If you’ve never been to a recording studio before it can be quite intimidating! There’s a lot that you need to know before you hit “the booth” to ensure your recording session is as enjoyable and productive as possible.
If you follow the steps below you won’t have to worry about being viewed as the “newbie” at the studio! Better yet the studio personnel will just assume you’re a regular.
Before you go to the studio there are a few things you need to know first or you will run the risk of wasting your time and money.
Don’t even think about going to the studio until your song is complete. By complete, I mean that your song is good as it possibly can be!
Many rappers make the mistake of going to the studio prematurely and recording a song that hasn’t been “perfected” yet. This causes them to have to go back and re-record parts of the song which is a waste of time and money. Essentially having to do double work.
Before you book time in the studio you need to make sure that you know your song like the back of your hand and that it’s as good as it possibly can be.
If you’re unsure how it measures up to “Industry Standards” make sure you get honest and detailed feedback from people who understand music. If you don’t have anyone whose opinion you trust I offer a music review service here on my site for this very purpose.
Once you have ensured that your song is certified dopeness you will need to organize your Stems that you will be using during your session.
What are Stems?
Stems are also called Splits Tracks, or Track Outs. These are the individual files that make up a song. For example, if you purchased an exclusive lease to the instrumental you likely were sent a zip file containing all the individual Wav files that make up the instrumental.
01 Kick drum
02 Snare drum
03 Bass Line
05 String Section
What’s a Wav File?
A Wav file is one of the highest quality audio files there is. It’s also compatible with both Mac and PC so you don’t have to worry about any issues in that regard.
What’s a Zip file?
A Zip file is basically a common method used to take a bunch of individual files (such as stems) and combine them all together within one convenient file which makes it much easier to share with others.
In addition, it also temporarily compresses the files which reduces the overall size of the zip file thus making it much quicker to upload and share with others.
And you can rest assured that zipping your stems will not cause any loss of quality in your audio files. The compression is only temporary and is undone once the Zip file is Extracted by the recipient.
Extracted or Extraction is also known as unZipping which is the process of retrieving all the individual files contained within the Zip file. Which is really easy to do! Usually, you can just right click on the Zip file and a menu will pop up giving you the option to extract to a specific location.
Creating a Zip file is just as easy. Simply highlight all the files you wish to zip together, right click and you should see a menu giving you an option to Zip the files together. Wah-lah!
In addition to this, you want to make sure your files are sensibly organized which I cover in my article entitled “Getting Your Music Ready For Mixing”
Picking The Perfect Engineer For You
This is a big one! If you don’t have experience working in studios then you’re likely not aware of all the different job roles that come into play.
Nowadays it’s common for an engineer to wear multiple hats at the same time but you need to know which “hats” they’re wearing so you can decide if they will be the best fit for you based on your needs.
I break all of this down in my article entitled “How To Pick The Right Mixing Engineer”.
How do they want it?
Awesome! You’ve just found the perfect engineer for you and have booked your recording session.
Now you need to find out how they prefer to receive your Zip file containing your Stems. Most will be happy with you sending them a DropBox link days before your session.
DropBox is basically an online service that allows you store large files and then share links for others to download. This gets around the file upload limitations of e-mails.
To learn more about DropBox check out my article appropriately titled “DropBox – The Ultimate File Sharing Solution”
Being on time is late!
Congrats! It’s almost time for the big day!
First, make sure you put the studio’s address in Google Maps or your GPS device beforehand so you know exactly how long it should take you to get there.
But if you’re on time you’re late! Try to be at least 15 minutes early. This will give you some wiggle room just in case you run into traffic or take a wrong turn somewhere.
Plus if you show up early it sends a message to the engineer that you’re a professional and you take his and your time serious. This may also give you a few minutes to get to know the engineer a bit before your session starts.
Also, ask if there is anything you can help with. 9/10 they will say no because it’s their job to take care of you but the fact that you offered shows that you care about their needs as well.
Always remember that relationships in this industry is everything! Relationships will open doors for you that talent and even money can’t alone! It’s called favor and favor isn’t given, it’s earned!
Studio Slang And Verbiage
There’s a certain language that we speak in the studio that you may not be familiar with. Get to know these and you will avoid having to say WHAT!?! like Lil John.
Is an Acronym for Digital Audio Workstation. Basically, this is the software used to record, produce and mix on the computer.
Example: “Which DAW are you using to record?”
