Purpose of Pre-Production
Let's talk about pre-production. I'm going to go into why I do pre-production and then also how to do pre-production and then what it looks like when a band is on their game with pre-production. Which is what you would hope for in any situation, really. So, there's two sides to this whole story, pre-production story, which are creative and technical and they're both super important. I wouldn't put one in front of the other. If you skimp on any one, you could end up, you know, if you only focus on the technical, you'll end up with a perfectly scheduled recording with everything mapped out but the songs might suck. And then, conversely, if you only focus on the creative, you might have really, really great songs in such a disorganized setup that you can't get everything done because you're just completely inefficient with everything. So, why not just start recording? Same reason that you would not start building a house without a blueprint. It would just be a really, really dumb idea. So...
, just consider... Consider prepro to be the blueprint for the record. You're setting everything up to be able to succeed. Basically. And one theme that you'll notice is that I like to do prep before every stage. Actually, this is the same for mixing, for instance. Before mixing, everything has to be into a template. All edits have to be done. All this stuff has to happen. I consider pre-production to be like prepping for a recording. It's just stuff that you have to do in order for the recording to go well. And anybody who's now started mixing, for instance, and having gone from no prep to being a prepper (laughs) that's a funny word, to being a prepper, you know what a huge amount of difference that's made in your life. Or at least, that's what you've told me. I hope you're not lying. So, the purpose of pre-production. Well, I kinda just told you. It's to get ready for recording. One thing that you should keep in mind is that, every band can record themselves now. It's a crazy time period we live in. It's actually the exception to the rule that a band can't record themselves. They do exist. I would venture to say that they're an anomaly. So there's really no excuse for a band not to get you some sort of a demo of themselves. I mean, of course there's still gonna be some bands where you need to prepro it in the studio. We'll talk about that, but uh... More than likely those bands are, you're going to have to do a lot more than just prepro if you have to do that stuff with them. More than likely that's a session that you're going to be doing a lot of hand-holding on. So, let's talk about this a little further. You're basically trying to get everything hammered out so that there's no real surprises. And by surprises, I mean, four days before deadline and suddenly the singer tells you that he wants to find some children to do a choir. Um... So, what? Wouldn't it have been good to know about that like, three weeks ago or two months ago? Things like that. Things that are, you know, things that will completely derail you, like... Singer wants, or guitarists want to do half of one song on all acoustics but there are no acoustics around, and nobody said anything until the guitar players went home, or something. Situations I've seen. That's part of the technical side of prepro. Just making sure that there's no surprises, like, you have this stuff hammered out. And I'm sure that some of you are laughing because it sounds obvious, but believe me, it won't seem too obvious when it bites you in the ass. It's just stuff you need to do. Kinda like a pilot and a checklist. You just do it. You definitely still should leave room for spontaneity, but, what I've noticed is that the spontaneity thing is more about being setup well so that you don't have to worry about anything. If you do your prepro and you have everything mapped out, you're not worried about all that stuff, then there might be room for spontaneity to flourish. So, I just wanted to dispel the myth, or the notion that preparing can kill the vibe. I think killing the vibe can kill the vibe. The other thing, and I'm gonna get a little more in depth with this later, is that uh, you should setup. If you're doing the prepro, you should setup as though you're tracking for real. I know there's nobody in here so you can raise your hands at home. How many of you have had the experience of making a demo for something, maybe your own music and thinking that it rules. And then trying to record it again on an album in the studio and then just not being able to live up to it. Not that version two sucks but just that there's this certain magic or spark that just isn't there, lightning won't strike twice. Let me know if people say yeah, or if they say "No, I don't know "what you're talking about (mumbles) you're insane. "You're the only person who's ever experienced that, "I can recreate all my parts perfectly." Yeah, I'm just curious. That's happened to me plenty of times, and I have heard that enough from people I know, whether they're my clients or musician friends that, if I'm doing prepro, I setup to record so that we can capture magic moments. May as well capture magic moments at full quality, right? So don't just dick around with like, low settings or haphazard micing jobs, or just whatever tones or whatever performances just because it's prepro. Pretend as though you're doing the real thing, even though you're just doing prepro, because more than likely you're going to end up using some of that stuff on the album. And finally, this is all about lead time. There's an element of prepro, again, we're going to talk about this in person when we get to drums, where for instance, months before a recording, I will contact the drummer to find out, you know. What size of a kit they've got. How high are their cymbals raised? What size sticks do they play? Everything. I make them send me pictures from birds-eye view, behind the kit, in front of the kit, side views, and then I can see, for instance, if the cymbals are this far off of the toms and I'm going to need to make them raise that. Or maybe he plays pencil thin sticks, or maybe he plays pencil thin sticks and his cymbals are this high off of the toms. Well, if uh, he comes in, and I make him change those things on the spot in the studio, that's going to make for a much tougher time than if I approached that months in advance and asked him