I believe that a major key in getting a great end result is to have a great starting point. That is where preproduction comes in and I’m not talking about your regular Wednesday night band practice. I’m talking about treating your rehearsals as actual recording sessions and critiquing them as if they were.
Back in the day I used to take my Roland 1880 and some mics to a bands jam space and do very crude recordings. The recordings were nowhere near CD quality but they were good enough to get the feel for the songs and that’s all we are after at this stage. Once the recording was done, I would do a rough mix which would bring us in the ball park of the final mix. This allowed us to critique the certain elements of the song like doubling up on rhythm guitars, adding additional parts in instrumentation and vocals, adding stops, etc… When everyone agreed that the song was good enough for the studio, we would then use the rough mix as scratch track for the final recording. Using these scratch tracks then allowed us to get better mic selection and placement.
Back then using an 1880 and transferring files into Pro Tools was a major pain but today you can buy a 4 track (or greater) pocket recorders that have 2 or more inputs and allow you to overdub and do a rough mix all for less than $500. You can also buy a metronome that you can plug into the PA to rehearse to if you know that you will be using one in the recording.
Another possibility is to use a laptop with recording software, an I/O interface and some mics. Some people already have most of this if not all of it. This option gives you the ability to generate varying tempos and time signatures within the song as well as overdubbing to your hearts content and creating even better rough mixes.
The main point behind this is that you and your friends have a chance to listen to and critique your songs before you spend the money on recording them in a studio. You may find that having two 16 bar guitar solos isn’t as epic of an idea as the guitar player thinks or that it sounds better if the drummer plays a different rhythm during the verses. If anything, you will be well prepared for your recording session. Preparation that will ultimately save you money and time in the recording studio.
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