The Music Production Process Step 3: Rehearsals and Band Rehearsals for a Studio Recording

Band rehearsals are an often overlooked but necessary part of the music production process. Rehearsals are most commonly associated with live performances but can also be an important part of the preparation process prior to a recording session. The rehearsal is all about making sure everybody involved knows what they are doing and how they are doing it. Two hours spent in the recording studio going through the arrangement, parts and sounds are two hours wasted for getting a good take. These things can be more readily addressed in a rehearsal studio with a lot less pressure.

Rehearsals are not just limited to bands but also are an effective way of working with vocalists or hired musicians that may not be familiar with the song. It is important not to assume that everything is going to go smoothly in the studio. Unless you are working with seasoned professional studio musicians, you will be better off assuming that there will be unforeseen issues in the studio. Band rehearsals will help you to lessen the effect of those issues, so you can deal with those situations better.

The pressure of time and money in the recording studio can easily lead to getting something "recorded" instead of getting something "special" recorded. Rehearsals for studio recordings allow the producer and artist to realize their needs before going into the recording studio for real. By working out all of the performance matters, the artist will be better prepared to deal with the recording studio environment.


Here is a list of a few matters that can be easily resolved with band rehearsals:

  1. Musicians learn the song arrangement.
  2. Establish the best tempo for the song and note what it is.
  3. Focus on individual parts and the way those individual instruments work together.
  4. Find the best instrument, tone or sound for each part.
  5. Discover and resolve new issues that may not have been apparent in the demo recording.
  6. Get creative input from the musicians to help enhance the song.
  7. Weed out musicians that don't have the right feel for the particular song or part.
  8. Determine any additional resources that might be necessary for the upcoming recording.
  9. Create a reference demo by recording the rehearsal so that the details of each part can be referenced in the recording session.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of rehearsals before recording, no matter what kind of music. A studio recording is very different from a live performance. Remember, there is no visual on an audio recording. There is no way for the listener to see the passion of your performance. The passion has to come across in a way that is much more obvious in the recording. Additionally, since there is no audience to feed off of in the studio, the energy of the song must be self generated.


How Band Rehearsals Affect the Recording

The performance process is very different in the recording studio than any other place. Quite honestly, it is a very unnatural environment for most musicians. The use of isolation booths to separate musicians, headphones and lack of clear sight lines between musicians can greatly impede any performance. A bass player using a direct box will not feel the vibration of an amplifier. The lack of good sight lines between musicians may diminish subtle visual cues that musicians use to usher in transitions between sections of the song. The maze of microphones and cables can make any musician feel confined or restricted.

Because of these and many other issues, the musicians must be well rehearsed before entering the recording studio. If a song is not properly rehearsed, these minor annoyances in the studio can create confusion and frustration. Something as simple as a bad headphone mix can cause a performance to be dragged down tremendously. Imagine trying to work out your part with the rest of the band when you are having difficulty even hearing them. Is it any wonder that good studio performances are hard to come by?


Organizing Band Rehearsals for Recording

This one may seem to be obvious on the surface, "just get everybody there at the same time", is one strategy. A little careful planning, however, may help to make sure your rehearsal sessions are more productive. When a rehearsal is the focus of preparing for a recording session, you want to make the most of your time. A simple matter like bringing people in only when you are ready for them and need them will help you to be more productive with the people that are there. Being respectful of the others time will make them fresher and more productive when they come in.

Because individual situations vary greatly, not everything here may apply to you. Take from it what does…

Here are a few tips to help make your band rehearsals more efficient:

1. Send the demo recordings prior to the rehearsal session.

This is easier than ever. Convert your demo into an mp3 file and send it over email. Make sure that all the band members have received the demos and listen to them prior to the rehearsal session. If they are already familiar with the material then this step may not be necessary unless there is something different for them to listen to.


2. Organizing and scheduling band rehearsals

If you have a group of musicians that you are rehearsing, think about who needs to be there for the basics of the session. For example, it makes no sense to have back ground singers at the rehearsal while you are going over the arrangement with the rhythm section. Ask them to come later so that they are not bored waiting for everybody else learn the song.

The best way to work is always to build from the bottom up. Rehearsing the rhythm section musicians first will allow you to really focus on their individual parts. You may hear problems you didn't know existed before because they were covered up by the other musicians. Once you have sorted these issues out, you can now add the additional musicians and work with them in a more focused manner.


3. Consulting with the studio engineer.

Once you have sorted through all the performance and part issues in the band rehearsals, it is usually a good idea to bring in the engineer that will be recording the band. By seeing the setup, meeting the musicians and hearing the music, they will be able to better prepare for the studio setup. A good engineer will be able to make suggestions regarding sounds, what resources are available at the studio and what to expect on the day of the session.

