• Matt Williams

Ultimate Studio-Ready Checklist

Introduction


Like most engineers, I've had a lot of curveballs whilst recording. Not all of them were instantly recognisable and most only became apparent during the mixing stage. I decided to catalogue all the time killing/money wasting problems from my sessions. I took notes on what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid it happening in the future.


I've spent years collecting this data, so you don't have to find out the hard way!

This short but thorough guide will help us both avoid the majority of time-sinks, energy-sappers and money-wasters. Everything below is about maximising our time together and ensuring we get the most out of the session!

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail


Drums


Stuff to Bring

Sticks, drum key, moon gel, lugs, felts, clutch, skins (depending on how many songs you’re tracking/how many days).

Skins

Change your drum skins during the week leading up to the session.

It doesn’t matter if you have a £4000 drum kit; it’s all in the technique and the tuning (seriously).

Tuning

We have a selection of drums available that I will tune before the day (if we’re using them). If you want to bring your drums but aren’t comfortable with tuning, I’m more than happy to tune them for you. Ideally bring them down a day or two before so they can settle in at the studio.

I actually like tuning drums so don’t be afraid to ask!

Cymbals

Make sure your cymbals are well maintained.

If one of your cymbals has a massive crack in it, don’t bring it. Feel free to bring a selection down if you have them, and we can discuss the best cymbals for each song.

Hardware

There’s nothing more annoying than recording a quiet section and all you can hear is the kick pedal squeaking!

Give your hardware a once over and try to remove any squeaks or rattles that might get picked up on the microphones.



Bass and Guitar


Stuff to Bring

Picks, leads, strings, 12v batteries, tuner, pedals

Skins

Have your guitar setup professionally a few days before the recording. Ringing behind the nut, fret buzz, intonation, battery issues (if active PUPs) or a noisy jack input will all affect the quality of the tone we record. You’ll play better on a properly set up guitar as well as make my life a hell of a lot easier later on!

Amps

Have any amps you’re bringing serviced beforehand. If your amp dies halfway through tracking, we’ll have to re=amp, which will cost you more.

I’m not going to suggest it’ll need re-valving, but a once over to check everything is optimal will bring peace of mind to the recording and won’t break the bank.

Strings

Everything in your chain – from the amp to your technique – affects tonality. Don’t do your songs a disservice by playing shit strings. Don’t do this the night before, as the strings are still likely to be settling in. I’d aim for 2-3 days before the session.

Make sure to stretch them out as you tune up and wear them in with some practice.

Buy the right gauge for your music, if you’re below E standard then you should be using a set of 10s as a bare minimum. Buy strings that are as thick as you can comfortably play.

Thick strings = Better Tuning = Better Tone

Which leads me to…

Leads

Bring high quality guitar leads (not gigged). The ¼ inch Jack lead you’ve been throwing around for two years is going to be a huge liability. For the sake of £15, get yourself a brand new lead which will be free from noise and connection issues!

Vocals

Before the Day

Just because you don’t lug a drum kit around doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare your instrument too! I’m no vocal coach; there are plenty of videos and articles out there on what to do and what not to do before a recording session.

However, look after yourself on the days leading up to your session.

The day before, you shouldn’t: Shout

Smoke (if possible)

Drink excessively

Or do anything else that could harm your voice.

Vocals are one of the harder instruments to track, as the human voice falls away pretty quickly in an intensive session. I’ll usually break down vocals into a few short sessions, to spread out the workload and alleviate strain and fatigue.

On the Day

Again, I’m not a vocal coach, but vocal warm-ups, vocal sweets, herbal teas, nebulizers are some things to become familiar with.

Vocal warm-ups and not speaking much between takes is all I can recommend. There’s a wealth of knowledge about products that may help (or hinder). Best thing to do is trial different warm-ups, supplements before the day and see what works best for you.

Timing

Vocal edits aren’t that hard these days, but the best takes are always the ones that are bang on time.


Pitch

Vocal tuning isn’t that hard these days, but the best takes are always the ones that are in tune.


Lyrics

Know your lyrics inside out. You can have them in front of you on the day but the best performances come from being able to lose yourself in the lyrical content. Just like an actor, if you deliver without conviction, the audience will have a hard time immersing themselves.

Vibe is something that really can’t be replicated or ‘fixed in the mix’

Arrangement

You should know exactly what you want to sing and where and ultimately, this saves everyone heaps of time and money.

Harmonies

Working out your harmonies in the studio is a massive time-suck.

I’m always happy arrange a pre-production session to go over any harmonies you want to try if you can’t demo at home.

These are usually only an hour or two at most but will solidify all your ideas and resolve any harmonic conflicts.


Everyone


Friends and Family

I feel as though this one is pretty obvious but please don’t bring anyone who’s not recording. They won’t have any positive impact on the session; they take up valuable space, and can cause arguments (Yoko Ono as an example).

However, management/label representatives or a photographer/videographer are fine. Just let me know how much gear they’re bringing, how many people there will be, and how long they’ll be staying.


Timing and Tempos

If we haven’t had a pre-production meeting/demo session, then being able to tell me the tempos for sections/whole songs will save us a bunch of time.

I’d recommend writing these into an excel spreadsheet with time stamps at the tempo changes.





Play Hard!

Heavy mixes come from consistency, great technique and power. Play as hard as you can without sacrificing technicality, tuning or consistency. Trust me when I say this, your tone starts with you and there’s no mixing technique I can enlist that matches an amazing performance!

Know your Songs

Highly frustrating for both the band and the engineer on the day if someone decides they want to rearrange a section or need to learn a part the song once we’ve started. This rarely happens but all instrumental parts should be agreed prior to the tracking day. This is mostly for your benefit as the artist as we’ll be losing valuable time where we could be making real progress!

Essentially, it’s an energy killer and a money waster.


Session Files and Backing Tracks If you’re bringing any backing tracks or pre-pro sessions make sure you have two copies on separate drives. I’ve had instances where the files are corrupted/non-transferrable, which absolutely kills the flow of the session. Bouncing down all backing tracks as stems or a single stereo wav file will completely curb session-to-session conflicts.


Final Words


Last but Not Least…

Have Some Fun!

If you wanna talk about your vision, goals,

and how I can help you get there, get in touch today!

Thanks for reading!