1. Decide who’s in charge. Me, you, all of us by committee decision? It doesn’t really matter so long as everyone knows who’s calling the shots.
2. WRITE THE SONGS. Unless you’re a jam band and songs are not really the point, write—and finish—the songs before you start recording them. Just because technology lets you write on the fly doesn’t necessarily make this the best way to go.
3. Beg, borrow (maybe not steal) as much gear as you can. You can never have too many mics, amps, pedals, so call around to friends in the neighborhood and see if you can snag some loaners for a few days. Look after the gear you borrow.
4. Consider soundproofing and room acoustics. If you’re recording in your bedroom or garage you’re realistically not going to be able to get the place soundproofed. But you can block up holes (think of soundproofing like waterproofing. If there’s a hole, sound [or water!] can and will leak in and out). If you’re recording in a symmetrical room sound waves are going to bounce around and give you a false picture of what your recording sounds like. Read up on this a bit and maybe pick up or construct some bass traps. In this instance, a little knowledge is not dangerous at all. A little goes a long way.
5. Think about how you’re going to record vocals. Vocals are the song’s shop window. It’s the first thing people latch onto. First, make sure if it’s a ‘singer’ that they can sing well in the key you’re playing at. Don’t just rely on Auto-Tune! Also make sure the singer is rested and does not eats gobs of dairy the day before or of the recording. Finally, figure out where you’re going to recording him/her. Closets can make great vocal booths. Seriously.
6. Decide exactly how you want to record. Everyone in the room at the same time or part-by-part? If you’re recording ‘together’ you then have the choice of ‘just using a couple of room mics.’ Maybe you want everyone miced separately? If you want separate mics and you’re using a DAW you’ll need an interface that can handle as many inputs as you have. And if you want to be able to monitor everything separately, you’ll need to think about the number of A-D and/or D-A converters. With all this to think about you might want to go back to tape! It’s not a bad idea, either. All things to consider…
7. Check your equipment is in good working order. Fix crackly pots and channel faders (use an air duster, then a lubricant). Update your computer and recording software (but not 5 minutes before you start as updates can also cause at least temporary problems too). Make sure you have spare guitar / bass strings. Ideally, put on a new set of strings on any stringed instrument you plan on using.
8. Download everything you think you might need. Loops, instrument and effects plug-ins, patches, the new version of Melodyne you’re been promising yourself… Don’t spend precious recording time downloading stuff.
9. Look out all your widgets, gadgets, doodads and adaptors: Mic clips, a mic stand, a music stand, a string winder, your wallwarts, footpedals, cables… It’s The Law that the one cable you need—that stereo eighth inch mini jack to dual RCAs or whatever—will not be where you thought you last saw it when you need it in the heat of battle. Locate all of this stuff.
10. Print out the words/lyrics. 1. It’ll force you into completing them. 2. It makes it so much easier to identify sections you need to repeat, or makes changes to etc. 3. It’ll help everyone ‘keep in touch’ with the meaning or purpose of the track.
11. Decide on the credits. Music history is littered with musicians who felt they wrote or contributed to songs they ultimately were not credited for (Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman claims he wrote the guitar riff on Jumpin’ Jack Flash and was not credited for it, etc.) and basically once you leave the recording session ‘un-credited’ that’s how it’s going to remain. Have that conversation now or, as many sensible bands do, simply pre-agree that if you were in the room/band when a song was being written, you are a co-writer. Either strategy can save a lifetime of heartache or litany of legal fees afterwards.