By: Tony Williamette
A few months back I wrote a blog titled On Preparing for the Studio: A Guide for Bands. I received a ton of great feedback on it- from experienced engineers to students. It took years of sanding this process down just to get our studio prep guide somewhat presentable.
Since the studio experience can be so different for bands vs. solo artists- I find this to be particularly true for hip hop sessions- I’ve decided to share my Guide for Solo Artists studio prep sheet.
My experience recording and mixing hip hop records runs the gamut: I’ve engineered dozens of sessions with a YouTube-ripped stereo Mp3 beat of questionable quality. To say nothing of copyright issues, I look at this as a stepping stone for young artists eventually owning and producing their own beats. Because original lyrics are being written and performed, I find this every bit as impressive as the 15-year old covering Pink Floyd on acoustic guitar. I try to meet artists where they are and I know that everyone has to start somewhere.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been lucky enough to have artists’ dedicated producers/beatmakers sitting in the studio with me. If I don’t like a snare sound, I have them replace it and AirDrop it to me. This is the gold standard of hip hop record-making; the artist, producer, and engineer all in the room together, collaborating.
I’ve started to refer to hip hop as the new Rock n’ Roll: kids in 8th grade are more apt to be making beats on their phone rather than picking up a guitar. Because of this, we’ve seen a wild influx of emails and call for first-time hip hop artists to come in for studio time. Many think they want “just an hour”, or “the song is 3 minutes long, so I shouldn’t need much time”.
Statements like these statements make my teeth hurt. This is where I have to pause and remember the above credo: I need to meet artists where they are and everyone has to start somewhere. Putting this guide together is my effort in helping that artist’s somewhere be a little further along.
So, this is a long-winded way of presenting my Studio Prep Guide for Solo Artists. As with the Guide for Bands, I put this together sometime in 2011, but have refined it ever since.
Without further ado:
Studio Prep for the Solo Artist:
If possible, please provide the following prior to entering the studio:
1. The general direction you want the song(s) to go. Give me the names of some artists
and some specific recordings that capture what you would like to achieve sonically.
Links to YouTube are encouraged.
2. Any demos/home recordings/previous albums you have put out.
3. Are you playing live anytime soon?
4. A list of songs titles you are recording.
5. The instrumentation and desired feel of each song.
6. What is the purpose of these songs- a single? An EP? An LP? Demo songs?
Things to consider:
1. Know the songs. This will save a large amount of time and will result in better
feeling, tighter songs. This is probably the most important item on here.
2. Bring a Mac-compatible USB 3.0 hard drive. USB 2.0 will work as well, but
can be very slow. We will keep archives of your recordings, but you will receive all of the
files and mixes at the end of each session for backup purposes. You will be responsible
for keeping these backups once the recording process is complete. Sessions can range
from 1GB to 30GB, so be sure there is enough space; be it a thumb drive or traditional
external hard drive.
3. Bring the proper files. Are you bringing in a stereo track or beat? Are you able
to get the complete multitrack files? You can often get these from whoever made the
beat. These will make it easier to mix and things will sound better in the end. Try to
bring in “.wav” files, Mp3s are usable, but they do not sound as good. Have your files
ready on your hard drive prior to the session.
4. Bring some snack and drinks. These can help keep a session going. We can
always stop for a lunch or dinner break, but it is nice to have some food and drinks
around to keep everyone going. Of course, we will have the standard tea and water.
There are many fine dining establishments in the area, and a host of good order-in food
5. Use your network. Bring a photographer or videographer in to take
photos/video of you in the studio -if you’re comfortable with that. If you’ve got a friend
with an unbelievable voice, feature them on a song, or bring them in to help fill out a
chorus. Note that bringing in a large group of friends not involved in your music can
become very counterproductive and make for an un-focused session. Keep this in mind
before you bring in your group of friends.
6. Get some sleep and leave some time open. Don’t rush this. A recording is
(usually) forever. Come well rested and leave some time open afterwards in the case that
the session runs late.