It’s day 11 of 31 Days to Better Recordings, and it’s time to change gears a bit. Now that we’ve talked about recording equipment, we’re going to dive into technique. This should be fun. 🙂


If you’ve hung around Home Studio Corner for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about pre-production from time to time. I think it’s probably one of the most important steps of the entire recording process.

In fact, in the Production Club, my 12-week training course, we spend the entire first week dealing with pre-production.

Pre-production is the planning phase of the recording process. It’s where you determine things like arrangement, instrumentation, tempo, etc. Seems simple enough, but you can save yourself a LOT of time and wasted takes by knocking these details out at the beginning.

Recommended reading:

Make Sure the Song is Good…FIRST!

All the pre-production and planning in the world can’t make a terrible song better. Live with a song for a few days or weeks. Record a quick demo, listen to it in your car. Let the song work itself out in your mind before committing things to tape. You may find that the song needs some major overhauling before it’s ready for recording.

Day 11 Challenge

Do you have a pre-production process? Share it with us below. If you don’t, come up with one and THEN share it with us. 🙂


26 Responses to “Day 11 – Pre-Production [31DBR]”

  1. Travis Whitmore

    So, I’m just getting around to playing catch up with the 31 days challenge, but I love the pre-production process. To me, this is where the creativity comes in. Personally, I like to have the session and levels set even a day before I’m going to begin tracking. This allows me to simply “plug and play” without the worrying about anything else.

  2. Jens

    I´m in songwriting again since 15 years. After this long break much has changed for me. Today I am a single musician without a band. I can not discuss my ideas with colleagues or working on an idea with them together as I did this 15 years ago. Today I´ve got my little homestudio in my bedroom. That was unthinkable a few years ago because unaffordable for me. Now I need to familiarize myself with the technical possibilities of my homestudio, so I can use it to compose and record my songs. That´s the reason for me, why I´m in that series of articles here on this webpage. So as I started to work on my first ideas, for me there was and there is no difference between songwriting and pre-production. I started to work on my songs by directly recording the first ideas on my guitar into my DAW.

  3. Arjun

    Some pre-production methods I have used in the past is meeting with the artists and trying to get to know what they hope to accomplish and what their vision is, so that I can meet it and hopefully excel at it, since they are the paying customers. I try to clear up anything that may not be, as far as communication goes.

    To simplify my workflow, I have created Pro Tools templates, with routing already configured, with easy to read I/O labels, plugins (inactivated until needed to save resources), tracks, headphone routing with pre-fader sends ready, etc.

  4. Scott

    I am a big fan of Joe’s preproduction part of the Production Club. I have, however, been using a different setup on my current project to start things off.

    This one I wanted to write as I record in preparation for the RPM Challenge in February. So I start by opening a songwriting template that I got from Graham at I then block off two hours where I work on this one song. I normally will start with a guitar part and record that to a random drum loop in Addictive Drums.

    I move on from that track to building a solid set of loops. After drums comes a bass line played on my Keystation through Scarbee Prebass. I then start to build the song with extra guitars and then vocals.

    I’ve started doing this in a sense to get full demos out of the way before sitting down and doing a full recording of the song. And if all is well, I’ll already have a midi drum and bass part for the track.

  5. Edith Ballistics

    I always start with MIDI tracks, so editing tempo and arrangement is easy:
    1st track – Ghost Piano track to click or drum loop
    2nd track – usually bass
    3rd-5th tracks – usually drum parts
    6th and on — wherever the spirit leads me
    Usually the ghost piano is deleted or overwritten somewhere during the process
    Then I create a tempo map and do any editing to arrangement before any audio is recorded

    • Joe R.

      Thats what I am finding works best for me also. I never thought about a TEMPO Map…. Going to have to try that.

      • Edith Ballistics

        I frequently compose a rough track in GarageBand, then export to Logic Audio where I can create a master Temp track, especially if there are significant tempo changes, ritards, fermatas, etc.

  6. Preshan

    Making sure the song is good is very important!

    I sort out tempo, arrangement, song structure, track list etc. in pre-production. It definitely is a big time saver when it comes to tracking, because you know exactly what to do.

  7. Larry Couch

    I’m still trying to get past the recording ideas phase. But I will say this: I used to think that I only had good ideas when listening to other people’s recordings, but I find if I record an idea and listen to it in the car or while doing stuff at home, I can come up with decent ideas. Sitting down with something and hammering it usually stifles the creativity.

  8. Bob Sorace

    I’ll have a rough idea of what I want to do and put down a drum loop with an acoustic to capture the idea. After that, all convention goes out the window. For my songs I’ll have differant versions of verses, choruses or whatever else, and just make whatever I’m feeling at the moment active. I feel that since I’m really just doing this for my enjoyment, I’m going to take the time to really play around. I’ll have an instrumental version of a song, along with a vocal version where the first verse pounds it with drums and bass and guitar and yet another version where there’s lite guitar with strings and vocals.

