Recording Sessions: Thoughts and Advice for the Performer

Recently, I recorded a bunch of music for job applications. During the process, I remembered how much I loathe recording. I don’t hate recording engineers. I don’t hate recording equipment. I hate listening to all my best and worst moments. I despise editing my mistakes, mostly because I am disappointed I made them in the first place. Granted, I’m much more practiced in the art of recording sessions. I remember when I first started recording, how little my fellow musicians talked about the whole process. I remember thinking that my musical idols must be gods and goddesses, assuming that they recorded their great CD’s in only a few takes. I remember thinking that I must be a terrible musician for taking so long to record. Let me say, it does get easier. But hopefully the following tips will help.

Always come prepared to the recording session. This should go without saying. However, you need to feel as comfortable as possible playing the music. If you’re still starting and stopping or making note errors, you’re probably wasting time and money for both the recording engineer and yourself. On the contrary, you don’t want to procrastinate because you’ve set your musical standards too high. Make realistic musical judgments. If you’re recording material is in good performance shape, go ahead and schedule a recording session.

Have a game plan for your recording engineer. This is especially important for percussionists. If you are playing multiple pieces on different instruments, be sure you coordinate a recording strategy with your recording engineer. Every instrument is mic’d differently. So, record by instrument, not by piece. They will know best how to set up mics. Give them time to plan. And once in the recording studio, be sure to give them adequate time and preparation to record your music.

Leading up to the recording session, practice recording. Use a recorder or your phone to practice playing in front of a recording device. Force yourself to listen and critique the recording. Then, delete it. I find that this helps me mentally prepare for the recording session. I can test my limits and my level of preparation. And best of all, I can delete the recordings after I listen to them.

Perfection is a myth. It really is. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Our perception of musical perfection is partially developed from listening to beautifully edited recordings. Always remind yourself this when you go into the recording session. For me it’s helpful to imagine playing to an audience, not a mic. Not only will the music feel more organic, you will also be less stressed. If you’re playing to make a perfect recording, you may end up sounding too careful or boring. Play the music. Make edits when needed.

My last piece of advice would be to talk with others about your experiences. Offer advice. Vent with your studio mates. Ask for help. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the frustrations of recording sessions, you are not alone in this process.

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