Just a few weeks ago, I returned to the studio to record a song after an eight-year hiatus. I never completely closed the book on coming back to making music again, but in all honestly I'm not sure I was ever convinced I'd make the effort to resume. Being back in that setting ready to create something new and personal was a thrilling moment for me.
Not everything went as I had pictured it in my head though. After shaking off the rust, I imagined I would come in and lay down a collection of one-take verses and surprise myself with how good I was even after all those years. That did not happen. Pretty damn far from it, actually, but I learned some important lessons along the way.
I arrived prepared to work on three different songs. After randomly picking which one we'd start with, I entered the booth and got going. I spent well over an hour just working on the first verse. My takes mostly felt 'OK' but not remarkable...'fine' but like I rarely nailed it. We spent the entire 5-hour session on this song (granted, this includes bringing in a singer to put down a chorus and the final audio editing). I was proud of what we created and I think it was a great first effort, but there was certainly a ton of room for improvement. I was happy to share it as an exclusive gift to my mailing list, and it will definitely be in consideration for use on future projects.
So, what did I learn?
Practice As You Intend to Record
I spent a lot of time practicing this song, rehearsing regularly. However, I don't think this was always done at "game speed." I knew the song, but I was less comfortable applying it to a recording as I thought I would be. Now when I practice, I imagine each attempt is a live recording. This means bringing the volume, intensity and delivery that you intend on delivering when you're paying for studio time.
Another tactic that works even better (that I used for my album "Missing") is to create a more primitive recording of your song on your own computer, and listen to it repeatedly. You'll come into the studio knowing all the nuances of what you want the song to actually sound like as a finished product.
Memorize as Much as Possible
Knowing a song isn't the same thing as having it memorized. I write most of my lyrics on an iPad and brought my iPad into the booth to read off of during the recording. While this is a common practice, it does have some drawbacks. When you're focused on reading, your recording may suffer in other areas such as delivery and timing. The more you can have your song locked into your brain, the more you can focus on the details that are going to make your song special.
Ask for Suggestions and Be Flexible
Even though you've meticulously chosen every word in your song, be open to suggestions from a fresh perspective. Hopefully you're working with an engineer and/or producer who has a good ear and an opinion you respect. They can let you know when it feels like lines are too jammed, rushed or clunky and can suggest to revise a line or replace a word occasionally. We applied a few of these recommendations into my song, and the changes were definitely for the better.
Get Some Rest
You may be tempted to cram on preparing for your studio session in the days leading up to it. While this can be necessary depending on how much work the song needs, it's ideal to put in this work further in advance. If you do, you can avoid wearing out your voice as well as stressing and tiring yourself out. 'Fresh and relaxed' will produce better results than 'tired and sick/stressed' every time.
I'm preparing for another studio session in a few weeks, and will be putting all of this into practice as much as I can. Let me know if you have any other pro tips for killing it in the studio.