161: Maximize Your Studio Time: Essential Practice Techniques To Help You Crush Your Recording Session

161: Maximize Your Studio Time: Essential Practice Techniques To Help You Crush Your Recording Session

In this episode, Malcolm Owen-Flood dives deep into how to prepare for studio recording sessions.

And this time, it's not about pre-production or working on your songs and arrangements. It's about how to prepare yourself, physically and mentally, for the recording session. How to practice, so you can make the most out of your studio time and deliver what is needed to make a great record.


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Practice to a click track.

Malcom starts by emphasizing the importance of practicing with a click track, both as a band and individually. And how practicing to a click enables you to record great takes, even if you end up tracking without a click.

But tempo and meter are not everything. There is more that needs to be practiced and prepared for the recording session.

The interaction within the band is super important. When playing as a band, it's essential to pay attention to each other's mistakes and gently address them.

Recording scratch tracks during pre-production rehearsals can help identify issues that need to be resolved before recording.

Now that the band can play it all well together and everybody knows what they're doing, you need to practice your individual parts on your own, without other instruments and record them to a click track. Just for practice.

This allows you to notice small mistakes and analyze your performance with the help of a DAW.

It's crucial to pay attention to dynamics, tone, overall feel and cleanliness when practicing and recording.

At this stage, get ready to try some cool, unique tricks that Malcom is suggesting on the episode. ?

And lastly, be prepared to leave your ego at the door if you want the best possible result.

Proper studio preparation, rehearsal and problem-solving ahead of time can prevent roadblocks during recording.

So listen to this episode and adopt these effective practicing techniques to become world-class studio musicians.

Let's go!


Mentioned On The Episode:

Malcom's Youtube Channel

Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

TSRB 160 - Automatic Episode Transcript - Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy

Malcom: It's so important that you all get used to playing the songs at their proper tempo. If you can actually bounce out a click track that has that tempo map and play to that, that will go a long way in helping it feel natural once you go into the studio.

Hello and welcome to the Self Recording Band podcast. This is gonna be a little bit different than usual. Uh, if you are a listener, it's gonna be a solo episode with just me. Benny couldn't make it today, but he loves and misses you all, so don't worry. He'll be back next week. And if you are watching this on my YouTube, this is the first time that I've used a self recording band podcast episode as a video.

On my channel. So that's a little different too. But I think it's gonna be relevant for both audiences cuz you know, really we make content for both audiences. So it's kind of the same thing. And in addition, I think if you are somebody that watches my YouTube channel, you should absolutely be subscribed to the Self recording band podcast and their Facebook community and YouTube channel.

I co-host it every week, but like I said, today's gonna be a solo episode, so I'm just going at this one alone, but it'll also be up on there and vice. Just, you know, cross pollinating. It's gonna be fun. Today I want to talk about how to prepare yourself for the studio, prepare yourself and your band for the studio.

And I don't mean the kind of stuff that we usually talk about on this podcast. I don't mean pre-production and arrangement and songwriting. I actually mean physically and mentally practicing and getting yourself ready and your, your chops ready for the studio. Because there is a lot that goes into it and often it gets left too late.

And honestly, I think this might resonate with some of you because if you listen to the Self Recording Band podcast, you are the type of person that is trying to develop skills and get better at doing this kind of thing. And that means that you're also probably the type of person that has taken responsibility for managing your band and making sure they're all where they need to be and that they're ready.

And in my experience from when I used to produce bands all the time. , that person sometimes forgets to look at their own technical ability with their instrument because they're so focused on making everything else work. And it's, you know, it's, it's not really your fault. You're doing a good thing, but before you actually do get into the studio, we need to make sure you can play your parts.

So that's what we're gonna be talking about today. Let's get into it. The very first recommendation that I would always make is that your band starts practicing to a click, and I mean that in your rehearsal space so that everybody is playing to a metronome while you play the songs together. It's so important that you all get used to playing the songs at their proper tempo.

The more detailed you can be with this, the better. So if you have tempo changes in your song, if you can actually bounce out a click track that has that tempo map and play to that, That will go a long way in helping it feel natural. Once you go into the studio, there's a number of ways to pull this off.