A simple suggestion like making sure the drummer changes the heads before the recording session could easily save hours in the studio. Drum heads will stretch over time and will lose their pitch quickly when first put on. Giving adequate time for them to fully stretch will make the drum sounds more consistent and make the engineer's job much easier.


Rehearsing Vocals

Rehearsals can also be a very effective way of preparing a vocalist who is singing on a programmed or produced recording. In the rehearsal process, a vocalist should be taken to task on the technical aspects of a performance. Pitch, timing, phrasing, annunciation, etc… If there are difficult parts that are tongue twisters or stretch the range of the artist, they can be worked on and strengthened before going into the studio to record for real.

Once the technical aspects are sorted through, a rough vocal should be immediately recorded to act as a reference for later band rehearsals and the recording session. If well rehearsed, the producer can focus on the more important aspects of the vocal performance like the expression of feeling, emotion and the continuity of the song from section to section. These are the things that the listener will relate to in the real world and will influence them to buy the song.


I never bought a record because the artists pitch, timing and tone were perfect. I bought many records because the attitude, feeling or emotion struck a chord with me. Once drawn in, I would put on my producer's or engineer's cap on and try to figure out how it was all put together. I wanted to see what was going on under the hood so that I could learn from it. If you are a budding producer, engineer or artist, this habit is a must for your success in the music industry.


What to do if Band Rehearsals are not Possible

Given the fast pace of todays society and the need to get things done quickly and inexpensively, band rehearsals do not always fit into the timeframe or budget of a recording project. The basic principles can be adapted by being more creative in your preparation of a musician or recording artist.

Sending demos, music scores or chord charts and setting up a short video conference or phone call ahead of the recording can go a long way to preparing the musician for what to expect in the studio. They can prepare ideas and rehearse on their own time. Since so many musicians have recording setups, have them record and send ideas back to you. This will help you to sort out the best of what they have to offer and fashion it into a part before the recording.

I have done quite a bit of "long distance" production work by preparing demo sessions for the musicians to work out their parts and add ideas. Once recorded, it is easy to go through them and pick out what works and what needs additional guidance. Using some of the powerful editing features available in most recording programs I can copy, paste and edit performances to reflect what I am looking for.

Once edited, the parts can then be individually worked on, rehearsed and ready to go for the recording session. This is why the Step 2: Recording a Demo stage is such an important part of the music production process. If the parts will be dubbed in by the musician from their home studio, a Skype session may be an easy way to make sure you are getting the performances you are looking for.


Over-Rehearsing

There is a fine line between being well rehearsed and being over rehearsed. Band rehearsals serve an important role in the music production process by preparing the musicians for the technical challenges of performing a song well in the studio. It is similar to basketball practice where you work on the fundamentals so that when you are in the game, you perform well. Too much practice can wear out the player and take the edge away come game time.

Here are a few tips to help keep everybody fresh for the recording:

1. Do not overwork a song.

If you notice that attention in waning or there is a level of frustration with the process for a particular song, change over to another song that may be easier to rehearse. This will refresh everyones interest so that you can revisit the other song later with a fresh attitude. If a particular musician is struggling with a part, it is best to either simplify it, or ask them to work it out on their own time before the next rehearsal. This will limit the frustration of the other musicians who will eventually try to put their fingers in the pie and make it even worse.

2. Rehearse the vocals or extra instruments with a recording, not the band.

If you get what you want from the rhythm section in the band rehearsals. Record a good take of them to use when you rehearse the vocalist or other musicians. This way you will not burn out your rhythm section by making them play the same thing over and over. You can bring everyone in together for a final rehearsal before the recording if necessary.

3. Book a live show before the recording.

If you feel that the songs in your band rehearsals are starting to lose a bit of life when performed, book a live performance before going in to record. This is a great way to pump some life into the songs. The energy of the crowd and performing on stage will inspire more spirited performances. All the technical issues you worked so intently on in the band rehearsal will show up in the dynamics of the performance. This is an amazing way to prime the attitude you will be looking for in the recording studio.


Conclusion

The difference between a professionally recorded production versus and amateur one is mostly in the preparation. Any advantage that can be had before entering the recording studio will pay dividends no matter the level of recording facility you are working at. Expect the unexpected when going into a recording situation. Even the most seasoned professionals get hit with unexpected situations. It is their preparation and experience that allow them to adapt easily and find a way to get what they are looking for.

Up to this point, we have mostly focussed on preparation for the actual recording. We have written the song, recorded a demo and have refined and prepared the performances in the band rehearsals. Now it is time to go into the studio and capture the magic you have worked so hard find with your songs. In Step 4, Laying the Basic Tracks, we will focus on what to expect in the recording studio and how to lay a solid foundation for the rest of the music production process.


Step 1: Writing a Song

Step 2: Recording a Demo

Step 3: Rehearsals

Step 4: Recording Basic Tracks

Step 5: Overdubbing

Step 6: Editing Music

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 1

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 2

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 3

Step 8: Mastering

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