Forward Planning for Sessions

Hi, and welcome back to the blog! We’re nearly halfway into the first month of 2023, and now is a perfect time for today's addition to our focus this month surrounding Working Efficiently. 

I’m the kind of person that likes to be as well prepared as I can be for all situations, so I want to share with you a few ways I stay ahead of the curve, by instilling an element of forward planning for all sessions I have in the studio. 

Let’s dive in!

Giving Instruction Before the Day

Until a certain point, in my early days of engineering within my first couple of years, I found working with clients in the first sessions cumbersome and nowhere close to what I had planned in my head. But that was kind of the problem, the plan was in my head - and at that time in my life I didn't have the best communication skills to portray exactly what it was that I wanted to happen for each session. 

So, fast forward through realizing this but not knowing how to resolve the problem, I stumbled across some brilliant information from the producer, Brian Hood, during his mixing course which detailed how and why to create a document to send to the band or artist prior to the first day of recording, to explain many things that help speed up the workflow and enjoyment of the session for the artist, such as:

  • How to send Midi files with the tempo embedded in the file
  • Making sure that all instruments have been maintained prior to the first session (new strings, new skins, new reeds, etc.)
  • Sending any demo material they might have to help you ascertain the structure of the song
  • Where you’ll upload the progress of the sessions
  • Rules for your studio, what's expected of the band or artist and the way you work payments

There’s many things that can go into this one document, but the main point of it is to give the artist as much information with as much time as possible before the first day to make sure that they have everything prepared and you can just do your job to a high standard - so it’s a win win for everyone involved! 

Practice Between Sessions

While I have a few days of downtime in between clients, I’ll always make sure to catch up on the necessary tasks to run the house, my day to day, and so on. But I’ll also try to give myself a day where I can practice a new technique I want to try in a session, such as stereo mic’ing or tweaks to an already existing technique I want to refine for how I like to record. It’s really imperative that you make time to do this if you want to see progression in your abilities in a reasonable time frame, otherwise you'll limit yourself to happy accidents or relying upon the sessions you have to try out something new and risking that it may not pay off, creating further problems for you and the band. 

This is a perfect example of when I've taken time to try out some new techniques or refine pre-existing ones I have, to discover more and give me more options when planning my engineering sessions.   

I’ll usually try and research as much as I can, and then ask a musician friend to come and help me for the day and make the most of the time with them to catch up, and have fun with practicing (both them and I in our own ways). If you can use this same time to get rid of other tasks you might have, like writing for your own band or helping another band compose their songs, then you can get the best out of the time and end up with progress being made on both sides too. 

Scouting and Stocking

Sometimes, especially when talking in terms of recording live drums (and if you're in a band, practice spaces work the same), the room you usually use if you don't have one in house, ends up being booked out for one reason or another, and unless you postpone the sessions you need to have something as either a back-up option, or a totally new environment. In either case, you’re going to want to scout the room before the session and understand how it sounds with the kit in there. 

When searching for a new room, or at least a functional backup option, I always make sure I bring a good drummer with me, along with a very simple set up for then to play as I walk around the room to listen to each corner, the centre of the room at varying distances from the kit, all while listening to each part of the kit and making mental or physical notes to refer back to if there’s problems I need to overcome. 

This is one of the local options I have in a small village I grew up in called Morton. As you can see, it's large enough and has a great roof, but no dampening so this is why I would scout the room prior to figure out how to curtail the obvious issues I'll face. 

Most rooms that aren’t set up for specifically drum recording will have a good amount of reflections, and not a large amount of control to the decay of the rooms sound, or tuning to make it more appropriate for drum recording - hence, scouting the room prior to any sessions will always give you a sense of what you need to do to make it a better environment to work in such as bring baffles with you, your microphone choices, etc. 

Lastly, as a final addition to this blog, remember to always stock up between sessions on breakables; strings, skins, reeds, moongel, plectrums, drum keys, you name it, you need to make sure you’re prepared in case the worst happens. I don’t mean to talk bad of any musician, but being one I know in the past I’ve totally blanked prior to someone recording me or having a band practice, only to remember when there that I’m missing a cable or a pick - that also happens to exactly the same scenario that will occur in the studio and it’s better that you can resolve the issue by being prepared yourself!