I've been in the recording industry for around ten years now and I've seen about every form of unprepared that exists. From full-fledged "how does the verse go again?" to "crap, I forgot my phone charger."
Don't be like these guys! I put together this checklist with advice from a couple of colleagues, Matt Grojean of Aislin Recordings in Nixa, MO and Ryan Bentley of Elysian Studios in Dallas, TX. Read this and do what it says before you go in a studio session, you'll thank me later.
1.) Rehearse your set.
You don't know your songs well enough until you're sick of playing them. Boredom means the song is no longer challenging you, meaning you have it down to the best of your ability. Rehearse to a metronome (see #4).
2.) New strings are a MUST.
Budget the cost of re-stringing your instruments as a cost of recording. There is nothing worse for your tone than old strings. Also (for guitarists), buy a spare high E and G string. You know, the ones that always seem to break.
3.) Buy at least one new drum head for your drum kit.
The best thing to say here is to buy all new heads for your kit, but that usually isn't financially viable. Install and tune the head(s) a week before your session. 9 times out of 10, I'll suggest a new snare batter head (unless your tom heads haven't been changed since the 1970's).
4.) Determine tempos and time for your songs.
This will save at least an hour in the pre-production stage of recording. It's less sweat off your producer's back and will help you be ready to play your set to a metronome before you even set foot in a studio (see #1). If your songs have multiple time and/or tempo changes, plot this out in Garageband (or whatever DAW you have) for your producer to work from. It also helps your producer if you sketch out the structure of your songs so he/she will know which part you are referring to when you say “start me at this part.”
5.) Downsize your drum kit.
Only bring what you actually use. Unless you are an 80’s revival band, you will not need 15 toms, roto-toms, 3 splashes, and 2 china crashes. Your kit will sound much tighter and focused in the mix using only the bare essentials. The studio is not the place to be showy, that's for the stage.
6.) Cut a demo of your songs and provide reference tracks.
Making a rough cut of your songs has a two-fold advantage: it gives your producer a great idea of which elements you want included in your final tracks and it helps you prepare for the recording process. If you can make a good demo of your songs, your producer can make an even better finished product. Also, providing reference tracks of your favorite recordings can help your producer hone in on the sounds that influence your music.
Day of Recording Tips
1.) Have all of the money you owe before you start your session.
Regardless of your producer's payment policy, this is just good business. Your producer will have a much more positive attitude toward you knowing he/she definitely isn't getting screwed, therefore crafting a better product for you.
2.) Pack Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Aleve.
Headaches will happen. Thank your drummer.
3.) Pack headphones/in-ear monitors and a phone charger.
Because there's nothing worse than headphones that don't fit right and a dead phone all at once.
4.) Don’t bring your bros or your girlfriends.
Unless they are a legitimate part of the recording process, they will only be taking up space, distracting you, and causing sound contamination.
5.) (For vocalists) Be mindful of what you eat and drink the day of recording.
Limit your caffeine intake, it dries out your vocal cords. Bring honey and tea (or honey whiskey) for a tired voice; don't drink anything ice cold, this constricts your vocal cords. Eat something greasy to clear phlegm from your throat (burger, chips, etc).
Success in the studio is just as much about psychology as it is technical knowledge and creativity. The more comfortable you are, the better your performance will be, and the better your tracks are going to sound in the end. Be prepared and bring everything you need, you're setting yourself up for success in the long run.
Have anything else to add? Drop it in the comments below!