5 Tips to Save on Recording Costs for Your Band
Getting high-quality recordings can easily get expensive.
With studio production, studio time, mixing, mastering, and other expenses involved in the process, things can easily push your costs into the high thousands if you aren’t careful about how you use your time.
So, how can you create your next album or EP without having to drop thousands of dollars on recording and production expenses?
My band recently recorded our first EP. Thanks to the experience of my band members, here are some things we were able to do during the process that saved us lots of money.
1. Program your drums
Depending on the sound you want for your drums, programming them in advance with tools like EZ Drummer or Superior Drummer can easily save hours of time in the studio over recording live drums.
Not only that, but it can also save time on the mixing and mastering end. Drums require a lot of time spent on mixing to make them sound good in a song.
For many genres like rock or heavy metal, programmed drums are widely used not only because of the cost saving aspect but because the genre requires the impactful sound of a sample more than the feel of a human.
Programmed drums are even standard in some heavy metal sub-genres like metalcore.
For other genres (most genres, actually) like folk, indie rock, or acoustic songs, many musicians, producers, and recording engineers argue that programmed drums don’t contain enough feel to fit their style.
If you’re interested in hearing what programmed drums sound like verses real drums, check out this video that goes over this concept in detail. The comparison starts at 4:55.
My take on it is this:
If you’re on a budget, your producer can make programmed drums sound good.
If you want to save the money, get some drum programming software (my band uses EZ Drummer), find and choose your own drum samples from sources you can find online, and program them yourself before your studio session so that all you have to record is guitar and vocals.
This will easily save lots of time and money and dramatically reduce the cost to produce your record.
Whatever your genre, programming drums in advance is worth a shot. You can always replace the samples with a live takes later if you change your mind.
2. Record guitars at home to be re-amped later
Instead of waiting until your studio session to track guitars, you can record them at home and bring in the DI files to the studio for reamping.
To do this, all you need is the following:
- Some recording software like ProTools, Garage Band, or Reaper.
- A DI box to capture the raw sound of the guitar.
- An audio interface that allows you to connect your guitar into your computer.
- An amp simulator.
This way, you can play your guitar into the DI box at home and bring the files to the studio.
Once your audio engineer has the DI files, he can run your guitar signal through an amp and pedal chain to be added to the song.
A mixing engineer can do this as well, but often times, your vocalist will want to have full band instrumentals to sing along to.
If you decide to record guitars at home, make sure you have a clean signal going into your DI box. Even a small hum can hurt your tone in a big way when amplified.
As a guitar player myself, I’ve found that the only downside to recording into a DI box at home first and re-amping through a different setup later is that, because you can’t feel the amp, your playing won’t react to it as naturally as it would if you simply record through the setup you intend to use.
Listeners may not notice this, but when recording lead parts or guitar solos, it’s nice to make changes to your technique to adapt to the textures of the amp you’re playing through.
3. Make your closet into a vocal booth
Vocals are what you’re probably going to spend the most time on, so if you can record them at home instead of in the studio, you can save a significant amount on the cost of studio sessions.
The thing with vocals, however, is that there’s a lot involved in the process of capturing them to make sure they sound good.
Not only do you need a great singer and the right microphone for that singer, but you also need a good acoustic space within which to capture the performance.
Basically, to capture vocals at home, you’ll need to make your closet into a vocal booth.
Here’s how to do that.
- Create space– You want to make sure you have enough space for the microphone and a human. Additionally, you want your spaces to be flat and ready for soundproofing, which means you may need to remove some shelves and racks.
- Make sure you have light – You’ll need some light in the room so the performer can see what he or she is doing. If you don’t have this already, you may need to contact an electrician to assist you in making this happen.
- Soundproof the area– Before you set up your equipment, you want to make sure the area is properly soundproofed. You have a few options for this.
- Set up your equipment– When setting it up, make sure it can reach your soundboard. Here’s a list of things you’ll need:
- Microphone stand
- Pop shield
- XLR cable
- Music stand
- A stool
- Test the booth– Before you finalize anything, make some test recordings and make sure they sound how you want them to. If not, adjust the amount and placement of the foam until you’re satisfied.
Setting up a recording space in your closet and buying the proper equipment might end up costing more than the studio time for your album would. So instead of looking at it as a way to save money now, think of this as a more long-term investment to help offset the cost of all future recordings.
4. Use an online mixing and mastering service
If you’re able to program your drums and record guitar and vocals at home, there might be no need for you to book a studio session at all.
Instead, once you have your recordings ready, you can send your music off to an online mixing and mastering service that has the tools necessary to turn your at-home recordings into a masterpiece.
Make sure the service you choose has what you need. If you want a real amp sound from your guitar tracks, make sure they have the space and equipment necessary to make this happen.
In any case, if you record everything at home and use an online service that offers professional results, you eliminate the need for travel and scheduling among your band members.
5. If you need to go to a studio, finish your songs first
If you can’t do everything yourself and need to go to a recording studio, make sure you finish all of your songwriting before your studio session.
When your songs aren’t finished before a studio session, you risk having to deal with writer’s block and arguments with your band members about how to structure a song, which can result in hours of studio time that could have otherwise been used for tracking.
By finishing your songs beforehand, you’ll avoid unnecessary expenses.
In addition to having finished songs, practice your songs until you can play through them with ease.
During my first studio session, I didn’t practice as much as I should have and ended up having to track parts multiple times, which cost my band time and money.
Recording puts your playing under a microscope, so it’s absolutely necessary to pick apart your technique and fix seemingly small issues before they become more amplified problems during tracking.
Nick Rubright is the digital marketing specialist for mixandmastermysong.com – an online mixing and mastering service. He has a passion for playing the guitar and writing awesome blog posts – like this one.