OK, so you’re getting ready to start recording that next hit album. You’ve got the musicians lined up, you’ve scheduled your sessions. Now what? Do you jump right in and start recording? Easy there, Tiger. There’s an important step that needs to happen next: pre-production.
What Is It?
Pre-production is the planning phase for the entire album. It’s where you take a song in its simplest form (usually a guitar-vocal or piano-vocal) and plan out how you will build the recording around it.
This is a crucial phase of the entire process. You can liken recording an album to starting a business. You need a business plan. If you jump in without a plan, you’ll most likely end up scratching your head at the end of the project, wondering why you hadn’t planned things out more carefully.
Live & Die By The Arrangement
Pre-production becomes most important when dealing with the arrangement of the songs. I’m not referring to the order of the songs on the album. While that should be taken into consideration, it’s not crucial in the pre-production stage.
By arrangement I mean the outline, or structure, of the individual songs. Should there be two measures between the chorus and the verse or four? Should the bridge be longer? How long should the intro be? Should there be an intro at all? Will the tempo of the song remain constant throughout the song or does it need to change?
You need to ask these types of questions, because as soon as you dive into that first tracking session, you’re locked in to whatever arrangement you record. It becomes near impossible to change the arrangement of a song once you have several parts recorded.
The arrangement is like the backbone of the song. You can change the instrumentation as you see fit throughout the recording process, but the basic layout remains the same. That’s why it’s so important to get it right from the outset.
Perhaps this whole concept of pre-production is new for you. You may wonder what it looks like in real life. Here are some suggested steps you can take:
1) Determine a tempo. There are varying opinions on whether or not you should record to a metronome, or click track. Some would argue that music needs to breathe and flow, and that using a strict tempo inhibits creativity. While there is certainly some truth in this, a lot of people who complain about playing with a click track are simply complaining because they can’t play at a steady tempo!
If you’re recording an entire band, and everyone is playing at once, at least try using a click track. If the performance is really suffering, get rid of the click and let the musicians play. It’s better to capture an emotional, dynamic performance that waivers in tempo than a stiff, rigid, lifeless recording.