Last week, I went into White Room Studios in Austin, Texas to begin work on Of The Sun’s new EP, Before A Human Path. This marks possibly the 17th anniversary of the first time I’ve ever “laid down tracks”, as they say. While most of my experience in recording has been in either makeshift or home studios, I’ve done more tracking than I can even remember, and the same principles apply to whether you’re making your first demo or you’ve been invited for a guest session at Abbey Road.
P #1 : Be prepared. Practice. Practice. Practice. If your art means anything to you at all, be sure that you know how you want it to sound and that you can play it the way you want it to sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a crust punk band that’s supposed to sound crappy; practice your crappy-sounding part until you can make it sound the way it’s supposed to…every time.
I’ve seen the nicest engineer I’ve ever met turn into a fire-breathing dragon because the band he was recording couldn’t nail a riff in one of their songs, and they “didn’t know what the problem was”. After take 100-something failed and they started in with their excuses, my friend cut them off and said, “Well maybe you should go home and practice!”
It doesn’t matter how much you’re paying for studio time: if you can’t play your song right, no producer can help you.
P #2: Be patient. I know that time is money, recording doesn’t come cheap, and the pressure is on, but if you’ve taken care of the first step, then only a modicum of patience should be required in the first place.
If you or another member of the band fall off the metronome on your first few tries, relax: it’s cool. You can chalk it up to nerves. And it’s okay to be nervous, but you can’t let that shake your resolve to make the record sound as perfect as it can.
If need be, don’t be afraid to take a break and clear your head. Relax. The old adage that says, “You can’t rush art” does have it’s merits.
P #3: I would have to point to persistence.
This is where the other two also come into play. You’ve practiced your parts ad infinitum, and you’ve sat through your bandmates’ tracking sessions, and now it’s your turn. When I was younger, I used to take pride in being able to go in and knock out my bass tracks in one day, most tracks taking one or two takes. But when the final product came out, I would always hear parts that I could have played better. Don’t settle for good enough.
The mix of performance anxiety and pressure to not rack up an exorbitant studio bill will be in the back of your mind, of course. Yet don’t let that dissuade you from making the best use of your time. If there’s something just a little off about your last attempt, keep going. Your best take could be your next.