The Power Of Pre-Production

Pre-production…it sounds like a fancy term for a big meeting held behind record label doors but quite simply it’s production before the “Production” and it’s one of the best uses of your time and money. It not only saves your resources but also allows for more creativity during production. But before I get into the details, I want to tell you how I learned all this the hard way.

How I Learned The Value Of Pre-Production

My very first recording session was in the summer of 1983. I had just graduated High School and wrote my first BIG song…or so I thought. I got a bass player buddy (who also sings) and a drummer friend to agree to record with me (I play guitar). I had read articles with the Stars (aka…people with MUCH more experience than me) going in and working things out in the studio, so I thought that would be the thing to do. This was a friend’s 8 track Reel to Reel studio (remember, it was 1983) and he was only going to charge me $10 an hour (Man I miss 1983). I had all the parts worked out in my head so I thought “Great! Let’s do this”. Little did I realize the song changed tempos and this caused it to sound very “forced” in parts and basically, well, it sounded much better in my head than it did on tape. We spent 8 hours in the studio for me to arrive at this revelation…$80 for nothing on tape. However, that following week I went out and spent $1300 on a Tascam 244 Porta-Studio, a 4-Track cassette recorder. So although I did waste $80 in the studio I did learn a valuable lesson I will never forget…the importance Pre-Production.

From that day on, every song I ever went into a real studio to record (which was a good many) I always do a “demo” before I try and cut the song. This allows me to have the parts planned out and listen back to make sure everything is working before I go spend more money and time in a bigger studio. Not to mention, I am not wasting the other musicians time and money either. Even though I now have my own studio (like many of you) and do most of my recording at home, having an idea ahead of time what the final result will resemble still saves you time and having to pay other players from sitting around to work out the parts. They will always have a clearer understanding of your vision if they can hear a rough version of it beforehand, rather than trying to explain in words what you are wanting.

Giving Yourself Space To Create

Some may think this having it all planned out takes out the spontaneity of that musical spark, but it actually does the opposite. As you may know we have 2 halves to our brain, one analyzes, the other is creative. It’s extremely difficult to work in both at the same time. Having the parts already planned out frees your brain from having to analyze as much when you are listening back in a recording session and gives the creative side space to take over. Suddenly, *BAM!* You might hear a cool string part in your head you want to add, or realize the song does in fact need more cowbell. Virtually all Major artists record demos before final tracking of a song and sometimes, the actual parts of the demo may even end up on the final cut. If by some chance the demo itself ends up sounding better, use it…believe it or not this happened with REO Speedwagon’s MASSIVE hit record “Hi Infidelity”.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Demo

A favorite trick of mine since I have my own studio, is generally I do the final recording over the same session as the demo. This way I have the demo tracks along side the final version tracks in case I need to A-B them or need a reference. Also, if I do decide to keep a part of the original demo it’s already there and pretty much lined up. I don’t have to fly the part in. Obviously, this trick only works best if both versions are at the same tempo. Why wouldn’t they be you ask? Many times after doing the demo I have listened back and felt either maybe it seemed to drag and needed more push so I would speed the song up or perhaps it’s a little too fast and the groove is lost so you decide to slow it down a notch or two.

What To Consider During Pre-Production

Is that all there is to Pre-Production? (Pre-Pro as some Majors call it) No. If you are doing a full album, Pre-Pro also includes picking which songs actually will be on the album. OK, so you wrote 27 great songs, chances are they will probably not ALL make it on the album. Again, having demos of every song let’s you sit back and more objectively decide which ones make the cut. My friend’s, Halcyon Way had 27 songs demoed for the latest album “Bloodied But Unbowed,” but only 12 made it on the album. Fortunately for me, one was a song I co-wrote, but I digress.

If you’re a singer-songwriter, Pre-Pro will also involve what musicians and instruments you may use on the final. Other aspect of Pre-Pro are setting your budget, possibly picking out a Producer (although often at the point of Pre-Pro that has been determined because it’s always best to do Pre-Pro with your Producer. Since most studios now are digital and have unlimited tracks this is not generally a big deal but worth mentioning…deciding on Track count. Possibly even figuring out track sheets ahead of time. A studio I recorded at quite a bit back in the day was only 16 tracks. How am I going to make my 48 part Opus work? I was meticulous for having track sheets mapped out before I even stepped in the studio so I knew which parts would go where and what tracks could be used for multiple parts (like throwing a guitar harmony on the same track as a lead vocal when there’s no vocals at that timeline). Again, not as relevant today but may still be if you are going into an analog studio.


So, if you’re a writer, I urge you, as anxious as you are to record that smash hit you just finished writing 10 minutes ago, before you start calling all those amazing session players (like the ones you find on AirGigs) make sure you’ve at least done a rough demo and are happy with the direction your song is going. As I mentioned before, this will also give your session players a better feel for what you want which not only makes their job easier but you will more than likely get much better results.

If you’re a producer, explain to your client that yes, it may cost them a little extra upfront to sit down with you and go over the details of the song(s) but ultimately it will save them time in the studio and help you to help them with their vision. They will also end up with a better final result by taking the time upfront. If they already have a demo you can, if you so desire to, factor in listening time to your fee. Or, as a sales pitch you can include that as part of your services. If they do not have a demo yet, you can always ask them to make one for you to listen to or even offer to help them with that either at a reduced cost or part of your service.

Basically, Pre-Production is like preventive maintenance, it’s better to do a bit of prep upfront to get a faster and better result in the end that you and/or your client will be happy with.

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