First Time in a Recording Studio

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Steve Killingsworth, Jun 7, 2020.

  1. Next month I will spend a few days in Nashville with my double bass participating in a recording session for the first time in my life (assuming we're not all wiped out by an asteroid strike, eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano, or some other as yet unforeseen 2020 catastrophe).

    What should I expect? What can/should I do in advance to prepare and lessen the likelihood of looking like a complete idiot.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2020
    nbsipics likes this.
  2. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    The first time I went into a studio, I kinda lost confidence in my abilities at the last moment and wound up pulling my punches. I played all the notes, but I didn’t “own” my parts. The result was not terrible, but it wasn’t something that I have ever been super proud of.

    So my advice is to figure out how to play your part with the most absolute conviction that you can muster. You can correct a mistake with a punch-in, but tepid playing cannot be fixed.
  3. Standalone


    Jan 17, 2005
    New Haven
    Be comfortable going direct to the board and hearing yourself and band in headphones. Be relaxed. Lock with the drummer and play in a relaxed, clean, and pocket style more than a chops-master showy style. Have newish strings and be sure that things are set up and adjusted on your bass so it plays in tune.

    Chill and professional is the way to be in a studio.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    First of all, have your parts down cold. A barely noticeable miss on stage will stick out on me a sore thumb on the recording.

    Second, make sure your instrument is in good working order. Tiny buzzes barely noticeable on stage will stick out on like a sore thumb on the recording.

  5. filmtex


    May 29, 2011
    Being in a recording studio is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Enjoy. You'll be fine.
  6. equill


    Nov 25, 2010
    Try to do some pre-recording ahead of time, to get comfortable both with the process of being recorded, and with hearing a recording of yourself playing.
    It can be disconcerting, just like hearing a playback of your own voice. So if you can get that out of the way ahead of time, that's one way you can help yourself.

    Other than that, as Buldog said, have your parts down cold, and make sure your gear's in good order.
    Also take food and water, turn up early, and do what the nice recording engineer tells you to.
    delta7fred likes this.
  7. jchrisk1


    Nov 15, 2009
    Northern MI
    Also, keep a note, whether mental or on paper, of your mistakes that you want to fix. There will be mistakes, and not everyone will hear them, because they will more than likely be focused on their own parts.
    equill likes this.
  8. lurk

    lurk Supporting Member

    Dec 2, 2009
    I've been doing it for 50 years and I rarely feel I play my absolute best in the studio. One thing I find very helpful is to get one side of the phones at least partially off so you get some sense of acoustic sound. Don't be pain in the ass picky about your recorded sound unless it's your session, but don't just roll over either. One of the best bands I ever played in did one of the best recordings I've ever been on and I don't like the bass sound. I wasn't paying for the session, I was being paid, and the engineer was a name guy who had recorded lots of stars. Every time I hear that recording I wish I had spoken up.
    equill, MarkA and statsc like this.
  9. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Triple-check your gear two days before
    Pack spare strings and fuses
    Dress in layers
    Triple-check you've packed all your gear
    Bring plenty to drink and munch
    Bring asprin
    Show up way early

    Play with all the commitment you can muster. Listen as hard as you ever have in your life. A lot of people get sucked into playing it safe -- what the producer really wants you to do is play for keeps, which is different.

    Like all music, it's as much fun as you let it be. Keep the joy in sight!
  10. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    +1 to having one headphone slightly off your ear so you can hear the acoustic sound of your bass. It will probably sound MUCH better to you, and consequently you’ll play better!
    rickwolff and unbrokenchain like this.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    What kind of music? I have only recorded with jazz (or jazz-ish) groups, so we're all playing at the same time, even for those sessions where everyone is in an isolation booth. Although Our Current Reality has given me a new respect for folks who can be really creative when playing along with a pre-recorded part or parts. But that ain't really My Thing. So, depending on what you're doing, my advice may or may not be applicable.

    Generally, the idea is to create a Moment of Universal Beauty and Truth. That is, you're not striving for perfection, but for That Moment where you're not playing a song, but you're playing together and it just happens to be that particular song. My experience has been that the first full take is the one that gets closest to truly being in the moment, the more times you hit it, the more and more self conscious you become. That's not true for everyone, my friend Jon Raney did some recording with bassist Lindsey Horner and said that, with every take, Lindsey was able to keep focusing on those things that made the tune happen and keep refining his line so that the final take was the keeper. I guess the best advice along those lines is keep your ears open and stay alive to the moment. In the immortal words of Elvin Jones, when he was in the studio with a nervous ingenue on his first recording date, "Relax. Or I'll kill you."

    If you have specific parts to play, yes get all your fingering and shifting issues worked out. If your bass has buzzes, squeaks, rattles, etc. get those dealt with. If you have a bow quiver, go ahead and take it off. If your acoustic sound is important to you, take your pickup off the bass. It doesn't matter how much the sound sucks, if an engineer sees a pickup, they will run a direct line. That said, I have been able to get away with the lie, "I've got a short in the pickup wire" a couple of times. But again, most of the recording I've done has been with groups and in studios that want an acoustic jazz group to sound like an acoustic jazz group.

    Try to remember, you're not taking anybody's brain out, you're there to play music which you love to do. So play music and have fun.

    Oh, and engineers love it when you ask them "Which one's the Britney Spears machine? "
    Sam Sherry and John Chambliss like this.
  12. CryingBass

    CryingBass Sowing the Seeds of Uncertainty Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    I do online support for complex systems. I am sure this sounds dumb, but users ( and programmers ) make a lot more mistakes when you are "looking over their shoulders".

