The gear is set up. The engineer is sitting behind the console listening to his assistant tapping on mics while running to the different stations in the studio.

One by one your musicians start walking in. Some go into the control room. Others go into the main studio and say hey to their buddies that are also playing your session. Some detour and head directly to the kitchen for some coffee. Others go off in pairs to the parking lot…who knows why.

Your rep from your publishing company comes by, as does your co-writer with whom you had written the first song to be tracked today. The clock is ticking. You have three hours to get five songs and no one seems to care but you.

Welcome to your first session!


In the studio, on the football field or stuck on a desert island it’s all the same: who’s in charge?

If you have a publisher and this is you, breathe easy. It is doubtful that they would throw you to the lions while they are fronting the dough-re-mi. If the rep your publisher sent isn’t running the session, the producer they hired will be the next one through the door. You just get to sit back and watch the magic happen. You may get thrown the occasional question or a quick line re-write, but mostly you just watch and learn.

If you’re self-published, then the responsibility of what happens next falls on you. If this is your first session and this is the scenario you’re in…take a deep breath, it’ll feel like you’re herding cats. Luckily, you hired pro musicians (right?) and a top-notch studio (with an engineer, right?), so your role will be more administrative than creative. Be cool.

Sure, you wrote the song. And, you have the vision. But, unless you have the wherewithal, it may be time to delegate your authority:  If you’re unsure, then definitely delegate authority. If you hired pros they will act professionally.   If you didn’t hire pros it is up to you to make them act professionally.

But by following the steps you can make something presentable. So, from this point on, let’s assume it’s your session.

Ask your engineer to tell you if he’s good to go. If so, call everyone in. If the engineer hadn’t already dialed everyone in, he’ll do so now. It will seem to take longer than it should, but in reality it’ll be shorter than you think. You hired pros, so they already have tone. The engineer will make sure it is captured, and make refinements on the board.

Then, either through the cans (headphones), or through the house speakers, the band will listen to your work tape while reviewing the charts your bandleader made up earlier. The singer you hired before the session will have already told you what key he or she will sing the song in, or will do so now if you scheduled them to be there for the scratch track.

After listening to your work tape once or twice, the band will talk arrangement and who will play what where, groove, intro and ending. Don’t be surprised if they do a “sounds like”, using a popular song as a model for yours. If you have one in mind, let them know. No one is trying to rip anybody off, just getting a point of reference.

They’ll run through the song a couple of times, and then the bandleader or producer will tell the engineer they’re ready to record.

If you’re happy with how things sound, tell the engineer to go ahead. If you’re unhappy with the sound make sure that you are specifically able to voice what you are unhappy with. “It doesn’t sound right” doesn’t fly. 

If it’s your first session, assume that everyone is a specialist at their instrument (and unless you also play that instrument, you’re not) and leave the better judgment up to them and the band leader. Don’t be afraid to ask the engineer what he/she thinks. Typically, they have big ears, know music and musicianship, know the trends, probably are musicians themselves, and can produce records with their eyes closed.

Defer to those that know!

Continuing on:

Your singer (if it’s not you) will be in a isolation booth singing a scratch or guide track. This track is usually not kept (but sometimes it is if the singer is that good).   Basically, this is there to help the musicians to know where in the song they are…and where the vocal will be.

Unless there a huge error or misunderstanding, the musicians will most likely capture the song in one or two takes and keeping the one that feels best. Each player will then have a chance to correct small errors they made. This will be done one player at a time. They’ll have the engineer “punch in” and “punch out” recording over only the segment that had the mistake, keeping the rest of what they recorded intact.

The solos will most likely be recorded live as well, so within 45 minutes or less, all the tracks for that song will be recorded. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of stock parts and safe playing, but this is to save you money. However, if you hired the right guys you might just find some new licks and hip parts that are unique being worked into your song.

Then it will be onto the next song. There might be minute changes made at the board, and the guitarist might switch from a Stratocaster to a Les Paul (and the keyboard player may swap patches), but for the sake of fiscal economy most of the sounds will be the same. This is all the better, as mixdown will run equally as quick with few changes made to the board.

After your five songs are tracked, the musician’s gear will be loaded out. 

And, the singers will start to arrive. Having the songs (via your worktape and lyric sheets) beforehand, they’ll have already learned the melody and most likely harmony as well.

Their tracking will go quickly, usually recording a keeper lead vocal and a harmony part or two within 45 minutes. 

If someone else is adding harmony vocals, they’ll come in last. It’s not unusual to have a harmony specialist who can overdub 2, 3 or 4 parts if needed who blends in perfectly with the lead vocalist. These singers are worth every dime.

Unless there are live strings or a horn section, the recording is done!

Since the board has been set up and refinements dialed in as the day progressed, it is not unusual for the songs to be mixed by the end of the day.

Viola’! Your first demo session is over before you know it!

Keep in mind that you’re not making a record, but a demo. And while everything should be perfect, you’re not making broad artistic strokes. You’re making your song appeal to those who make a choice of whether it gets recorded again by an artist. Of course, the song stands on its own. This is just to give it legs, and perhaps cue others into hearing what the final product sounds like.
Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and


Originally posted 2010-11-19 23:27:16.