TrueFire's Guitar Blog

7 Deadly Session Sins

by Rich Tozzoli

The ease and affordability of home recording technology has made it simple to produce music at your own pace, on your own terms, and on your own turf. But it has also left many players clueless when it comes time to move beyond the demo stage and enter a professional studio. If you are booking time in a pro facility soon, the guys behind the glass will thank you to mind these 7 Deadly Session Sins, each of which is nearly guaranteed to drive a recording engineer absolutely batty.

1. Arriving unprepared.
Unless you are Keith Richards and have an inexhaustible budget, coming unprepared is simply inexcusable (and often quite costly). Have your parts rehearsed ahead of time and know what results you want to achieve. Practicing the parts you intend to lay down is a simple but effective way to make sure the session flows smoothly. Before the session, think about the intented outcome: What exactly do you want to get done, and in what time frame? Have you done all you can do in advance to ensure the goals will be achieved?

2. Hanging your headphones on the mic stand.
Ouch. I can’t even count the small but meaningful pains I’ve had to deal with when clients hang their cans on the music stand or mic stand and then knock them off seconds later. Those 3- and 4-foot drops take their toll, and a busted pair of headphones can literally grind a session to a halt — and represent a significant replacement cost to the studio or engineer. When you’re between takes or a break, place the headphones on a table or even around the base of the mic stand on the floor. They are safer that way.

3. Halting the session to rethink your approach.
Engineers hate sitting behind the board while you rewrite on the spot — unless, of course, you’re paying them time-and-a-half for overtime. Try to record your practice (even on a handheld voice recorder or iPhone) to make sure you like what you hear before heading to the studio. You can then play that rough cut for the engineer to help him/her understand what you’re going for. More importantly, it helps you hear the parts and make any changes ahead of time.

4. A poorly packed gig bag.
Don’t leave for the session without spare strings, picks and batteries. Neither should you expect the studio to have capos or guitar straps or even a spare tuner. Even when your guitar is strung with fresh strings, bing extras of the exact gauge and brand you use. String-searching is a session killer, in terms of both time and vibe. Also, have plenty of your most-used picks on hand, and if you use pedals make sure they have new batteries. Don’t skimp on those 9 volts! Hit the music store the day before the session and stock up.

5. Pulling your cable out without warning.
It seems like common sense from where the engineer sits, but but I’ve had preamp channels blown because of this. When recording DI or with an amp, always check with the engineer before pulling your cable out. Just ask, “Is it cool to pull my cable yet”? He or she will then have time to mute the board/preamp, and then you’re good to go.

6. Keeping the lyrics and/or song map a secret.
Take the time to print out extra lyric sheets if you’re cutting vocals, and provide notes to show the song form to the engineer and other musicians. If you can put the chords and timings above each section (verse/chorus/bridge), that helps as well. This way the engineer can follow along easily and mark up a copy with any necessary production notes. It also makes the punch in/overdub process go much smoother since anyone can simply call out, “Take it from the 2nd half of verse 3” and everyone will be in the same place. When I’m tracking a vocalist, I remind them to the point of annoyance to remember those extra lyric sheets! It’s always worth it when the session rolls along smoothly and they’re psyched to hear that playback.

7. Inviting the entourage.
Do not bring friends/girlfriends/boyfriends/fans into a session. It’s a total vibe-changer. From experience I can say without a doubt those takes usually have to be re-recorded later. There’s a lack of focus, worsened by a show-off factor, that happens when non-band members are in the studio. They also tend to bug the engineer by talking and moving around. If anything, call them to come hear the final playback after you’ve finished tracking. It’s just as cool and allows you to focus on nothing other than putting down a great performance.

Rich Tozzoli is an accomplished engineer, mixer, producer and composer. He has worked with artists such as Ace Frehley, Al DiMeola and David Bowie, among many more, and is the author of Surround Sound Mixing for ProTools. Rich is also a lifelong guitarist and composer. His work can be heard regularly on FoxNFL, HBO, and Discovery Channel.