I was recently asked by a musical peer for some advice regarding recording in the studio for the first time. It can be daunting to go into a recording studio, even after going in a few times. The pressure! Expectations! Not everyone is going the studio route these days since it’s fairly easy to record right at home on your computer, or even your smartphone. I miss the days of recording on cassette players myself, but tapes ARE making a come back 😉 I prefer to go into a studio for most of my recordings because I like to leave it to the techie pros to work their magic, and be less inhibited in my performance without worry that it wasn’t captured. Here are some of my answers to my friend’s questions and I hope that they help you if you’re considering embarking into a studio! Do you, dear reader, have any recording advice for first-timers that I’m missing? Please comment below and enlighten us!

Q: How did you know that the studio you were working with was a good fit?
A: I’ve worked with a few studios – from people’s attics (w/ Michael Hlakilek in Phillips, WI), bedrooms & guest rooms (Hans Johnson’s in Duluth & Chris Mara’s in Nashville who now owns Welcome to 1979), a comfy dive downtown (Ballyhaus), a magically cluttered warehouse full of rare instruments (Third Ear Studio) and finally have been working at Sacred Heart Studio which is an old cathedral that’s now a music center. I love the acoustics at the cathedral plus there are 2 grand pianos with all of the latest tech installed! It amazed me for the first time when I attend because I never thought they’d have the best audio mixer and the best power conditioner out there on the market! The vibe is thick and I love how I feel there. Very transcendent space. I highly recommend touring the studios and getting to meet the engineer to make sure you have a good vibe. They should all let you tour and have a meet and greet for free, otherwise they might be sketchy.
My friend & engineer Eric Swanson working his magic

My friend & engineer Eric Swanson working his magic

Q: How did you arrange the music?
A: I typically record basic tracks, the backbone – guitar or piano + bass & drums, and then sit with it for a long time. Sometimes I would have the other musicians come up with their own accompaniment (like, drummers & bassists do their thing, but you can certainly direct them to drum or play how you hear it and hopefully they have a good way of understanding what you mean) … it’s nice to allow yourself time between sessions to sit with the basics and tinker around with adding strings, sitar, or whatnot. If you have a keyboard you can mess with how you want things to sound at your house and then …
Q: Did you hire musicians or use musicians from your band?
A: … and then hire the musicians for an agreed upon rate (typically hourly). I tend to use a combo of people who are in my band plus hire extra people for the misc. instruments like violin, sitar, harmonies etc).
Q: Where there any unforeseen issues that came up in the process?
A: There are always learnings that come up. Some days are better than others. Make sure your musicians are practiced. Make sure YOU are practiced. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time or money. Sleep and bring water, tea, food. Some days can be long. For hiring musicians, have a simple contract that says the songs are yours. Be sure to copyright.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is recording a studio album for the first time?
A: My biggest advice would be to have a plan & a schedule, meet your engineer, check out a recording studio near you and hang out with your budget before diving in to make sure it all fits! Plan for plenty of time – it always takes longer than you think! It takes trust … and letting go. Last of all, enjoy the process! Good luck.
My new album, recorded at Sacred Heart Studio with the help of a career development grant will be released in early 2015! Stay tuned. Please leave your sparkling nuggets of advice, questions, comments below. Tips are welcome – I’m always learning!

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