Groundwork & Headspace: Tips For Pre-Production

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  • February 24, 2017
pre-production

If you’ve played in bands, or known other artists that have spent time in professional recording studios, you might have heard the phrase pre-production. If you’re in a band, with a recording session booked in the very near future and you haven’t heard the term pre-production, you might want to tune in for the next few paragraphs.

Pre-production is a significant process for elevating songs from rehearsal room rock outs to carefully honed and powerful recorded documents. And if you think that a producer’s role is to create a holistic tone and vision for a project, you’re only half right.

Of course, a producer should have a significant role to play in realising a coherent and inspirational artistic statement for a body of work, but the band should feel empowered to make an equally compelling contribution. Below are three considerations for making the most of pre-production and ensuring that you, as the artist, can see the project through while being true to your original intent.

pre-production

Pre-production is an essential part of the recording process, vital to laying the foundations of what is to come, gaining composure and getting in the right headspace.

Arrangement

A strong arrangement will make for the strongest song. It will highlight the memorable parts of the piece as well as maintain momentum throughout. Though some arrangement considerations are inherent in the composition phase of song, it’s important to separate these two components, especially when collaborating as a band.

Members of inexperienced bands will have a tendency to make sure their individual “voice” is heard, no matter how appropriate, often to the detriment of the song as whole. This is why it’s vital to preserve a critical distance between composer and song, and not let insecurity inhibit the essential critique of your own work.

The best way to do this is record a rehearsal and listen back at a different time. If you listen back to a demo straight after you’ve played it, any decisions can easily be clouded by emotions. Listening back in a different environment, in a different headspace, will put the song in a new context and help you appreciate the work from the perspective of an outsider.

This means that you’re more likely to be able to ruthlessly trim the fat from the song without the emotional scarring. And for the most part, that’s what songs and individual parts need – a surgical slice and dice to provide the indispensable clarity that songs need to “cut-through” with an audience.

Tone

It’s surprising how often this one gets overlooked. The sounds that you can conjure up are going to create the most excitement for a potential audience. In the pre-production stage, a great deal of energy should be given to imagining what your final guitar tone will be, the depth of your snare, the emotional terrain covered by your vocal performance. Why? It seems obvious, but this will be the truest reflection of yourself and your identity as a band or artist.

Though a producer can help a lot with this, the most fruitful relationship that you can you have with a producer is one where the creative energies are complementary – the producer is inspired by the tones that you can deliver, and will work even harder to make the raw materials transcendent.

So, come to the studio equipped! Go back to the rehearsal room and carve out a great tone on your instrument. It’s not necessarily about the gear either – it’s about harnessing an original and compelling sound and hitting the studio with real purpose from day one.

References

This aspect of pre-production may seem slightly more obvious: we all have our favourite artists, and whether we like it or not, they influence the music we make. Yet, it’s important to listen to these authoritative artists with the same critical ear that you would apply to your own songs. Understand what it is about their music that has such an impact – is there something about their bass tone that is uniquely brilliant? Is there a quirkiness to their vocal delivery that you admire? Listening deeply in this way will help you to make better choices about the references you share with a producer, and will make it easier for them to understand your creative vision.

Sometimes, it’s not even a question of sound. It can be an approach you admire, without even having an emotional attachment to the artist. A combination of specific technical appreciation with a broader acknowledgement of a production philosophy in your reference tracks will ensure that there is a coherent array of influences and inspirations for your own project.

Aside from the aforementioned preparations for the recording, approaching the session with an open mind is crucial. A good producer will challenge your preconceptions in order to forge a product that is as original and appealing as possible. You should be ready and willing to embrace this philosophy; testing the ideas will make them stronger and will benefit the final output. If you view yourself as an integral part of this process, doing some important work before the session will help you get the most out the experience.

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Dan Shaw is recording and mixing engineer at Enmore Audio. He also plays bass in Wells and Circle.

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