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I've heard that one of the best ways to save money in the studio is to spend a significant amount of time woodshedding before the actual studio date, which will help keep the amount of mistakes to a minimum when the clock is running.

What are some things to practice (acoustic/electric guitar and a vocals) before going into the studio to record? Should I be simply playing my songs to death (which could potentially make me a little jaded about them) or should I do other exercises that will increase my vocal flexibility or guitar technique?

How should I practice before going into the recording studio?

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7 Answers 7

Start using a metronome while practicing all your songs. Decide on the best tempo and get the feel down for what you are doing. A producer or engineer will expect you to know your songs inside and out, so be sure to have the groove down. In my experience I have saved money and time by deciding what tempo and groove belongs with my songs before I start in studio.

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If you're recording with a group it's important that all members understand the importance of precision. The human ear is super-sensitive to the space (time) subdivisions within musical phrasing, and in my experience the vast majority of musicians deviate from the tempo well beyond the JND (just-noticeable-difference threshold). These issues can be fixed in post-production, but will cost a lot of money, and as you begin to play shows with better acoustic environments any rhythmic deficiencies, from even a single member of the band, will begin to stand out. –  Matt Langan Jan 14 at 19:42
    
I would also advocate starting not with your own songs but instead with simple scales to acclimate your hands to playing within a rigid time grid. It will feel very mechanical/robotic and unmusical. The tough part is that precision is precisely what makes the composition seem musical. I would be concerned that starting with your own songs will lead to your "playing" them through the approximated quarter notes rather than striking every sixteenth note and up-beat rest in its exact location. It's not going to feel fun. It's not going to feel musical. You have to get over that. –  Matt Langan Jan 14 at 19:46
    
If you are writing your own material I would assume you have played cover songs anyway. Groove is not a mechanical feel, it is a response to the style of the music that should follow a tempo accurately. The OP didn't mention a band and is concerned about his performance. Therefore my answer was directed at the question asked. –  r lo Jan 15 at 13:10
    
Ya that's why I upvoted it and provided an addendum rather than an alternate answer (which this is not) –  Matt Langan Jan 15 at 13:15
    
I can't stand playing to a metronome. The tick tick tick just drives me nuts. I had a friend make some "four on the floor" drum loops, and that works way better for me. –  Dan Gayle Jan 15 at 19:01
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Chat to whoever will be in the control room beforehand, to gauge their expectations and set your own. Will he be a producer, putting in creative input and deciding what gets recorded when? Or will he be an engineer, operating the equipment and ensuring a clear recording, but otherwise letting you run the show? Who will be making decisions such as whether to use a click track; whether to record one instrument at a time or more?

Record a demo in your garage/bedroom/whatever. It can be as lo-fi as you like; find a second-hand cassette multitrack, or use computer.

  1. You can play the demo to the studio producer/engineer, and explain what you want the studio version to improve upon
  2. It helps you work out the best order to do things once you're in the studio. After a few goes at the demo, you might expect to be able to recreate the demo in as much time as it takes to play through the song once for each track.
  3. It gets you used to playing to a sparse backing (if you'll be recording one instrument at a time); or it tells you when you should be thinking about guide tracks. (You could even use your demo as a guide track in the studio).
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Some of my experiences...

  1. Pay more effort on your first voice. Sometimes your voice may be the 1st sound in the song, and sometimes you start to sing after the prelude. Just practice time to time and make sure you are on the correct tone. It is very easy to feel the discord if your voice is off in the music background.

  2. You may sing with the band or follow the music tracks via the earphone. Get used to both. You can sing with the accompany music coming through the earphone, record it, and listen yourself. You can observe a huge difference between what it sounds like during you are singing and from your recording. And this is a very effective method to correct anything flawed from the tone to the emotion.

  3. Regarding the guitar playing, record yourself and listen to it as well. Always keep your tempo consistent. No rush or slowing down unless it is your intention to achieve that effect. Do NOT start until all the instruments are tuned perfectly.

Good luck!

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Other answers have addressed things to focus on in the music. That's important too, but another big waster of studio time (with the meter running) for me has been studio conditions.

Playing live in your living room, listening to everybody else and adjusting on the fly, is very different from listening to a non-reactive track through headphones. Singing into a mic (that has to be kept at a precise distance) is different from singing into the room and being free to move around. Not being able to directly hear your own output (because of the aforementioned headphones) makes it much harder for you to know how you sound.

So try to practice under simulated studio conditions. Record the lead track and then, individually, practice against that, through headphones. Record that and see what it sounds like. Note what is distracting or frustrating you and investigate ways to fix it in your living room so you'll be ready for the studio.

If you're going to be singing into a mic on a stand (as opposed to one you're wearing), practice with a mic at home. If you don't have a mic, simulate one, mark the distance you need to maintain, and practice singing, with somebody watching who can point out every time you stray out of mic range. Make sure that you will be able to stand still enough to do this without compromising quality. (Again, record it so you can listen and evaluate.)

Finally, practice jumping into your music at random points for patching otherwise-good tracks. Can you sing that from verse four, line two, right now? With the right dynamics, texture, etc? Can you redo that guitar lick without playing the previous minute's worth of lead-up? Can you play at exactly this tempo to redo your intro?

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Practicing with a mic has always been important for me just for live performance too, so I totally see the benefit of this. –  Dan Gayle Jan 15 at 18:59
    
Oh right, I guess that would apply to most people. Silly acoustic-and-in-small-spaces musician here. :-) –  Monica Cellio Jan 15 at 19:40
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Here's the routing I use, when I want to record something in the studio:

  1. Record song(composition) on portable recorder.
  2. Listen to resulting record
    1. If it sound good enough - go to studio and record it.
    2. If not - practice things that sound "not good enough" and go to step one.

It's really usefull to use recorder with "overdub" function. Then you can record guitar part and "overdub" it with a voice as many times as you wish. I also like to monitor live sound through headphones - it give a "like in the studio" feeling of process and you can hear a sound, recorder with microphones (and sound of guitar really differs from what you head by your own ears).

It's my personal experience about one-man recording, when you will record track-by-track (or, maybe, voice and guitar(piano) at the same time). When you are recording with the band, things would'n be the same for sure.

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Make sure you know all the lyrics ! Sounds daft but you'd be surprised how many don't . . .....

Same for guitar or any performance in the studio really - just make sure you know what you're going to do.

Re over-practicing : Yes this can happen and the danger is that you might end up with a "stale" recording because the life has been sucked out a little bit. Depends on what you're recording of course.

I play "songs" (guitar & vocal) and practiced hard for a studio session by playing them live (with band) as much as possible at gigs prior to recording. You have to present it in full, no "forgiving yourself" and if you record it too you'll get an idea of what it sounds like. If you're not doing gigs, maybe play the tunes in front of a 'tame' audience like family / friends ?

To avoid overdoing it, maybe give the practice a rest the day before the studio session, or cut down on it. you don't want to tire that particular set of muscles you use to play the songs, either.

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I have been to studio recordings and concerts alot of times. from my experience I would say : 1.training good will give you confidence.
2.warming up before going to the studio is good too.

Practicing : play the melody/song with changed dynamics and timings like : Stacatto,one bar slow and second fast,.... and if something goes wrong play it again and again until gaining it right.

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