Mixing Too Loudly
We’ll just say it: monitor at 85dB or lower! If you work any louder, you run the risk of making bad-sounding recordings — and over the long haul, causing permanent hearing damage (not to scare you or anything). But seriously, everything sounds great loud. Mix at reasonable levels, and you’ll have to work for a great-sounding recording. The Fletcher-Munson curves dictate that lows and highs drop off in our hearing perception at lower monitoring volumes. Monitor too loud, and you’ll end up with a midrangy recording/mix. Conversely, when you monitor at lower levels, you’ll have adequate low- and high-frequency content. You’ll also make better decisions because you’re able to hear fine details clearly.
Being rehearsed is a big part of being prepared. A tight rhythm section, amazing vocals, and great solos don’t just happen. You have to work for it. So get the band together on a regular basis and rehearse the songs you’ll be recording. And by all means, record the rehearsals. You can all listen back and course-correct before you hit the studio. That lick leading into the B section isn’t quite working. The rhythm track is solid, but it would be cool if the guitar solo harmonically locked in with the bass and keyboards in the turnaround. Rehearsals give your band the opportunity to iron out the arrangement, improve your chops, and get primed for the tracking session.
Being Out of Tune
This should go without saying. Before you lay down a track, tune up your instrument! But even before you go into the studio, make sure your instrument is in tune with itself. A bass with poor intonation might track okay over drums but will invariably present problems when you start overdubbing other instruments. Proper intonation and tuning for all instruments will give you your best chance for a powerful track — and perhaps that hit record that’s been eluding you!
Having good communication with your engineer/producer and fellow musicians on what you want is the key to, well, getting what you want. If something bothers you about the vocal or guitar solo and you never bring it up in the studio, you have only yourself to blame when you cringe every time you hear it. So keep your brain fully engaged in the studio, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you think something isn’t right. This goes double if you are self-producing.
Not Doing a Demo
Sure, Miles Davis and his select group of A-list musicians could convene at Columbia 30th Street, wing it, and come out with In a Silent Way. But for the rest of us, having a proper demo is imperative. If you’ve booked a studio, time is money. And even if you’re tracking at home by yourself, having a blueprint for the song to be recorded is amazingly helpful. You may not follow your demo to the letter, but at least you and your band will hit the ground running. We’ve all stared at a blank DAW timeline. It’s both agonizing and a colossal waste of time. Having a fleshed-out demo where you were able to test out ideas without pressure is all the more vital when you’re recording in a commercial studio and the clock is ticking.
Not Being Prepared or On Time
Whether you’re a professional musician — or just want to be — you should act like one. That means taking care of business, and being on time — or early — for professional commitments. Do professionals keep their bandmates and engineers waiting for them at the studio? No. And before you’re there, get organized. A great place to start is by bringing a demo of the song you’re going to cut. You DO have a demo, right? (See above.) Once the sessions are underway, don’t goof off. Do take breaks, but keep them defined. You’re not recording Exile on Main Street.