bands: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, then rehearse some more! Know your material inside out, upside down, and backwards! Make sure everybody knows their parts. Try rehearsing vocal songs without the vocalist, does everyone know their cues and changes? If you can come into the studio and lay down your basic tracks without having to follow the vocalist, things will go all that much faster. A lot of bands come in with three or four tracks prepared, then want to try that one tune they just wrote yesterday. Bad plan. On a few occasions they get lucky, but usually that one half-ready tune takes away serious time that would be better spent getting the main batch of tunes done right.
Don't skimp on mixing time! As I said above, wasting a few hours trying to get that one extra tune down will take away from your mixing time for the others. Assuming of course like most part time bands, you only have a fixed budget for a day or two in the studio. If your budget is unlimited, then experiment all you like! Otherwise stick with what you know and originally intended to accomplish.
Leave the beer at home! Nothing worse than a drunk in the studio. He will waste your session time, screw up his parts, and ruin your timing. If you think you need to be drinking to get the right feel, you are kidding yourself. Drinking and recording does not mix.
Leave the wives and girlfriends at home!! Nothing wastes time like unnecessary people at a session. Also, let the folks at home know you will be gone a long time. I can't tell you how many phone calls I have overheard from jealous mates who simply can't believe it takes THAT long to record a handful of songs. Yes ladies, it does! If you can't trust that your man is slaving away over his tracks, then perhaps you are in the wrong relationship. Believe him when he says recording takes more time than simply playing the tunes though a few times.
drummers: get new heads! At the very least show up to your session with a new snare drum batter (top) head, and it never hurts to have a spare. Woven snare batter heads have a nice warm sound and solid crack. For toms I prefer single ply Ambassador style heads. Oil filled, pinstripe, and other heavy heads that can sound good live are most often extremely dull sounding in the studio. Make sure your snares are tight and crispy as well and the snare handle stays firmly in place while playing.
Tune your drums! Both heads on a tom-tom need to be tuned. I actually had a guy say to me once "you mean you gotta tune them (sic) bottom heads?" Yes! Top head defines the "crack" and bottom head controls the sustain, basically. If your heads are dented all out of shape, definitely get new ones. If your toms are very lively, it's a good idea to have some "dead ringers" for them - basically an old head cut into a ring to lay over the drum and cut down on nasty rings. Quite a bit of this depends on the quality of the drum shell you are using, but it's alwyas nice to have them on hand. I have a few dead ringers in the most common sizes, but not every size. Doesn't hurt to bring a roll of duct tape either. And certainly your tuning key. I have lots of experience tuning drums and can help out if there is a problem.
Make sure you have a spare kick drum head! I can't emphasize this enough. I've seen too many sessions get cut short because the drummer put his foot thru the bass drum head, and guess what? You are still going to be paying for the session time you booked while the drummer runs to the nearest music store to (hopefully) get another head. That is if they are still open.
Make sure your hardware is in good shape. Have your pedals well lubricated to avoid squeaks which microphones love to pick up. Make sure your stands are all firm and sturdy. It's a good idea to have firm felt washers on all your cymbals so they don't move excessively when struck causing a "woosh" sort of phasing sound in the mics. Avoid those big swing-set style drum racks with everything mounted on them if possible. Every time you hit anything on it, everything else rings, so they can be a problem. Individual stands work best. Make sure there aren't any loose or broken lugs or anything else rattling on your kit or you will hear it in the playback.
The fewer drums you actually need, the better. More mics on a kit means phase problems and a longer setup time at the very least. Not to mention bleed though of other elements of the kit. If you only hit that little rack tom once all day, you should probably leave it at home. And make sure there is enough space to get a mic on it. Don't overlap cymbals way over toms and leave as much space between elements of your kit as possible. Remember, if you can't get a mic on it, it won't be heard.. at least not well and clearly defined. And, the closer together everything is, the more bleed thru you will get with less punch and distinction.
Dummers should show up first! Since drums are the heart of a rock band and the most complex instrument to mic, if not eveyone in the band can make it together, the drummer should always be the first one at the session and the first one setup. Guitarists and the rest of the band can show up a bit later in most cases. While the drums are being mic'ed and sound checked, no one else need be around.
guitars: make sure your instrument is properly intonated and has a fresh set of strings. I can't emphasize what a difference a fresh - and well stretched - set of strings will make. ALWAYS have several sets of spare strings on hand. It's a good idea when putting on strings not to put too many wraps on the peghead as it takes time for that much extra string to stretch out and you will be continually needing to retune. Personally, I use less than a one full wrap on wound strings, and never more than one or two wraps with plain strings.
Be sure you have all the cables and connectors you could ever possibly need and a spare main guitar wire is a recommended as well. Bring an extension cord and power strip as well, everything you might need at a gig. And surely don't forget your tuner!
If you get "your sound" using some kind of programmable pedal board or effects, be sure you know HOW to change the settings. Quite often in the studio your comfortable live sound will need tweaking to get a good recorded sound. It's a good idea to record the guitar without too many effects and add them later in the mix, especially with delays. In nearly every case you will want less delay (or none) on your sound than you want to hear at the gig.
bass: same deal as guitars, properly intonated, well set up, and spare strings! Basses don't need string changes as often as guitars, but you should ALWAYS have a spare set on hand. And an extension cord, and anything else you might need at a gig should be with you. Never "just assume" some vital piece of gear or accessory will be waiting for you when you get there.
more to come...