What Can the Cheshire Cat Teach you About Music Production?

cheshire cat pre production

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, when it comes to recording, mixing or any other aspect of music production:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.“ -Sun Tzu

If you don’t plan your recording, mixing, or mastering session, then you’ll have a much harder time getting to your destination.

Like the Cheshire Cat says to Alice when she asks him to help her get to her destination.

If you don’t know where you’re going:

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”

You’re sure to get somewhere, if you walk for long enough, but wouldn’t it be easier to plan and get there quicker? Music production starts with the pre-production phase.

It’s about planning ahead so it doesn’t take you forever to get to the sound you have in your head. Just like any other task, having a good plan is invaluable to an efficient execution.

There’s Always a Quicker Way to Get There

If your plan is to plan as you go along, then everything is bound to go wrong. Don’t take my word for it, just believe Murphy’s Law:

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

It’s the same thing with music production. If you haven’t done any pre-production or planning before your session, you’ll inevitably get screwed. Some cable won’t work, your microphone will break, your computer will crash and your clients will hate you.

Not to dramatize the whole thing of course, but think things through and make plans before you decide to charge people for your time. Because if you charge for hours of music production where everything went wrong, do you really think those clients are going to come back?

So before anything, think about the best way you can accomplish things.

Planning Your Recording Session

If you’re getting ready for a recording session, keep these things in mind.

Your Gear – Is all your gear working properly? Is your computer backed up and ready for a serious recording session? Make sure all your equipment is functioning properly, before the session where you need it the most. Because it’s just so typical when that Distressor stops working just as you want to use it on a track.

What Kind of Sound – Is your client looking for a specific sound in their recordings? Did you foolishly say you could offer it because you were going to research how and then you forgot? Well, make sure that you’re able to accommodate the sound your client is looking for. Doing a little research on how to capture a particular sound is pre-production. Who knows, maybe the research will even spark some ideas to pitch to the artist.

Be ready – Is your studio set up and ready for the recording session. Don’t make a client wait for you to set up the session after he gets there. Make sure everything is as close to ready as it can be before the musician walks through the door. It’s all about creating a comfortable atmosphere where time doesn’t get wasted by hanging around waiting.

Getting Ready for Mixing

Mix with the end in mind. It’s so much easier to stay on track during mixing if you’ve put some thought into where you’re going. Think about what you want to accomplish from the song you’re mixing, and plan that perfect mix.

Think About the Arrangement – Arrangement is the heart of music production. Is the song a sparsely arranged guitar and vocal piece, or a thumping electronic dance song with 30 clashing synth parts? The more instruments a song has, the less space each one can have in the spectrum.

Just by analyzing the arrangement you’ll get a better overview over how drastically you have to EQ, how much space each instrument can occupy, and generally how much work you have to put into gluing it all together.

Use Groups – Setting up subgroups for instruments can simplify your mix substantially. If you have a few different guitar parts, for example, group them together after you’ve mixed them all individually. That way you can easily control them as a group instead of moving five different faders each time.

Set up sends – It’s also a good idea to set up all the sends you’ll need. Create a few aux sends and insert your favorite reverbs or delays. If you know you’ll be using a few standard things, like a plate reverb for your snare drum, or a short delay for your guitars, then setting them up before you start mixing makes the mixing process faster and more fluid.

Plan Ahead and Pre-Produce

You might think music production is this big process of sitting down and thinking very hard about the session. In a way that’s true, but don’t think about it so formally.

Pre-production is simple awareness. It’s about being aware of what you’re going to do, and planning for the session at hand. During mixing, it’s just about thinking about how you want your mix to sound. Think about the structure and how you can set up a session for an easier workflow. Pre-production is simply an integral part of the music production process.

The Cheshire Cat had it right all along. If you don’t know where you’re going, then it doesn’t really matter which you go, you’ll eventually get there. But if you plan ahead, everything will become so much simpler.

Comment Time: How do you approach pre-production? Give us your tips and thought process in the comments.

Image by: Express Monorail