Rock-and-Roll Survival Guide
Studio wizard Erik Blood has worked magic with Shabazz Palaces, Moondoggies, THEESatisfaction, Crypts, and many others while also creating his own excellent shoegaze rock. Below, the respected producer dispenses crucial tips about how to make the most of your recording experience.
What are the most important things musicians need to do before entering the studio to maximize the experience?
Know your material! Spending the time to practice and make sure you know your parts inside and out will save you lots of time and stress. Also, take the time to listen to everyone else's parts so you aren't surprised and/or disappointed when you're hearing them clearly and not in a cacophonously loud practice space.
Preproduction meetings with your producer or engineer are helpful to outline the process and to talk about sonic directions. Make sure everyone is aware of your band's direction and sound. Don't get stuck making a Deftones record when you wanted Ramones.
What do you recommend musicians do to optimize their time once they're in the studio?
If you know your parts and all agree on what your band sounds like, all you have to do is play and have fun. If you've hired a producer or engineer, trust them to do their job so you can just be a musician. If you don't like what your producer or engineer is doing, speak up immediately so you can fix it and move forward.
This is not to say that you shouldn't be receptive to ideas coming from your producer or bandmates. Sometimes the best stuff can come from taking an old song in an entirely new direction you hadn't thought of, or just by altering a part slightly. Try it, and if you hate it, trash it and move forward.
What are the common mistakes musicians make while recording, and how can they avoid them?
DON'T BRING YOUR GIRLFRIEND/BOYFRIEND/ROOMMATE/COUSIN TO THE STUDIO! If they aren't performing, don't invite them.
DON'T DRINK AS MUCH AS YOU WANT TO! It's easy to fall into vacation-style drinking habits while in the studio, but soon you'll be tired and useless or just wasted.
DON'T DO COCAINE! It makes you an asshole and your ideas aren't as good as you think.
What are common mistakes artists make after they finish recording?
Don't send your mixes to radio before they're mastered and you have a release date set. It's good to be excited to share your work, but patience will pay off. Give your record the best shot you can by planning the release and having it professionally mastered.
How important is mastering?
Extremely important. Listening to an unmastered album is basically listening to an incomplete album. You have to give your record a real shot at being the best-sounding thing out there, and without mastering you'll end up with a quiet, muddy, inconsistent product. It's really important to find a mastering engineer who understands his craft and is able to enhance the sound of your mixes without altering them. Ask your producer [for recommendations].
What's the biggest unintentional hiccup you've encountered while recording?
Hard drive failure. All material lost forever. This is the scariest thing that can happen in this digital age of music making, so BACK YOUR SHIT UP! Bring two drives to the studio and back up your shit every time there's a break.
Please discuss the advantages of recording in analog versus digital.
Aside from the aesthetic differences, recording digitally is way faster than recording analog. Aside from being able to manipulate individual sounds on the fly and being able to save specific settings for recall, you aren't spending a ton of time rewinding and fast-forwarding tapes (which takes up more time than you'd think). That said, recording to tape and using analog gear will give your recordings character that digital simply cannot reproduce. Most people attribute "warmth" to analog recording, which is basically the presence of compression, distortion, and noise (my three favorite things). Digital recording can offer clarity and precision of sound that some folks love. It's genuinely an aesthetic choice. I find use for both in my work, and usually employ a mixture of the two.
How crucial is the band's mental state while recording, and do you ever find yourself having to use psychological tactics to get good performances?
I think that is the most important thing of all. The process of recording an album should be a joyful one, and stress or pressure can really affect performance as well as the overall outcome of your sessions. Some people respond to very direct criticism, some people need to be coddled, and some need to be left alone to do what they do. And then there are the people who need a Touchdown (a shot of mandarin vodka dropped in a glass of energy drink). The Touchdown can coax out a near-perfect guitar solo if performed within 10 minutes of drinking it. After 10 minutes, the depression sets in and it's time to pack it up. A shot of whiskey can make a vocal take shine, but again, only within 10 minutes and not if repeated more than twice.