Any channel on the mixing console. The channels allow you to record or place pre-recorded audio files within them so that the audio can be controlled independently.
Example: “I would like to record the next part on a separate track”.
“Track” is also a slang term for a song.
Example: “What’s the name of the new track you’re working on today?”
These are your recorded vocals that will be the louder than all of your background vocals.
Example: “First I would like to work on recording my main vocals for the “hook”.
These are the vocals that you record which will be lower in volume in relation to the Lead Vocal.
There are 3 main types of background vocals; Stacks AKA Doubles or “Dubs”, Spot Stacks, and Ad-Libs.
Think of them as backup singers on stage who stand behind the lead singer. Their job is to provide support to make the main vocal sound bigger and fuller when needed.
Example: “Do you want to record any background vocals?”
A Stack is also known as a double or a “Dub” for short. Stacks are when you record all the Lead Vocals over again either in the same tone or in a slightly different tone. This creates a “thicker” or more full-bodied sound.
Sometimes a different microphone is used for this purpose to give it even more of a distinct sound.
Watch me record stacks in this video lesson.
Example: “I’d like to add a stack for all of my verse sections”.
This is the same concept as stacks but instead of recording all of the Lead Vocals again you only record small pieces where you would like to add a little more body to your Lead Vocals.
This recording could be as little as one word or syllable or several bars. It’s entirely up to you!
Watch me record spot stacks in this video lesson
Example: “I think I will try to just do some spot stacks on the parts that sound a little weak”
The best example of someone using Ad-libs is DMX. Ad-libs are little sounds or phrases you record to fill in small pauses within your verse while also adding a little spice to things. These can be as subtle or obvious as you’d like.
2Pac was known to actually write is Ad-libs in while writing his verses. You can also use sound fx to serve the same purpose as an ad-lib. Eminem also heavily uses vocals and sound fx heavily in his adlibs in such songs as “My Name Is”
Watch me record Ad-Libs in this video lesson.
Example: “Can you give me one more track for my Ad-libs?”
Layering vocals is a technique which uses Stacks, Spot Stacks and Ad-libs to add more depth to the lead vocal thus making everything sound bigger and better if done right.
Example: “I think my vocals sound a bit too small. Can you give me a few more tracks to layer my vocals?”
When you record during a section of the song instead of started from the beginning.
This technique is used to fix compressor sections of a recording you may have messed up on. Or you can record an entire section of a song by punching in every 4 bars or so to preserve your vocals and focus on getting your delivery right.
Example: “Aww man, I messed up on during that last recording. Can I punch in on the 9th bar?”
This refers to emotion, energy, attitude, and tone that you rap your vocals in. Think of this is the acting part of rapping. This is where your vocals come alive and sound like they’re really happening at the moment.
To learn more read my article on how to improve your vocal delivery.
Example: “Do you think my delivery sounded okay on that last part? If not I can just punch in during that part”
This can be a little tricky to understand at first but a Bar is basically a way that we measure the length of a small section of music. If you wish to get a better understand of what a bar is, check out this video lesson
Example: “My verse is 16 bars and my hook is 8 bars”
The arrangement of the different sections of the song. Most songs always have the following sections.
- Bridges & Pre-Hooks (Sometimes, not always)
Learn all about song structure in this video lesson
Example: “Do you know what the song structure is for the track we’re working on today?
Also known as BPM (Beats Per Minute). This is basically the heartbeat of your song. Just like your heart rate, the faster the tempo of the song the more hype and energetic it is, the slower the tempo the more mellow it is.
Learn all about tempo and how to detect it by checking out this lesson.
Example: “It’s helpful to provide the mixing engineer with the tempo of your track so he doesn’t have to figure it out himself”.
Your engineer may ask if you have a reference track for him to use while mixing your song. A Reference track in this scenario is used to give him an example of a certain sound that you’re going after. Perhaps you like the Delay fx on one song or the way the background vocals are blended in with the lead vocals.
Example: “Do you have a reference track that you would like me to use for this song?”
Reverb is an effect used to give a recording a more 3D sound as if it were recorded in a different room such as a large concert hall or church cathedral.
Example: “Would you like me to put some reverb on your vocals?”
Delay is also another commonly used fx which gives the recording it’s placed on an echo.
Example: “Do you prefer Reverb or Delay on your vocals?”
Another term you may hear tossed around in the studio is the word Pan, or Panning. Panning is simply when the engineer takes a sound that’s playing out of both speakers “center position” and moves it to either play only out of the left or right speaker.