    I have never played in a studio session myself ( but have observed several seesions ). I feel that if I ever did, I would succumb to that "looking over my shoulder" syndrome.

    My thoughts are that the "mistakes" being made are absolutely due to "observational apprehension", not root skills. And in a studio it's eyes AND ears looking over your shoulder ( and those pesty recording devices :).

    As others have said, stay cool, have your parts down cold, and chill. First of many for you I hope.

    Break a Leg.
  13. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    Playing well with headphones + click track is a skill all its own. I prefer no click, but I've often been asked to play to one. It's worth practicing that way (headphones + metronome), so that if there is a click, you'll be used to making it disappear and won't be distracted by it. That way you can focus on your line and intonation. And be ready for long periods of time hanging out while the engineer figures out which cable or jack doesn't work, because that always seems to happen... :laugh:
  14. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

  15. dhergert

    dhergert Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 17, 2018
    Blue Zone, California
    A good studio manager/producer will go out of his or her way to make you comfortable no matter what level of player you are. He or she may make suggestions, but if you obviously know what you are doing, the manager/producer will not change the flavor and direction of your music. It also helps tremendously if this person has lots of experience with your genre and the instruments that are involved -- this is all part of selecting where to record and it's very important for the finished quality of your work.

    The studio where we record has lots of options. We consider ourselves very lucky that the studio owner/manager/producer/tech specializes in recording with acoustic instruments (and voices), is often flown out of state (to Nashville) to record for some big names in the genre what we work in, and has lots of performing experience... I have recorded at another studio sitting in on a session for a friend, where the manager/producer didn't really specialize in the kind of music we wanted to do... It was not a good experience, the manager/producer kept trying to influence our arrangements based on his rock/electric background and it was just not a good match.

    My main band has played together for about 12 years now, often on stage at various venues and festivals. We've been in the studio about a dozen times and we have another album appointment when the current "vacation" ends in our state. We specialize in bluegrass-ish/Gospel, which talks a little about preparation, since all of our pieces/arrangements are improvised by ear and there is nothing except an occasional lyric/chord sheet around that we use. So while we practice together and individually before recording sessions, there is still a fair amount of variation that naturally occurs in the studio, which is fine for us, it's energetic and normal with the kind of music we do.

    For our first three albums we wanted the energy of playing together, so we recorded all together in the same room, with some acoustic separators, but just enough to give the mic'ing some insulation. For the most recent album we were each in separate rooms in the studio, but could see each other through windows and hear each other through headsets... This was new to us but very easy to adapt to, and the advantage is that with complete sound separation the tracks can all be managed separately. We still played together in time, except when we were individually "touching up" a track for whatever reason.

    It's really a good idea not to have to work out arrangements or practice in the studio. Unless you're paying a flat rate contract, studio time costs money, so having as much worked out as possible before going into the studio is ideal. That said, there are always unexpected things that happen and require a little re-thinking, tweaking, etc. For the kind of music we do, the studio should not be a vacuum where everything is played exactly the same way. You can hear the difference in the energy of a recording that takes advantage of spontaneity, and one that doesn't. So some flexibility and adaptability is required, just like when playing on stage.

    The most important thing is to know your music as well as possible before you go into the studio, and once in be confident, relax, enjoy the experience, and just play.
    Keith Rawlings and marcox like this.
  16. Thanks for all the words of wisdom and encouragement.
  17. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Recording is a humbling experience. Practice overcoming frustration.
  18. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Just Relax.
    (Just not too much, or everyone will know.)

  19. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This. Even in the best studios, what comes through the phones is not the real sound of the bass, and it will feel wrong, which will make you play differently. I usually end up with my left phone 75% to all the way off my ear, and this makes me hear my actual bass and the rest of the people at the same time. I'm always prepared to insist on the resulting recorded sound I want later in mixdown, so it also pays to have a good idea just what you want that to sound like.

    All of this. Especially the pickup part. I actually don't mind the pickup for tracking because the other players can hear it more quickly, but then I also know the recording engineers around here and vice versa, and they know that actually using the direct signal in the final product is a no go. Fortunately, they also know how to subtly use nice compressors to sort of get the same standing in the mix while still maintaining the sound of my bass.

    Last, and this is a long term thing rather than a short term one, my experience and the experience of most of the engineers in town that I work with is that there are "recording friendly" DB sounds and "recording unfriendly" DB sounds. To hear the engineers tell it, darker/softer strings set up low tend not to sit well in a mix.

    If you want to have a great recorded sound that sounds strong and confident in the mix, that's a reflection of your actual acoustic sound and your aural intent. Technique plays a role as well, but to me it mostly stems from a player's clarity of "aural vision" of what they intend to sound like and how they put that vision out there when they play. The sound of confidence is like the famous definition of obscenity..."you know it when you hear it". If you want to get that sound on the recording, practice your parts and lines that way, maybe even overdoing it a bit in the practice room. You can always dial it back in the moment, but it's much harder to dial it up if you aren't used to really laying it out there on a regular basis.

    Last, as many have said, have fun! I am almost always happy to be in the studio working on a project, and always learn a lot from the experience, too. Enjoy!
    210superair, Sam Sherry and marcox like this.
  20. Dr. Love

    Dr. Love

    Nov 5, 2008
    Lubbock, TX
    Expect it to take a lot longer than you think which can lead to getting tired and sloppy as the session goes on, so make sure you’re well rested and hydrated in the days before.
    marcox likes this.