Like the old man said to the tourist in New York who asked how to get to Carnagie Hall: "Practice, son, practice". Everyone should know exactly what their parts of the arrangements are. Make sure you've got the vocals well rehearsed, but also, practice with instruments only. Make sure that the bass and kick drum are well coordinated.
The whole band, or at least the drummer, should learn how to play with a click track or metronome. This not only helps everybody to maintain a consistent tempo, but also allows a lot more flexibility (and keeps prices down) in post production if you want additional instruments added on later. Any MIDI add ons will be less costly in production time. Decide beforehand what tempo (beats per minute - bpm) your song will be.
Communicate: - get the engineer to listen to parts of commercial recordings that have production values you'd like to hear on your own CD. Engineers get a lot of experience - encourage him to make suggestions.
Talk among yourselves - and others who have good taste and care about the band - about any additional elements that would enhance the music you play. Would a song benefit from an acoustic piano? an extra synthesizer or two? a philharmonic orchestra? a digeridoo and accordion? This is your chance to extend yourselves where no musicians have gone before. It worked pretty well for the Beatles...
Bring copies of lyrics to all songs for all singers, and an extra one for the engineer. If you also label the different parts of the songs, everybody will literally be on the same page. Also, you may know the song like an old friend, but if you find yourself singing the same few phrases over and over again to get a difficult passage just right, the stress builds and your concentration can fall apart. Lyric sheets can be a lifeline for you.
Sessions can take longer than expected. Everybody's trying to get the best possible results, so this may mean some extra takes, double checking certain things, trying different methods of miking the instruments, etc. Allow some extra time and be patient. If tensions run high, take a break.
Guitar players: Change your strings a day or two before the session and carry spare strings and picks. Check and correct your intonation. Do the 12th fret harmonics match the pitch of the 12th fret when played normally? If not, adjust the bridge. If you've got the perfect effects rig to produce the tone you want, be sure and bring your equipment.
Singers: Do everything you can to assure that your voice is in top shape. Don't talk to loudly or drink the night before. Bring your own decongestants and tea bags. Cold liquids can constrict the throat muscles, warm is better. Get a good night's sleep the night before.
Drummers: The old heads with duct tape might be what you need for live performances, but for good quality recordings, one of the best things you could do is change your heads and CAREFULLY tune them. Bring a drum key with you for touch ups, or to customize your sound for certain songs.
Try to get in the habit of consistently hitting the drums (especially the snare) in the same place each time, except for rimshots or other effects. When you have a mic 2" from the head, it can make a difference. Recording professionals are used to playing the high hat so that it's not really low and close to the snare. That way, it's much easier to get a good snare recording without too much bleed through from the hat. Bring an extra pair of sticks.
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Got questions? We're here to answer your questions! Call Bill at (828) 776-2357