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How To Prepare Yourself For A Drum Recording Session In A Studio (6-Step Checklist)

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

I have been on both sides of the glass, recording in bands at multiple recording studios and recording bands myself as an engineer. Especially if you're relatively new to recording and have never stepped foot in a professional recording studio, it can be pretty daunting. Here's a list I've put together that I think you might find helpful to ensure you are as well prepared for recording in a professional studio as possible.

1. Be Well Rehearsed

Recording your performances in a studio environment can feel highly pressurised and nerve-racking for a lot of drummers. Although you can't really replicate this pressure to prepare for it, the best you can do is be well rehearsed and know your songs and parts like the back of your hand. A lot of recording engineers WILL get frustrated with you if you are on take 25 and it's clear to them you haven't been bothered to learn your parts. It's also important to know your instrument well and be able to play cleanly - you can bet that every small mistake you make is amplified when hearing it back through expensive studio monitors. Be sure to focus on the timing of your playing to the click and the consistency of the velocity at which you hit your drums. In the end of the day everyone makes mistakes and you will almost definitely screw up a couple of times at least, so don't put yourself under too much pressure; it should be a fun and rewarding experience.

2. Finding The Right Recording Studio

You may or may not have found the right studio for you already, if not though this is an important point as this could make or break your music and in turn have a huge effect on your career. There are countless producers and recording engineers out there that work with every genre imaginable. We'd recommend working with an engineer that is well established in your particular niche/genre. For example if you play alternative rock music, don't work with someone who's better working with metal music. Likewise don't work with someone who claims they work with every genre and can make anything sound good. It's important to work with someone who is a master in working with the sound you are trying to achieve, and not someone who's the jack of all trades. As the artist, do not worry about what gear a studio has, in terms of microphones, outboard gear, monitoring etc. Providing the studio is professional and has a good sounding portfolio, don't worry about their gear or what they do with it, let them do their thing and you stick to recording the best takes you can. Lastly have a realistic budget for the quality you are expecting. Some people expect to spend next to nothing on a song for recording, mixing and mastering and it to sound incredible. You generally get what you pay for, and if you are serious about your career and want the best from your music, expect to pay at least £25/hour for recording, which generally excludes editing and mixing.

3. Practice To A Click Track

One of the most tedious and frustrating parts of recording can be playing to a click track, especially if you have never done it before. There's no doubt about it, if you're a drummer you will be expected to record to a click track so it's important you nail this down to avoid having an absolute nightmare in the studio. Some people are naturally good at staying in time, where as with others it doesn't come too naturally at all. There are plenty of free metronome apps for your phone; be sure to download one, set the tempo to match a song you know well and play along with just the click. If you are lucky enough to have your own recording gear, record yourself to a click and listen back. Having this audible feedback is a great way to teach yourself how to play in time and will give you good practice for the studio. Let me warn you that this takes some practice and is very frustrating to begin with, but better to be frustrated at home rather than in the studio where time is money!

4. Pack Your Lunch (Energy Is Essential)

This can vary from one studio to another; some may have an allocated lunch break, some may have their own canteen, some may have no catering facilities or breaks. If you don't know this, assume the latter and bring your own packed lunch to have whenever time allows. Keeping energised, hydrated and fuelled is so important for the recording process as it can be very stressful at times and there might be moments where the tensions in the room are high. You can bet that multiple 'hangry' musicians/band members who haven't eaten in 8 hours won't make the situation any better. You can't expect to create great art on little energy so make sure you are prepared in this way. Refrain from taking a load of junk that will just give you a huge sugar crash and kill you off half way through the day.

5. Prepping Your Drums

Some studios will have their own selection of kits and snares to use on recordings. Where you will be required to (or would prefer to) use your own kit, it is important to change all your drum heads and make sure all your cymbals are free of cracks and damage. You cannot make a drum kit sound great in a recording if it sounds terrible at the source. You must also make sure your drums are properly tuned, we've linked videos below to guide you how to do this, if you don't already know. Some engineers may tune your drums with you to the key of the song before recording, or just tune them for you if you don't know how; nevertheless this is an essential skill to have and will save valuable time on the day.

6. Engineer Sass.

Bear in mind that engineers are generally known for being blunt and brutally honest. If you take offence to criticism easily, it is a must that you do not get wound up or defensive. A lot of the time this is meant in a jokingly way, but at the same time there will be a hint of truth in what they say. The engineer just wants to get the best out of you and push you to record the best takes you can. Don't take them too seriously, but do listen to their advice and criticism. They work with musicians day in and day out and generally know what is best. Expect to play your best take ever and they just delete it and say "that was shit, do that again". Although this won't be true for all engineers, I just wanted to give you a little heads up so there are no surprises on the day if your engineer seems like an arsehole!

I hope this has given you some insight into how to prepare for a professional recording session. This isn't a be all and end all guide, however if you follow these steps you won't go far wrong. You'll be able to enjoy the experience and get the most out of the session you have spent your hard-earned cash on.

Article written by Eddie at The Professional Musician Academy


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