Ciaran Robinson responded to our shout out last week asking for people to contribute to the site to help make the community a fuller and rounder place, enabling you to hear from more than just the team. Over to you Ciaran….
I’ve had a series of sessions recently, where the clients have come in utterly unprepared - ranging from a score written in entirely the wrong clef and with impossible note ranges for the instrument, to not having decided on even the basic song structure or tempo.
This approach may be fine for home recording, but when you’re paying for a day in a studio, you will want to spend your time more productively. This is where session planning and preparation become absolutely essential.
On the other side of the spectrum, I ran a session recently where there were more than 15 musicians, all playing on a song they were unfamiliar with. As I was involved in the project at the earliest stages, I’d had the chance to prepare everything well in advance. As a result, we were able to finish the session over an hour early. So here’s a few of the things I like to have prepared for before I get to the studio:
Be Prepared With 6 Tips For Planning Your Session - Referencing
I always try and sit down with the client, boot up Spotify, and get an idea of the production style they’re looking for. I’m rarely trying to clone the exact sound of an album, but obviously I’ll approach the recording totally differently if the band want to sound like Slayer than if they want to sound like Led Zeppelin.
I’ll want be be able to quickly access this reference material during the session, so I’ll import a few songs to my Pro Tools project, and put them on hidden, inactive tracks.
To avoid any master fader levels etc. affecting my reference tracks, I also make sure that they’re on a discrete bus, and route this to the same output as my main stereo mix.
Be Prepared With 6 Tips For Planning Your Session - Live Room setup, Mic and Studio Routing
I’ll pencil out a plan of how I’d like the live room set up, and show which mics I’ll be using on each instrument, along with the way I’m intending to get the signal into Pro Tools.
This is more for my assistant than anything else - I can pass this to him a day or so before the session, so I can get on with the meet & greet and coffees that start most days, while he does all the hard work setting everything up.
Things are still likely to change on the day (and it’s usually far from complete), but at least I have a starting point to work from. I’ll then create all my tracks, and put my mic choices into the comments boxes.
I don’t do all my I/O routing yet though, as my home Pro Tools setup doesn’t have much in the way of inputs.
Be Prepared With 6 Tips For Planning Your Session - Song structure and Memory Locations
There are few things that show lack of experience in a studio more than not knowing your way round a song - if the producer asks you to play them the third chorus, you need to be able to jump straight to it, not hunt through the track, asking “is this it?” until you find what you’re looking for.
Memory Locations are the key to this, and the earlier I can set these, the better.
If the band can’t provide the song structure breakdown, I’ll either analyse the structure from a demo version of the song, or I’ll make a very rough recording at a band rehearsal and use that instead (iPhone recordings are usually good enough for this, but I usually bring along my Tascam DR-40 portable recorder).
As you can see from the screenshot, I use a numbering system for my locates - verses are 11 to 19, and choruses are 21 to 29. This way if I need to get to the second chorus, there’s no need to refer to the Memory Locates window - it’ll always be locate 22.
In part 2 we will conclude this look at best practice for planning your sessions in the studio.