How to … make the most of your studio session

Producer du jour Dan Carey gives us his top tips on making the most of the studio experience…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 4 Mar 2015
  • min read
Producer, songwriter and label owner Dan Carey is very much the man of the moment in the world of independent sound.

Over the last year his name is one increasingly connected with leftfield auteurs. Dan’s received plaudits from the Mercury Prize judges with Kate Tempest on her album Everybody Down and Nick Mulvey’s First Mind. At the same time, he’s busied himself with work on releases from future indie stars All We Are, Boxed In and JUCE.

His Speedy Wunderground imprint, a label devoted to limited vinyl releases, has helped signpost his recent activity.

We quizzed Dan to get his advice on how bands can best equip themselves for entering the studio and words of wisdom for new producers…

Finish writing before going to the studio.

You want to be sure of certain things. Sometimes lyrics have been left and a recording session is probably not the place to work them out.

Don’t over-polish your songs

I don’t tend to demo things to a really advanced level before entering the studio, as that in your mind tends to fix how they should be. It means you don’t necessarily get the best out of a studio environment where you can experiment. It’s quite good to have an idea of the song but not too much.

Leave room for musical spontaneity

I like it when bands come to the studio without a recorded version of the song - they’ve got words and chord changes written down but nothing is set in stone.

Working with Willy Mason was a good example - we’d done an album called Carry On - he’d written all the songs but had no recordings so it was really fluid. He’d start playing the song so we could change key and tempo as and when.

I’ve had some sessions where I’ve ended up trying to recreate a better quality demo. That’s sometimes a good thing but if you’re going into a nice studio with lots of instruments, it’s a shame to just recreate what you’ve made on your computer.

Never add too much to your song

It depends so much on what you’re recording. But if you’re working on a traditional song, one way I like to work is to put the minimal bones down of the track first, then do a convincing final vocal take. Then decide what else is needed in the track.

Without a guide vocal, it’s very tempting to keep putting in more bits and pieces. Remember, if the vocal is taking as much space as it will do in the finished items, it’s easier to avoid putting in extra parts and layers that aren’t really needed.

Record live

It’s the not the same for each project but I personally like recording as much music live as possible. What I mean by that is people playing together. I think if you’re recording a band, if they can do it, (and not all can) it’s good to have the core sound going down together. It makes things sound more like a performance.

Treat each song differently

Listen carefully to the song you’re working on and decide on the most suitable approach. You shouldn’t try and enforce an approach on something that doesn’t really want that. Sometimes I want to make a clean, quantised, sterile recording. Other days I might want to record via mike onto 12 inch tape. It depends from project to project. But you need to understand about what you’re trying to do from the start.

Be comfortable in your environment

My most important tip is do whatever you have to do to make the room right for recording. By that I mean, not make it too uptight, especially if you’re going into a big professional studio. Say if you’re working with a label and they hire you to go into a big studio, sometimes everyone feels too nervous. I try and do everything at where I feel most comfortable.

Check out our previous interview with Dan about his experiences working with Mercury Prize nominated Kate Tempest.