to make those changes in practice with those changes in his mind, and adjust to it. You're doing the musician a service, and yourself a service. Same with, you know, talking to the vocalist in advance. And this is something that me and the vocalist or (mumbles) will be discussing but, you know, the more communication you have about what's going to go down, the more comfortable you're going to be with the people that you're working. Because one, you'll establish a rapport, which is everything, but also, there will be, like I said before, no surprises and you're going to know what's going on with them and what's not going on with them, and uh, you'll be able to stop them from doing stupid things like quitting smoking three days before a session, or, you know, quitting alcohol three days before a session. If they want to do that kind of stuff, they should do it months in advance. But, that's why lead time is super important. Alright, let's talk about the fact that everybody records. It's been going this way for years. I'd say that, maybe 2010 was when, at major studios that I was at, we all started to notice that more and more professional bands were just coming in for drums, vocals and a mix, and recording all the guitars on their own. And uh, you know, it's just continued to trickle down and expand from there, to where almost everybody does this on their own, and they only come into the studio to work with a producer if there's a really, really good reason for it. That said, there's no excuse for them not to give you a demo of what they want you to record in advance. There really isn't. And, you know, obviously, if they're coming to you to engineer or produce them, it's because you're a better engineer than they are. So, you shouldn't judge whatever they give you based on the engineering skills, but more so that you can hear the song through their ears, their eyes. That's the closest you're going to come to being able to actually understand what they're trying to do because, you know, you can talk to them on the phone or on Skype or whatever, and get all these lofty descriptions of uh, what the record, of what they want, and they want, you know, the huge sounding, natural drums that sound old school but modern, but we're gonna reinvent guttural blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, who the hell knows. And what does any of that even mean until you hear something? Words are completely meaningless when it comes to describing a musical direction. So, get the demos from them. Get them as complete as possible. Make sure that they have vocals, and don't take no for an answer. Let's talk about bands that you gotta prepro in person. I've got some things written down here that might seem negative, so let me start off by saying that, older school bands, if you're lucky enough to get to work with like a classic band, or if you just happen to work with dudes who are above a certain age, they probably won't do too much prepro on their own, or their prepro is going to be, you know, jam space stuff. Which is pretty much unlistenable. So, that doesn't mean that they're a bad band, it just means that they're from a different generation, and you're probably going to have to do the prepro with them in person. And that's fine, but in general, if you're doing the prepro, there's, there's, the band probably sucks. Unless they're on a big label and they booked two weeks just for it because they want your touch on the songs. Just get ready. Get ready that you're going to be expected to fix the songs, fix the playing. Your job description is going to be much more than just producer, engineer. And remember how I said lead time, lead time, lead time earlier? This is when you try to figure these things out. If a band a books three months out and you realize that they have no way of recording themselves, or they send you something and it just sounds like the worst, horrendous noise imaginable because they just, uh, stuck a microphone in the room and, I don't know, turned all the (laughs) all the treble on their amps up and low end down and uh, then ran it through a, a steel grater, um, then you're probably going to have to do a little bit of research to see if this band is any good. And the more you know, the better off you are. It could be that they just don't know how to record themselves but are actually really good. But uh, the more research you do the better because, your job description is probably going to be enhanced. And uh, I just wanna get on one point, that uh, job description as producer, mixer, engineer, mastering engineer. Those lines are very blurred these days. They used to not be, but now they are. I mean, I prefer to know exactly what my job is, but given the way that things have developed, you definitely need to be ready to take on a few different roles. And uh, I like to be as, like I said earlier, and the sake of being redundant, I like to be surprised as little as possible. So anyways, you book enough time on the front end to make sure that you get the prepro right. Again, because you're setting up to track for real. And you're pretending as if it's real. And because you're building the map for the album. You don't want to get the map wrong. So, if you need a week, if you need two weeks, that time spent is going to make all the difference in the world. A prepared band or a prepared producer with prepared material will always be something that's just thrown together. And I say that and people are probably going to think of like, one or two records where everything was just thrown together. Yeah, I'm sure there's some outliers to that. Yeah, there's always exceptions and outliers, but by and large, you gotta solve this stuff up front. And just never forget that the song is the priority. I mean, that's why you're doing it. At the end of the day, that's what matters. If the song is amazing, nobody in the band is going to care if you played the guitar, and bass, and the drums are programmed and all that. I mean, hopefully, hopefully you've got a situation where you can record great drums and everybody in the band can play, and the songs are great and yay. But, um, say that that's not the situation, and you have to do a lot of hand-holding and a lot of, uh, I guess, uh, stuff beyond the job description. If the song is amazing, all is forgiven in the end and all will be forgiven in the end, because people will probably like it.