Recording an EP is an essential part of getting your bands music heard. It gives fans something they can take home with them after a gig and allows you to market your band to promoters and across the internet.
As a drummer i have played in many bands over the past 15 years and recorded dozens of EPs; some were not great and i will be the first to admit it was because i wasn’t prepared. I have however become quite familiar with the process and learnt how to get the best out of a recording session. To fast track past those beginner mistakes keep these 5 tips in mind! Also I’ve had a little help from 2 well known studios engineers; Steve Rafferty from Outland Studios and Caolán Austin from Small Town America.
There are a couple things to consider when choosing which songs you should record; who will be listening and what do you want to achieve? Maybe you’re trying to get the attention of a record company or promoter or you could just want to have some singles to share online to increase your popularity. Either way it is worth remembering that an EP is not an album, so the best songs should be chosen that show off the capabilities of your band as you have limited space.
Once you have chosen your songs practice them over and over and over and over and over and over… seriously, you can’t practice enough as you will become more comfortable with the songs maybe adding little tasty spices that you wouldn’t do when worrying about things like structures or tough chord progressions. “Even if you feel you are practiced well enough for a live situation, it won’t always cut it in a studio environment. There is nothing for minor flaws in either playing or timing to hide behind, and instead, will only be accentuated and made more obvious.” (Steve)
If you plan on recording to a click then practice with one to save time in the studio, “If we are using a click (either if we’re tracking live or multi tracking everything separately), I’d usually recommend working out the tempos of the songs beforehand and practicing along with the click (either individually or together). This is going to help them massively when it comes to recording – firstly because it won’t feel alien but also because we spend less time trying to work out what BPM the track is set to and more time getting awesome sounds.” (Caolán)
Make sure you can hear everyone’s parts. You don’t want to be taken by surprise by a lyric that doesn’t sit right with you in the studio when there’s no time to change it, “the phrase ‘is that what you’ve always played? Ahh, I didn’t realise!’ Is heard more often than you’d think” (Caolán)
Now that your songs are down its time to do some research and choose a studio. Cost is usually the biggest factor to consider when choosing a studio. You may have a friend who’s got some microphones and his parents are away for a weekend but this may not lead to the best results, the same way that a studio being massively expensive does not mean it will be able to make every band sound amazing.
Most studios have a portfolio on their website or Soundcloud, take a listen to these examples and maybe reach out to the bands that have recorded there and ask for their advice.
Make sure you know how much your recordings are going to be, how much a session is per day, how many hours you’ll have a day and if the price includes mixing and mastering. No one likes a nasty surprise when it comes time to pay up! “Talk to other band members about song structures, and think ahead about any particular sounds, effects or tones you want in certain places. This cuts down on the amount of time spent in the studio experimenting with ideas that can quickly eat into the budget.” (Steve)
Take into consideration that cost of new strings and drum heads, these will improve the tone of your instruments vastly and give you more confidence that nothing will break in the middle of the perfect take.
“For anything with guitars, I can’t stress how important it is to get a guitar set up and making sure the intonation is correct. Some people prefer older strings for certain things (mainly bass players, it’s definitely not as common with guitar) but I’d also recommend putting on a new set of strings and breaking them in the night before. When doing this – make sure that the strings you’ve got will be ideal for the tuning you’re in too.
As for drummers, make sure you put new heads on your snare and if your budget can stretch to it, maybe put new heads on all your drums. This makes a massive difference to your drum recording; old/worn in drum heads sound flat and dull so unless that’s what the band are going for, swap’em out.” (Caolán)
If there’s a certain sound you really want, maybe you want your drums to sound like John Bonham’s on “Led Zeppelin IV” or your guitar to sound like Josh Homme’s on “Rated R”, sound engineers will use this as a guide when mixing and be able to set up their studio and mics to try and recreate those sounds. Don’t be afraid to suggest tweaks to mixes and don’t settle for something you really aren’t happy with, after all it’s meant to represent you at your best! But be realistic, you can’t make something sound identical to something it’s not and the engineer is usually working over hours to try and get it right for you.