Example: “Would you mind panning my spot stacks to the left and to the right to create more of a stereo sound?”
Wet is a term used to signify that a vocal has fx applied to it such as Reverb and Delay.
Example: “Do you prefer your vocals wet or dry in the mix?”
A vocal that doesn’t have any time-based fx such as reverb and delays applied to it.
Example: “I prefer my vocals a little on the Dry side. If you use any reverb or delay please be subtle about it.
Raw simply means that the vocal doesn’t have any fx applied to it such as compression, eq, reverb, & delay and it’s still in it’s original recorded state.
Example: “When you send me your song to be mixed please provide me with your raw vocal tracks”
Also known as Equalization, which is the process of using a plugin/processer know as an Equalizer which allows you to turn up or down any frequency that makes up any sound. Think of an equalizer as a much more in-depth volume controller.
Example: “When you’re mixing my vocals please be sure to EQ my background vocals so that they blend in smoothly with my lead vocals”
Compression is achieved by using another popular plugin/processer known as a compressor. A compressor is basically an automated volume fader which controls the dynamics of a sound so that there isn’t as much of a gap between the loud and quiet pit parts which gives it a more even sound and thus allowing it be more present in a crowded mix,
Example: “Your vocals are getting overpowered by the other instruments at times during the verse, a little compression should fix that easily!”
Similar to compression but quite different. Volume Automation is when the engineer manually programs the volume fader to move up or down during certain parts of the song. This gives the engineer more control over each sound and can help create builds when a little more energy is needed.
Example: “After using compression on your vocals, if they are still fighting with the other sounds I’ll just use some simple volume automation”.
The creative placement of sounds which creates a nice frequency balance between all instruments and vocals in a song so that everything has it’s own space within the frequency spectrum.
Example: “Once we’re done recording, how long do you think it will be until the mix is done?”
Mastering is the final process before your song is ready to be shared with the world. Typically mastering is done with the rest of your songs from your project. This ensures that there’s a nice balance between all of your songs. This ensures that the listener doesn’t have to adjust their EQ or volume settings while listening to the entire project thus giving them a more enjoyable listening experience.
Example: “Now that your mix is done, let me know if you would like any revisions before we master it”.
This is when the mixing engineer sends you their mix and asks for your feedback on any changes that you would like made. Most engineers have a limit of revisions included in the price of their mixing so make sure you ask about that.
For instance, if they say their mixing fee includes up to two revisions. once they’re done mixing they will send you the mix for your feedback. They will then make those changes and send you the revised version. You will then either say “it’s perfect” or if there are any other changes you want to be made this is your last chance to have those made.
Example: “How many revisions do you include in your mixing fee?”
You may also want to ask the engineer if he can provide you with different versions of your mix such as Acapella, Instrumental, and Show (everything in the mix except for main vocals in verses, used for live performances).
Having these different versions can come in handy later down the line. For example, if you’re promoting your single to DJ’s make sure you give then the instrumental and acapella version along with your normal version so they can use it in a mix if they wish.
Also, having a “Show” version can help when you’re performing live and don’t want to sound like an amateur who’s lip-synching over your own song.
I hope this article helps you as you hit up the studio for the first time! Let me know if it was or if you have any questions in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you!
Your like our Rap Guardian Angel Cole, as you walk with us in the studio as we’re baby stepping. Kudos Cole 😉
My pleasure Joseph! I take great pleasure in helping prevent people from making many of the mistakes that I have. Thanks for all the support as always! 🙂 – Cole Mize
thanks cool, this article got me feeling like a pro already
Thanks for the positive feedback Jupiter! I’m really glad this article helped you out! 🙂 – Cole Mize
thanks Cole very helpful as usual my friend
My pleasure Marty! Thanks for the support! 🙂 – Cole Mize
Thanks again on time article.
I’m glad it was helpful Ace! Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂 – Cole Mize
Thanx for laying down the studio terms and practical examples. I play bass guitar and make demos at home w/ a Tascam & Garage Band. It’s not professional. I don’t have money for pro audio gear. This is really stupid but can you hook up an analog mixer like an older Mackie to a laptop? Do you need an audio interface, like a Scarlet? Also, are you on YouTube? Thanx!
unfortunately you can’t. But what you can do is by a cheap used audio interface from eBay or Reverb…shoot, I still own an audio interface that I found at a thrift store….Where there’s a will there’s a way–if you want it bad enough you can make it happen