Often the drummer has just like headphones in with a metronome and they just kinda run a metronome and count in songs and keep time in the breaks, whether they're not playing and everybody just plays to them and that. Is good. That is like if, if you're not doing that, definitely at least do that, but that is the bare minimum.

The next step up would be having everybody hearing the click. Now this is a lot harder to pull off, but this is a podcast so I'm allowed to dig into it a little bit more long format. I think you can blast a click track through your PA system. But it sucks. . It's so terrible. It's so loud. It just like destroys your eardrums.

You're gonna leave with a huge headache because it's just gotta be so loud to get over the other instruments. Also, coming through that PA system, I've done it. It works not ideal. What is really ideal is some kind of in your system, which is usually kind of expensive to pull off. It doesn't have to be that expensive, but there's, it costs more than any other solution essentially.

Um, but once you. In years, you have a mixer that you can send a click track out from, and hopefully you have some kind of mixer that will allow for everybody to have their own mixes so people can decide how loud they want that metronome and other instruments in, in your band. So in the case of my band, I used to play in a band called Band of Rascals, and we had a full band in your system with tracks and the whole nine.

It was awesome. I loved it. And how we did it is we used a Beringer Exair, which is one of those digital like mixing consoles where you can pull up an app on your phone or an iPad or whatever, and you can add effects, change levels, and that had a bunch of outputs so that we could have individual isolated mixes.

Running to each of us in our jam space. So that meant that I could pull up my phone and adjust how loud the click track was, how loud the Dr, the kick drum was, and the bass guitar, my guitar, whatever I wanted, had full flexibility. Everybody had their own mix. It was really awesome. In the case of that, we had mono mixes, which is fine.

I think that's gonna be what most people are working with. Stereo mix. Isn't incredible. It's kind of what I got used to working in recording studios my whole life. But live is just, it takes more time than it's worth to set that up and you need more outputs. It's, it's just kind of double the work really.

So a mono output from your console, going to whatever you're using to feed your headphones. Now, a common mistake is that people think you have to have, Uh, wireless system to have in ears. And you don't, we didn't, some of us had wireless in ears for our live show, so in particular, our drummer had in ears, and our singer always had in ears as well.

Our drummer, Marcus actually had a wired pack, so he had a little headphone app that they could just run an XLR cable into, um, as if it was a wedge right beside him, but instead it went into this and then he could plug his headphones into that and, uh, he had his. Little controller, which we had stored all of our metronome and tracks onto that.

He fed back to them as well, kind of beside 'em at the drum station. So he was all cabled, no wireless. Our singer, however, Did need to be wired because that's trickier to do. Uh, you know, having another thing tethering you on stage. Never ideal if you're trying to run around and be a front man. So he had a wireless aneurysm system.

I also had a wireless system that I sometimes use, but it was kind of hit or miss if I went for it honestly. But in the rehearsal space, we all had ears because we just bought a little cheap, I think it was like 150 bucks art headphone amp. And that thing allowed us all to have individual headphone volumes.

We just ran headphone extension cables to that headphone amp and we were kind of off to the races. So it didn't take spending, you know, thousands of dollars on wireless gear, uh, just to have a great rehearsal space. I would say even if you don't want to use in years in your live, Having, uh, in your system or headphone monitoring system, cause they don't have to be in ears.

They can just be over ear headphones for your jam space is one of the best investments you can make. If you practice to a click, you will play without a click tighter. So you don't have to play live with a click. You don't even have to record an album to a click, but you should absolutely practice to a click.

Kinda weird how that works, . Once you've got everybody on the click, you can then actually start kind of assessing each other as well as yourself and see if there's a part where somebody is rushing or somebody is lagging. Maybe you are rushing or you are lagging in a particular section. You might find that going into a section.

