and techniques that do not translate well live: plugins, effects, overdubs, double tracks, etc… The studio also offers you expanded creativity; bring in that instrument you never use live.  Don’t choose between electric or acoustic, or piano or pads – use ’em all!  That said…
  • Less is more. That Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” you use at live services might just not sound so great recorded.  A blistering guitar riff or pounding on the piano may really work in the energy of a live setting, but could be a disaster when recorded.  Be prepared to strip down your arrangements on the fly, and don’t get insulted by the suggestion to “play less.”
  • Take a break. If you’re recording everyone together, or if your musicians are also your vocalists, than schedule some time off during the process.  A couple of weeks away from the project might just renew your fire, and keep you from getting burnt out.
  • Schedule wisely. Make the most of your time, especially if you are renting a studio and paying an engineer by the hour.  One benefit of studio recording is that you can have a person do their own parts of different songs at one session.   For example, if a background singer is only doing choruses and not verses, then plan to not record any verses they day they are in the studio.  This has the benefit of giving people some “time off” for their families, instead of sitting around on the control room couch doing nothing.
  • Find a good engineer. I don’t care how good you are with ProTools or CakeWalk or whatever.  Unless you do it for a living, get someone to do the recording for you.  First, you need to focus on your performance, not setting input levels and dragging regions.  Second, you need someone to tell you – honestly – when something is amiss, or when something sounds great.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Check your egos at the studio door.  Everyone is there for the same thing: to make a quality record.  Don’t get ticked off at suggestions.  Try different things.  Don’t let the work involved stop you from having fun.  Laugh, enjoy the company.  Take pictures or videos. Whatever it takes.
  • Make sure God is “part of the band.” You’re making a worship album.  Remember to take time to pray, worship, seek God.
  • Send me a demo. I’ll blog about it.  Oh, and send demos to other bloggers.

There’s more, but this is a good start.  Remember, especially if this is your first time, it will take longer and be harder than you think.  But it will be completely worth it.

You already know about The Worship Community.  Here are some more good resources:

Hope to see you at your release party!!!