Congratulations! You just landed your first session gig. Since you are getting paid (even if you’re doing it as a favor to a friend and being paid in pizza), it’s important to come prepared to lay down some awesome guitar tracks and be as professional as possible. Though it may seem intimidating, preparing for a session gig isn’t all too different than getting ready for a live performance. Here are some tips to help make sure that your recording session goes smoothly.
1. Change your strings. While some players prefer the sound of old strings, new strings tend to stay in tune better, so long as you allow them some time to settle in. Change your strings a few days before the session and your tone on the day of the recording will be bright and lively.
2. Tune up. This means adjusting your guitar's intonation
to make sure that it plays in tune all the way up and down the neck. Make sure you complete this step after changing your strings. Your guitar recording is going to be immortalized on tape; that one note high on the neck that is slightly out of tune might drive you crazy forever (and anger the producer!)
While you’re at it, be sure to check your string height to make sure there are not any strings that are noticeably buzzing because of action set too low. It’s not so much of a big deal if you can hear fret buzz when the guitar is unplugged, but more important to address if you can hear it through the amp.
3. Get there on time, and preferably early. Musicians are not generally known for their punctuality. Be the exception to the rule and plan to get there early, so by the time the session starts your amp is already set up and your tubes (and hands) are warmed up. You do not want to be rushing to haul your gear from your car to the studio when the engineer and other band members are ready to go.
4. Be prepared. If you are given material to learn before the session, be sure to take the time to thoroughly learn the parts and song structure. This will minimize the number of takes you’ll need to do to nail your parts. Feel free to take notes or charts and bring them with you to the session in case you need a refresher. There’s no shame in bringing a cheat sheet!
If the session is less formal, for instance, if you are sent a rough demo and told you are free to modify the parts, try to at least have a basis or starting point for what you want to play, so you’re not stuck noodling during playback. It pays to rehearse!
5. Make sure all your equipment works. You know the old adage - when nothing can go wrong, it will. Make sure all your instrument, speaker, and pedalboard patch cables are in perfect working order, and if they are not, replace them. If your guitar amp is making some weird noises, have it tuned up by a professional, or rent a replacement if you don’t have time to do so. Even if your amp is in perfect working order, it doesn’t hurt to bring some extra parts, such as spare 12AX7 tubes
(if you use a tube amplifier) and fuses. In addition, bringing extra essentials, such as straps, strings, and cables will ensure that any unexpected studio mishaps or bizarre equipment failures (ever had a strap break on you?) will quickly be rectified.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring your picks, preferably a varying selection of them to achieve different tones, and don’t forget to have fun!
Session musicians, what’s your routine before heading into the studio? Let us know in the comments!
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