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All About Pre-Production

Pre-production is the process in which the producer meets with the artist or band to rehearse and prepare their songs before entering the recording studio.

The pre-production phase can include songwriting, choosing album tracks, arrangement choices, and simply practicing the material.

The goal of pre-production is to prepare as much as possible in a low-cost environment so that once the band hits the studio, no time is wasted on last-minute changes which can often lead to lengthly debates under the pressure of the studio clock.  By having every part analyzed, improved, and finalized in advance, the artist and producer are free to focus their energy on delivering and capturing the best possible performance in the studio.

How to Approach Pre-Pro

Pre-production session with Silverstein
Pre-production session for the Silverstein record, “This is How the Wind Shifts.”

One of the best ways to approach pre-production is to meet with the band at their usual rehearsal space or other low-cost rehearsal location.  As the producer, you’ll then listen to the band play their songs together while making notes & trying to get a clear idea of the vibe & vision for the record.  By having the band play live, you’ll also get a chance to observe each member’s strengths & weaknesses, and learn the relational dynamics of the group.   Once you start to get a feel for the artist and their music, you can start sharing your ideas and suggestions for improving the songs.

Practical Advice

  • Do it Live!   If you have your own studio, it’s possible to do  your pre-pro there and record rough demos of the songs.  However I’ve found that the temptation will be to focus too much on the recording and not enough on the songs.  By sitting in the room while the band plays live, you eliminate all other distractions and focus completely on the music and the artist.
  • Make Notes & Record Roughs – It’s extremely important to document the changes that are being made to each song.  If you make changes without keeping track, there’s a good chance you or the artist will forget it the next day.  Write down all the important changes, and when major changes have been made, record a rough live demo of the song.  It’s nice to have decent quality on these recordings, but it’s not the focus – a single mic in the room or a smartphone will do, when necessary.
  • Build Trust – If this is the first time you’re meeting the artist, pre-pro is your chance to get to know each other and build a rapport. Start by just listening to the music and trying to get yourself into their headspace.  Once you have ideas & suggestions, start with minor critiques to prove yourself before bringing major changes to the table.
  • Be Humble – The producer-artist relationship is at its best when all ego is left at the door.  That means that if you make a suggestion and 5 band members disagree, you can’t take it personally or be offended.  Simply move on.  Taking this approach will put the artist at ease and influence them to do the same, creating a safe and creative atmosphere.

Depending on the size of the project and the maturity of the band, pre-production can take a few days or a few weeks.  Be sure to schedule adequate time for pre-production whenever possible.  If you come into the studio with good songs and well rehearsed arrangements, tracking a record becomes simple, creative and fun.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.