You always play it too fast, and it's really actually hard to notice that if you don't have a click track being piped to your own ears. , even if your drummer's on it, there's just more flexibility and it's easier to miss. And these kind of things are not what you want happening once you're in the studio. So it's great being able to catch them in advance. And there's a reason people say the practice to a click track to become a great studio musician because it's not just about playing in time. It builds great musicianship and great meter uh, meter. Having good meter is the ability to play to a consistent bpm. Without a metronome. So it is by practicing with a metronome that you get good without a metronome. I think I kind of said that already, but it bears repeating. It's why , like classical musicians are often fantastic musicians, period. Cuz they go through this rigorous training and it does pay off. And it's also why bands and musicians that have a lot of recording experience are generally leagues above bands that haven't. It's because that practice in a studio under the micro. To a metronome yields this kind of result. It yields a better musician. You're gonna leave the studio a better musician than when you went into it. Now, obviously that's a good thing. We all want to be getting better. But you don't really want the tracks that are gonna be permanent in your legacy to reflect you before you into the studio. you want them to be as good as they are as if you had already been to the studio. So that is why preemptively doing this work with the metronome is gonna get you the results you want once you actually get into the studio. It's always a sliding scale, so I kind of feel like no matter what, by the time you finish a record, you're always better, but you at least want to be pretty darn damn good before the first time.

Now, I said that we wouldn't get into pre-production, but I kind of lied because one more real big perk of the band being on a metronome in your rehearsal space is that if you can run a line out from your mixer, even as like a single feed or multi-track, if you have a digital mixer, I. You can record your scratch tracks live as a band and do pre-production that way, which is so crazy cool. I mean, you're gonna have tracks to a metronome recorded in one take. You can quickly make songwriting changes and re-record the whole thing rather than having to set up the drum. To play those like over dubbing is great and I think it's how. Kind of a lot of the best sounding records are made, but as far as pre-production and songwriting, it's really tedious. So if you can set up a system where you're recording live and be able to, as a band, replace songs with entirely new arrangements on the fly. That's amazing. Now, why is that? Why is that good? That is good because now you can overdub things to that because you have it to a metronome. So you could delete one of the guitars, you could delete the bass. You could, uh, delete the vocal and then redo a vocal that's, you know, higher quality with new lyrics. You can overdub harmonies onto it and it's so much easier because it all is to a grid. It's editable, uh, and you can send it to your producer. If you're working with an external producer, they can chop it up, try new arrangements, send it back to you. We did that for our record with our producer, Eric Ratz. We would just. Send, uh, we'd do live recordings. We'd send them to him in Toronto. He would chop up things and be like, Hey, what if we cut the pre-course in half? Or, you know, this bridge, uh, or this part that isn't a bridge, should be the bridge. Let's move that over there and just kind of send us these rough cuts. And we would be like, okay, that's cool. We don't like that. Now let's figure out how to actually make that work because this rough cut makes sense, but the transitions aren't there. And then it's back onto. As a band, we jam it out quickly, record a new version, top to bottom, uh, or start to finish and then send it back. Like you can't do that if you're recording one instrument at a time. So for bands that have, you know, a full real band of people that jam in the same room, it's like the coolest workflow. All right, so that's enough about band rehearsal space in your metronome stuff. That was a long one. Sorry. The next thing, , more metronome. You gotta practice with a metronome on your own in your bedroom and, uh, just unfortunately hate your life for a little bit. It's part of it, . Sorry, but it's going to, it's a, it's a sacrifice that pays off, uh, for all of the same reasons. You're gonna get better. You're gonna develop better musicianship and meter, and you're going to have a more honest look at how you play the parts specif. because when you play with your band, you might kind of be sloppy at something and it just gets covered up by the noise of everyone else. But when you're by yourself playing ideally with something kind of clean, so if you're a guitarist, just turn down to the distortion quite a bit. Maybe even just go with a DI or unplugged and see if you're really nailing it.

So you're paying attention to, can you play all of these in time with mention room and really be locked in, but are you actually playing them dynamically, perfectly and clean? Are you leaving all these. Grapes and noises in between. Are you strumming too far and hitting a string under what you meant to all of. Kind of uber focused details that you have to catch in advance because getting into the studio and whoever to say your other guitarist is running the, the computer and they're recording you, and then you do a pass on the course, and then they stop and they're like, dude, you're, you're doing that wrong. It's stressful. Now you have to figure out how to adapt on the fly, which is great if you can do it, but you don't want to have to. You wanna be focusing on just playing and not just like trying to be uber worried about being clean and in time you wanna be focused on, you know, tone and fun. So, Again, metronomes that are essential practice with a band practice on your own.

