1. Make sure you’ve made all the final decisions for your songs and that they’re complete
Many new musicians want to rush in and record their first album or EP. While I know this is an exciting event, by doing this, most of the time, songs may not be as thoroughly thought-out or incomplete. This leads to a lot more money spent because extra time goes into trying to figure out where (for example) the band wants to go with the song, which could have been done during the band’s rehearsal time where you don't have a studio engineer on the clock.
To avoid these headaches and to keep the extra change in your pocket, every song that you want to record should be completed and be up to par by the time you come into the studio for your session. Your final decisions and impressions for your song should be completed. The WORST thing that you want to do to the studio engineer is have him spend all this time tracking and mixing a song just to throw it away because the band ends up deciding they dislike their song.
2. Make sure all your band members are ready to record
It is extremely important that all of your band members know the song inside-out. Don't get me wrong, you’re probably not going to nail your part on the first take (especially if it is your first time in a recording studio and the nerves kick in) and that's ok! But if you can get your part done in a couple of takes, compared to spending 2 hours recording a guitar part and “fixing it in the mix”, it will save you time/money. I also can’t emphasize enough how much better the sound will be in the end if you avoid the “fixing it in the mix” mentality. That is not the mind set you should have going into recording.
My favorite saying holds true here, “You can’t polish a turd”.
3. Make sure your gear is ready to record
This step is often overlooked. If there is a buzz in your guitar amp or your snare has a horrible ring to it, it can be a headache to remove from the mix and sometimes we can’t remove it at all! So it is paramount that all your gear is in working order. If you feel that your gear is not up to par or is damaged, you can also ask if the studio has in house gear you can use or see if you can rent locally.
Also, a tip for you guitar players out there: change your strings a couple of days before your session. The reason I say a couple of days is that it gives your strings time to stretch out and wear in. Having old strings on your guitar is bad for recording because it will affect your tone and have a greater chance of breaking, again adding to the time-wasted and money-spent problem.
4. Don't be afraid to bring in demo recordings or influences
Let’s say that you recorded a demo previously and really liked the vibe or feeling that you got from it and want your upcoming professionally recorded song to have that same effect: Bring it in! It will help the mixing engineer get the closest sound that you want.
Likewise, don't be afraid to bring in recordings of bands and artists you like the sound of. Some examples of reference requests I have gotten: “I like the vibe of this album and I want to have the same vibe on my album”, “I like the way the drums sound in this song and I want my drums to sound the same”, etc.
That being said you should not expect your recording to sound exactly the same to the references you brought in, nor would you want to! Close to the reference is fine, but you definitely want to have your own unique sound.
5. You’re there to work, not to party
This is hopefully a no-brainer for you guys: You’re there to work, not have a party. Show up to the studio sober and ready. Don’t dress like a lawyer but have the mentality of a pro. It’s fine if we have a couple of beers while we record, but the engineer is there to work on your songs, and that will be nearly impossible if he has to look after a completely-wasted-you.
This leads me to another point: Bring only the people necessary to record the album! Once you start inviting friends, family, and significant others into the studio (although we like to meet them), it can become distracting and like I said before, you’re there to work.
Lastly, VERY important, is to respect your engineer and their studio. I can personally say, as I can guarantee other studios and engineers have, that we have spent a lot of money on equipment and gear. So understandably, we would be beyond upset if someone where to break any of our gear or equipment because that's the “rock star way”. It’s not the “rock star way”. They’re just a douche.
6. Know the process of making a record
There are 3 main parts in recording a song/record: Tracking, Mixing, and Mastering.
Tracking- This is the step where you record all of the instruments that you would like to have on your song or album.
Mixing- The processes of taking everything that you recorded and creating a song that sounds as good as possible.
- Mastering- The process of making the collection of songs, making them sound good across all audio devices, and turning them into a final album.
I found this funny picture that helps explain mixing and mastering a little bit better:
7. Last but not least, stay positive
Rome wasn't built in a day, and a good album is not going to be finished in a day either. It's a slow process but in the end it will be worth it. Also, recognize that this is not a solo project (unless you're a solo artist). Making records is a team effort, so don't try and be a tyrant and take full control of the band. Rather, encourage your band mates to get the best out of them. Also don't aim for perfection. No matter what you do, you’re not going to play the song perfectly the way you want it. I’m not saying completely half-ass the song, but the little mistakes are what make your song human. If not, might as well get robots to be your musicians.
But overall, just have fun and make something special out of the process!