Studio preparation has to be taken as seriously as it possibly can be. You have a really short timeframe to get the best out of your music in the studio. You have to find the right people to develop trust and let them polish your tracks. You have to be prepared to work hard on practicing your parts to absolutely nail them on the day. And you have to plan the budget accordingly, to get the best bang for the buck!
In this article, I will walk you through this process step by step which has proven successful over the years of my experience as a Heavy Rock and Metal producer.
- How to find a Studio / Engineer / Producer whom you trust.
Trusting your producer/recording engineer is the foundation of successful record. It all starts with communication and discussion of your initial goals. I recommend outlining what you want to achieve first. It could be as simple as – get my first professional recording done. Or get a major album released and pitched for a label. Or get a track with for a music video to develop relationship with concert agencies and then open to international bands.
Your goals would define the production approach, and how you and your producer allocate the budget. They should come up with a few possible offers based on what drives your record and remains important.
For instance, if you are after a natural and live feel for the record, it makes a lot of sense to invest into studio time for real drums and not save up on programmed drums as this would impact the sound significantly. On the other hand, if you only have screaming vocals that come in occasionally, it makes no sense to hire an expensive studio session for vocal recording with huge microphone brand names – it simply would not impact your final product!
Once your prospective producer has developed a strategy for your recording, you need to understand whether it aligns with your vision for the final sound of the track, and compare this offer to what other professionals are offering.
Another important aspect is producer’s past work and social proof. Whether you like their style of sound, and whether their past clients are raving with satisfaction – can be a major criteria for choosing a professional.
- Budgeting and saving for the costs of studio recording.
It’s no surprise that we as heavy musicians make no money in the industry nowadays. And the production process remains fairly expensive. With our desire to spend as little as possible on the studio time, I believe that we still get what we pay for.
Therefore, it is so important to allocate budget effectively around your situation, not just a random offer that you get. You may be a talented and experienced guitarist, and can save up a significant chunk of money by recording guitars at home and sending them off to reamp later, rather than spending unnecessary studio time on it. Sometimes, though, you may need producer’s guidance if unsure on getting that superior tight sound.
Or, on the other hand, you may want to record your band completely live in a major studio – which saves time as opposed to multitrack recording. And then perform your guitar/vocal overdubs later at a project facility, which is less expensive to hire.
- Work bloody hard on your music and songwriting.
Heavy music industry is saturated with music of all sorts. If you want to be successful, you need to stand out, be unique. One part of it is your band’s brand and image, and promotion strategies. But it all actually starts with your music, and your actual songwriting. To stand out, you need musical hooks, be it death metal precise blast beats or sweet power metal catchy guitar licks. Such parts require a very precise and intense arrangement and songwriting work.
Therefore, I advise bands to work on their music very hard – but to a point. As our hearing gets blurred easily, and we can no longer tell what’s good and what isn’t in relation to our music. So being open to producer’s musical touch, slight diversification and polishing of your music can be extremely helpful to deliver your message across the board to your listener.
- Practice practice practice before studio!
This one is obvious, but is sometimes neglected. Of course you need to know your parts the very best way that you possibly can before the studio to use your time effectively. However, sometimes over-practicing the parts can lead to detrimental results. I suggest slowing your parts down to 50% of the original tempo and practice to the click so that your brain understands their layout really well. Then, you can gradually increase the speed and see a massive increase in the quality and flow of your playing!
- Good communication within the band, no bad blood.
A band is a multi-member powerhorse, which moves forward as a well-oiled heavy metal machine. But once there is miscommunication, bad blood arises, and this stops the whole thing from moving forward. This is especially relevant in the studio, where you are so limited in time, and stress levels are high. To not let bad blood happening, just talk! If there are issues, come to the common ground. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one’s ego to get the mutual progress and success. And these ego issues can be dealt with later.
My rule is – No ego is allowed in the studio. Leave it by the entrance and get to bloody work.
- Have your ideas set, but be open to experimentation
Knowing your parts is crucial to successful session, but don’t be too rigid with these. Sometimes a spark of creativity leads to massive improvements for the song. An extra improvised guitar solo over the bridge, or an octave down harmony in the chorus can really lift certain sections. Be open to experiment!
- Communicate your perception well.
This one is huge. If things are not sounding as expected straight away, don’t get emotional. Try to be objective, explain ideas professionally. As your music is your heavy metal baby, it’s incredibly hard to stay cool during the birth process. However it’s the crucial part in order to get the sound that you want – just explain it! If you struggle to do so, provide reference tracks. The ones that you like the sound of, and the ones that you don’t like the sound of – to get the full reference spectrum.
- Have a backup plan and discuss it transparently (different mix engineer, etc).
In rare cases when things do not work out exactly as expected in the middle of the process, just stay cool and come up with a backup strategy. If you are happy with the recording but not quite digging the final mix, it may be important to collaborate with a different mix engineer for different approach. The only thing that can go wrong is when musician is not satisfied with the final product. So being open and transparent, and working towards everyone’s benefit, producer included, shouldn’t prevent you from changing the course if this what your music calls for.
- Have marketing strategy (at least basic one) ready before you finish production!
Huge one! So many bands record outstanding EPs and albums and then have no idea on release strategies! And there are many resources out there that actually provide healthy advice on Facebook / Youtube / Spotify marketing for your heavy Rock and Metal music. Check these out and get a rough outline before you drop your tracks out there. And if you need more help – consult with a professional in the field.
And that is it for my advice on coming into the studio and recording your heavy Rock or Metal release successfully! If there are any questions or comments, feel free to shoot these my way! Until then, happy practicing \m/
Dr. Mike Trubetskov is a Rock and Metal Producer, Guitarist, Composer, Arranger and Mix Engineer at EOL Studios from Melbourne, Australia.
Mike walked his Metal path from a Doctorate degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to moving to Australia, building his studio and producing albums for sick heavy bands.
Mike is now going to lead you and his clients on this metal path!