You have to do both. Trust me on this. Oh, sorry. One last tip on the metronome thing. Practice slowing down the songs. Uh, metronomes are harder to play too slower, which people might not realize that. Everybody thinks faster is harder, but the slower the beats get. The harder it becomes to predict when that next click should come.

So if you can slow it down, it's kind of like, oh, I've really mastered this . I, uh, I don't think jumping around. Uh, too much is like a good idea because you do wanna get used to the tempos that you're actually playing and have that kind of internalized. But if you're stuck with a certain passage, try really slow, really nail it super slow, then slowly speed it back up to speed.

And when you're just doing warmups and stuff, that's the perfect opportunity to practice slow. Not fast, slow. Now, the next practicing technique that I really recommend is really simple to actually do is just record yourself playing the song, ideally to a click track, but even without start to finish, and then listen to it.

You're gonna notice some things. You're gonna notice some parts where it gets messy, or maybe that you slow down or speed up, or you just get quieter. , you're gonna notice all sorts of things, actually. Cause it's really hard to play a song top to bottom, start to finish. I keep saying that , uh, without, without having mistakes. And it's okay if you do because luckily we don't have to record that wave if we can punch in and fix things. , but you want to draw attention to where you are struggling so that you can correct them. Now, you don't even have to have a recording set up to do this. You can just pull it on an iPhone and make a voice memo of you playing it on a guitar or, or whatever instrument you're playing with. And it's going to serve the purpose. The better, the higher quality setup you can do, kind of the better, I guess. But it, it's still gonna work. So it's just a matter of forcing yourself to assess where you're. If you don't like where you're at, what you hear back, it just means you gotta put more work in.

Now finally, this is the controversial part. What do you do if you can't get it sounding how you wish? It sounded like you rodee in a riff. You got a band that's tight, but when you are practicing your parts and playing them and recording them for like your own practicing purposes to see if you've got it and you're ready for the studio, it falls apart.

That is a hard position to be in. Obviously the real solution is to keep practicing until it does sound great. You know, get feedback, make sure it's not just in your head. Uh, some people can be pretty hard on themselves and be told, be ready to record, and they just are focusing too much. I don't know that, like, that could happen for sure. So, you know, get somebody's trust to really tell you if, if what you're doing is up to snuff or not, but, . Ultimately, if you don't have the time to get better, and if you just can't pull it off, you need to find another solution. Usually that means finding somebody else in the band that can do it. So if there's two guitarists, one of them's probably better at recording than the other.

Now I've got mixed feelings on the better guitarist recording everything because like I said, it's studio experience. Builds musicianship. So I think it's kind of, you know, doing your band a disservice if you don't let one guitarist ever record because they're just not gonna get better. But at the end of the day, it does have to hit that certain level of quality. So if there's a certain section I would say that you can't do, just let the other person do it if they can. Sometimes it's not even the other guitar. Sometimes the drummers an an ax master. Whatever instrument combination this may be, I keep going with guitar because that's what I am, but it, it doesn't have to just be that sometimes it means bringing in other people. So for harmonies, I always hired my buddy Rob elo, uh, who's an amazing singer. Go check him out on Spotify to come and do harmonies on our records because he could just do it better than any of us could. Our, our singer Sam could do some harmonies and, and obviously he, Front singer and had that down pat. And then our bass Sean also did some great harmonies, but when it came to high falsetto stuff, I can hit those notes, but it's terrible, so why would I do it? Right? It's, it's like I don't want my bad performance being what's on there. I want somebody that can actually do it. So Rob would come in, do my harmonies, or whatever harmonies we needed done, and that was the problem solved.

