3 Ways to Best Prepare Your Recording Sessions
Over the years of learning how to record and mix, one important thing as an engineer that I've learned is to spend time preparing my sessions in order to save time later on. The concept of getting it right at the source is extremely vital to a final result that your client will love. In this blog we will cover 3 ways to best prepare your recording sessions.
#1: Gain Staging
I can’t tell you the amount of times I have made the mistake of not prepping the volume coming from the mic into the DAW due to the over-excitement of having a session or just simply overlooking it. Gain staging is basically when the person behind the desk adjusts the input of the signal coming into the computer or desk. If you’ve ever been to a studio as a musician, you’ll have noticed the drummer hitting the kick, snare, toms etc. about a hundred times before they can move on and start tracking. This is because if you record your instrument too low, more specifically vocals, you’ll have to un-naturally turn the track up in the post-production phase using things like compressors which creates unwanted noise and hiss which can potentially ruin a song. It’s easier to turn it down than turn it up.
#2: Mic Placement
Mic placement is perhaps the most key element in recording anything. Imagine you’re in the studio to record guitars for a client and at the end of the tracking session you notice that the SM57 you placed in front of the amp is about two feet away instead of two inches away - you can never bring that mic forward in post without bringing in unwanted noise, as mentioned in #1. Obviously this is an over-exaggerated example but stranger things have happened, I’m sure. It’s better to use your ears when placing mics and properly gain stage before hitting the big red record button.
Always test before you record for real. Always check your microphones are on, and have phantom power if necessary. A perfect example of why we do this is to avoid the situation of a drummer getting right into it only to be stopped by the engineer saying “Sorry... forgot to turn the overheads on.” Take the time it takes so you don’t have to take time later making it right. Mistakes will always be made during the recording process: it’s inevitable. But if you remember to test everything properly, turn your microphones on, and have your musicians always play at the highest intensity before you play for keeps, you won’t have any surprises later on.
The main takeaway from this should be to prepare for the session, every session, no matter how big or small. Make every job count, and make as minimal mistakes as you can by getting it right at the source, so your job is easier later on and you don’t have to have your clients coming back because you made an easily avoidable mistake.
Audio Engineer + Session Musician