This page has information for anyone new to recording on how to best prepare and what to expect in a typical session
There is a lot to cover here and every session is different, so I'll keep it as general as possible:
First of all, you need to be prepared. There are a lot of ways to prepare, but simply running through the songs with your amp turned up is not an effective way. Everyone in the band should know what everyone else is playing. It is not uncommon for the band to discover that someone's been playing the wrong chord for 3 years when they hear the playback!
Try to practice with a metronome-it's not necessary to always do that, but really, what can it hurt? It only helps, period. You don't need to record with a metronome, although sometimes it can be helpful, but if you practice with it everyone will improve-I guarantee it.
As you're practicing listen to your tone and think about how it might sound when it's recorded. For example, does the snare drum rattle, or do the toms ring? Is your amp at a good volume? Is there clarity in the bass? Listen to recordings that you want to sound like and make sure your instrument sounds that way. Drummers constantly tell me they want to sound like Jon Bonham--I always ask 2 things; Do you play like Bonham, and do your drums sound like Bonham's? If your instrument doesn't sound good then it won't matter what microphone, preamp, or effect I put on there, it will never sound good. Please Note: Sometimes a dirty bad sound can be exactly what you're going for. In that case, great! Make it sound any way you want!
Finally, try not to schedule a gig a night before a session, it is certain to affect your day.
What to Expect:
There are a few basic things to expect in a session. First of all, it will take a while to get set up, usually 2-4 hours for a full band. Having an idea of how you’d like to set up is helpful and can save a lot of time.
Don't overestimate the number of songs you can record in a day! Just because a song takes 5 minutes to play doesn't mean it takes 5 minutes to record! Keep in mind that most major CDs were recorded and mixed in 4-8 weeks, not hours. I think if you are well prepared you can get rhythm tracks for 8-10 songs recorded well in 1 10 hour day. You can get about 4 songs recorded with some overdubs and final vocals in 1 day. It is unlikely that there will be time to mix anything in either of those cases. It is very difficult from the standpoint of the engineer to mix the same day as basic tracks--typically we've been listening at loud volumes and can't make good objective mixing decisions 6 to 8 hours into the session.
You’ll need to decide (with my help) how much isolation you want. Do you want everyone with their instruments and amplifiers in the room together, or do you want to isolate some or all of the instruments? If everyone is in the room together, if any person makes a mistake, the whole take is ruined. If everyone is isolated then anyone can make a mistake and it can be fixed. In rock sessions it is a somewhat common practice to get a complete drum take first with every instrument playing and isolated. If any of the other instruments are good then that's just a bonus!
This is not the only way, however. Sometimes the whole band can effectively be in the room together. This is often a more musical way to record, but there are some drawbacks. As mentioned above, any mistake by any player can ruin the take for everyone. Also it is usually harder to control the sound quality, but I can work with you if this is a route you want to go. A great many rock bands only record(ed) this way, and I almost always prefer jazz or world music to recorded in the room together. If players are isolated, they will have to wear headphones. Playing with headphones is a little unnatural unless you're used to it, but it is an evil necessity in the studio.
After a take, it is a good idea to listen to it unless you definitely don't like it.
Some practical things to note: Don't forget to plan for lunch and dinner, if you skip lunch you are certain to get tired around 5:00, and when you do eat dinner at 6:30, you will be very very tired. I know this because it happens ALL THE TIME! You are wasting your time and money if you do this. Additionally, I need to eat too! I always try to have plenty of bottled water, but I generally don't provide other drinks or snacks. There is a convenience store just down the road and plenty of restaurants within 2 miles.
Try to keep distractions to a minimum. Guests can make a session fun or they can slow the session down. Sometimes too many opinions can really make an awkward session and ruin the mood. Keep in mind that there is thousands of dollars of delicate equipment around the studio, and non-musician guests and younger family members (kids) may not be as careful as you and I would like. You are responsible for any damage you or a guest does in a session.
Finally, I know lots of people like to bring some beer to a session. Keep the drinking in moderation, a little can help some people relax, but a lot makes everyone play badly and become difficult to work with.
I'll keep adding to this as I think of new things!-Jake