This happens at all levels. There's a lot of big bands that don. Record their own songs necessarily in entirety. Session drummers are a huge thing, so you might think that a drummer you saw live is the guy that played it on the studio, but for a lot of bands, that's irrelevant. They're not even related. It's just they have their studio people and they have their live people. Sometimes they don't even have their studio people. It's just kind of like the producer's choice. They just go in, they write a song like it's not as attached as you would think, like a, when you're. Band and you're, you're coming up in the indie world, you're like family, like ride or die, you know? But it, uh, , it's not really like that at the professional level. It's kinda, the higher you go, the less it's like that. I mean, there's, there's certain bands where it is very tight-knit, but ultimately most professionals just care about the song and recording being as good as it can be. Let it be. Now the last thing, and this is kind of a fun topic, the last way to get around problems, uh, parts that are just too hard for you to play live or, or in the studio, I should say, to the degree that you want, is Studio Magic. That's the answer, . So Studio Magic is, It's the wizardry that makes people hire producers and engineers, uh, because people like myself can bring the best out of out of you. Right now you can do that too, but you might not have that skillset yet. It's just something that you've gotta be. Able to develop, and that's what we're doing on this podcast.

On the Self Recording Band podcast. We're trying to give you the tools so that you can record your own tracks to the degree that you need. So we're trying to suggest workflows that yield that kind of result. Like Guitar Di recording G. Guitar di prioritize. Recording is such a fail safe for great guitar sounds because, well, we totally want you to record your amp and get the tone as good as you can, even if you do a bad job. I'm gonna be able to fix it if you send me a di as well. Like that's an amazing fail safe. But there's other techniques that allow for all sorts of magical solutions to hard parts. So if you take the Band Dragon Force, which probably everybody's heard of, it's like the fastest guitar player ever. Throughout the entire of the song. And uh, yeah, I remember like they got really big because Guitar Hero came out, right? Everybody was playing it on guitar here on the video game. But there are stories that that stuff is recorded way slower and then sped up to be put into the fine. What, what, what we hear is recorded slow and chopped up, or squeezed with elastic audio, whatever needs to be done to get it as clean as possible, and then get it to the tempo that we. I don't know if that's true. I'm not, don't want to throw shade at them, and I don't even think. I don't think that's shade. They can play those parts. It's just about making it sound as good as it can be on the album. And maybe they do it full speed again, I don't know. But I don't think they do and it, it doesn't matter. You just, it doesn't matter at all actually. You just have to think about, it's all about the result. It's all about the result. So if you need to slow down a part, play it that way, speed it up, or play it to a di so you can edit it harder and then reamp it cuz that's another technique that would work. Or play a drum part without the fill and then then overdub the tom roll or add symbols after the. Any solution, it's just whatever it takes. There's ways around most problems, and if you can preemptively plan how you're gonna do that, if you run into a roadblock, if you run into something that you can't get down to the degree that you really want it to be. , just figure out a solution in advance and you can just whip it out when you need to and get that part done and moved on. And don't let it just kind of halt the progress if you get to a part. Otherwise, you're gonna be stuck. You'll just be doing it over and over, not getting anywhere, and it might just halt the session if you kill the session. So if you already have the solution in mind, it's gonna be way. When you go to record your songs, this applies to if you're recording yourself or your band's recording yourself, or you're going into the studio to work with a professional engineer and producer.

It doesn't matter. You have to figure this out either way, you have to be ready and prepared either way, so don't make that mistake. It's, it's totally the same world and it's just as important to be prepared. Okay, so, uh, Uh, if you're watching on my YouTube channel, thanks for watching. I know it's a little bit of a different episode or video, I guess.

And if you are listening on the Self Recording Band podcast, hello. Thank you for listening. And um, yeah, Benny will be back next week. We'll do another one. Thank you all so much for listening. Bye. Oh, one more thing. Check out the self Recording Band Facebook community, and in the description below, there is a link to the standout Mixes resource as well.

Okay, take care. Bye.

TSRB Free Facebook Community:

Outback Recordings (Benedikt's Mixing Studio and personal website)

Benedikt's Instagram

Outback Recordings Podcast - Benedikt's other podcast

Malcom's Youtube Channel

If you have any questions, feedback, topic ideas or want to suggest a guest, email us at: podcast@theselfrecordingband.com

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