Before you hit the studio and record that next big record, it’s important to plan some pre-production sessions. If a band records a song in the studio without having gone through the pre-pro stage, there is a chance it won't reach it's full potential. Maybe the band wishes they could have changed something about the song, or wish they would have spent more time planning. In the past we have seen bands re-release songs that they felt could have been stronger, and that would be something we want to ideally avoid by creating a strong song from the start.
Having a solid plan of execution and understanding of each song in an album will make for a great record that you and your fans will love.
What is Pre-Pro?
Pre-Pro is the stage at which you plan how each song will be built within the album. You take the song you have written and do a rough recording of each instrument, also known as recording scratch tracks. This method is a crucial phase of writing and producing music for release.
Would you start a business without a plan? Would you start driving without knowing where to go? Of course not! Recording has the same basic philosophy, and pre-pro is our way to gain an understanding of what a song will sound like once it’s recorded. Pre-Pro will be the single greatest factor when planning to record an album.
How to Start
It all begins with a well-crafted song. If you don’t have a complete song, it’s not time to record anything! Start with writing basic instruments and a vocal melody, and see where it takes you. When the song feels finished in its raw form, you can record scratch tracks to hear how it might sound once produced. It’s in this process where you find out if there is a better version of your song waiting to be discovered. Can the intro be longer? Is the verse too bland? What other instruments or sounds will make this section stronger? Etc.
Let the initial song idea breathe and percolate for a few days, and try to answer some of these questions that come up while listening. You know how you want the song to sound, so jot down ideas you think will help you get there and start making changes!
Most Important part of Pre-Pro?
Arguably, the most important of pre-production is to determine the arrangement of each instrument, as well as the arrangement of the song itself. This is the perfect time to find that arrangement that will take you all the way from beginning to end.
Each song is different; some songs have the chorus four times throughout a song, and some songs don’t have any repeating sections at all. Experiment and find which arrangement works best for your song. After the song structure is finalized, you can work on the arrangement of each individual instrument. This of course is up to the musician. However, it’s important to note that not every rhythm guitar has to be the same in each verse, or that the drummer doesn’t need to play the exact same beat in each chorus. It’s the differences and variations throughout a song that keeps an entire album fresh and exciting for listeners.
Don’t be afraid to add extra sounds, extra layers of guitars, extra layers of vocals – your fans won’t care how many takes you had to record. They just care what the end result sounds like.
Do WHATEVER it takes to make a good song, great!
What else to consider?
For each instrument, it’s good to determine what kind of tone would suit the part. During a slow song, you may want the bass guitar to have a softer top end and swell up those warm bass frequencies. During a metal breakdown, you may want the bass guitar to have a heavy rumble of distortion. Having these notes and working tones during pre-pro will help fine tune the sound when it comes to do the real recording.
Don’t forget to have fun during the pre-production process and to experiment with fun, out-of-the-box, ideas. It’s during these sessions that you come up with these weird and interesting sounds to add to a song, or a fun way to transition between songs.
Anything can be changed during pre-pro, so go wild and try new and exciting things to separate your music from the rest.
One thing to consider is having reference tracks to use for inspiration. If you want your song to have similar elements as another song, use it as a reference!
How will I know when pre-pro is done? When the song sounds good. Period. Once you are confident with how each instrument sounds, how each vocal is arranged and how each song flows, you are ready to record the album for real.
Don’t get excited and record a song before going through the pre-pro process. We’ve all done it! Most often times wished we could have done something differently, or changed the arrangement around, had a different vocal melody here, etc. Pre-Pro will help solidify all your ideas and give you the ability to make adjustments as you need. Most of the songs you know and love weren’t recorded on the fly - so take your time, be patient, and plan carefully! Then let the idea sear into your head. After a few days, or a week, you may know exactly what you want to change to make the song stronger.
When the time comes to record the song for real, you’ll know exactly how to execute the production and record a truly great song.
Write the song – basic instruments and vocals
Find a workable tone for each instrument
Analyze and arrange song structure
Adjust instrumentation for each section
Adjust vocal arrangement for each section
Experiment with added instrument, and vocal, layers
Re-record throughout steps 4-8 as necessary
Finalize, playback, and sign off