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What is pre-production and why do I need it?

by Jun 2, 2019

What is pre-production and why do I need it?

 

Shrinking music budgets mean that many things have fallen by the wayside. There is often no money for session players and extra equipment hire often isn’t an option either. Even theatres often replace real musicians with backing tracks.

But one of the most important changes in music is that bands don’t have a budget for pre-production time any more. 

 

What is pre-production?

 

There was a time when a producer would book a rehearsal room with the band ahead of the recording sessions. The songs would get rehearsed so that the recording sessions were more productive. 

This was the time to experiment with different guitar tunings, song keys and amp choices. If a band has access to different drums then this is the time to experiment with different tones for the record. This was also when lyrics and structures could change to strengthen the songs. This had a knock-on effect of making the songs easier to mix.

If the kick and bass patterns are secure before recording, it’s easier to find a balance for them. Likewise, if the harmony parts compliment each other, the production will feel cleaner. Sometimes a song can feel more emotive if the singer struggles to reach the high notes. The opposite can also be true: a song may feel more tender if the key is well within a singer’s range.

For other things you can do to make sure you’re prepared to hit the recording studio, take a look at my FAQ page. 

 

Listening, but not hearing

 

I remember one recording session where the band’s two guitarists almost came to blows. They were both playing the same type of guitar and had identical amps. They were playing the same basic part. They were also playing it in the same region on the fretboard on the same pickup. 

This lead to quite a mono double-tracked sound where they were striving for width. The guitarists argued to the tune of “that’s my part”, “no, I’ve always played that!” for quite a while. I had to step in and suggest different pickups and inversions to differentiate the parts.  Yet things like this could all get corrected in pre-production. The guitarists would then have time to practice any new parts before recording.

 

Serve the song, not your ego

 

If the production is almost in place before recording, bands are less likely to waste time in the studio. Several times I have recorded bands where hours can get wasted experimenting. Parts get added which don’t actually aid the song or arrangement and are harder to balance in the track as a result.

It’s very easy for a band to get too familiar with their own songs and not be able to hear any problems. Someone with a fresh perspective can often hear immediately what the song needs. The key is to try to detach yourself from something if it doesn’t serve the song. Try not to get offended if a favourite part of yours doesn’t make the record.

I once recorded a band where something wasn’t working for me in the first verse. After experimenting with the balance for a while I realised what the problem was. When the band came into the control room for the first playback, they remarked how full the song sounded. “What have you done? It sounds deeper and richer somehow”. I had muted the keyboards. Nothing else. 

So if you think that pre-production is something that could help your songs, get in touch.

If you want to read more, there is a great article from Sound on Sound HERE on pre-production.