    I know this isn’t really productive and I need to commit to an idea but since I’m not paying for studio time and I LOVE to experiment with different ideas within the same song, I’m going to continue to go with this method for now.

    But keep in mind I know it’s not the best way to go about it and I’ve regreted going forward without a clear vision a few times.

    But hey, I’m still learning how to use all of this crazy equipment!

  9. Cush

    Until a few months ago, my pre-production consisted of riffing and writing lyrics for hours and then, after a year or so had gone by…throw some of that stuff together. Needless to say, I’d been working on a “solo album” of Punk/Metal/Rock type music for about 6 years and I’d gotten a bunch of half-written songs.

    What I’ve realized now, is that if I want to get my songs to have that epic feeling and make the listener FEEL something…I’m going to have to think them out a lot better. So I now write drums parts and bass parts as I write the song on guitar and vocal melodies. Then I go back and start working on switching up transitions, adding solos/harmony sections, and tempo and signature changes. It’s amazing how much more dynamic my songs are now that I’ve started writing a complete rough demo and then filling it out from there.

  10. Frank Adrian

    I almost always have the arrangement down in my head and played a few times on an acoustic guitar before I press the record button. It may take a couple of days to figure out exactly what to do, but I almost always have a lead sheet for the song structure and a mental road map for instrumentation and dynamics laid out before I start.

    Next, I’ll usually record against a quickly constructed MIDI drum loop and single guitar part to give me a second chance to make sure that’s really what I want. If it’s not, I’ll scrap the arrangement and start over with minimal time lost.

    Finally, no matter where I am at in a song, I’m always willing to scrap a part or add a new part. I’m also willing to play slice-and-dice with an arrangement to get what I want. And, if all else fails, you cut your losses and go back to the drawing board.

  11. Bouben

    As I do experimental electronical music I listen to my WIP tracks many times. Sometimes so many times that I start to hate a track and leave it. It takes me months so get a track done in a quality I want to.

  12. mgjr73

    I’m pretty much the same as most of the others here… I prefer to play song ideas on acoustic and record it on whatever is in arm’s reach… mp3 player, cassette tape recorder or my phone. There are times when I’m driving and I suddenly get a tune in my head, I grab my phone and start humming into it and adding production notes-to-self, like “okay this next line should be distorted guitars…hhmmmm hmhmmmhmm hmmmmmm…”

  13. Stanley Mishler, Jr.

    9 times out of 10 my songs start on acoustic guitar and get a basic arrangement with that and vocals. Then I will record a rough demo on my iPhone voice memo app. It’s actually pretty good sound wise for this and completely portable to listen in the car or whereever. Then I usually sit down with a pen and paper to map out a timeline for instruments ( what is needed and when they might come in) then I play it on acoustic or send the rough demo to my band and we spend as much time needed to work it out trying aarangements and different guitars basses and drums before I ever push the record button. Once we r satisfied then we record it.

  14. Matt

    I’m taking Joe’s Production Club course and it has been a huge help so far!! Thanks Joe!!

    • Matt

      I just want to add that, what I’ve started doing was to use a basic drum loop once I’ve worked out what tempo is best. Then, I play my acoustic along with that until I have the song arrangement that I think is best. While doing that, it also is helping me play the guitar more smoothly and with cleaner chord transitions. Then, once I’ve done that, I go into DP and set the tempo in the conductor track, get my click set up and record a scratch guitar and vocal track. I listen to it a few times to be sure I like the arrangement and then I started tracking the “real” guitar parts, bass, et cetera. This also helped me because it made me think about what instruments I’d be using for the song BEFORE I started to track the song. So far, this is working out really well for me.

  15. Joe R.

    I have learned a lot from Joe concerning Pre-Pro

    I no longer go for the Record button when Arranging a song. I will sit with my acoustic guitar and arrange the song before I even fire up the Studio. As I am arranging, I watch the clock. I try to get the song completed around 3.5 minutes. I find this helps me focus on whats needed and eliminates the waste.

    Step 2: I start a MIDI drum loop and edit to give me a basic feel of the song. I try to get as much energy as I can. I find if the drums are nd mechanical and dry, then my performance is mechaical and dry.

    Step 3. I plug in the acoustic and hook up a mic on two seperate tracks. I just record the song the way I am feeling it. These will both be replaced later.

    Step 4. Start laying down tracks. Starting with Bass.

    Some of the best recordings I have made started with a glorified click track.
    What I do is:
    1. Edit a drum loop
    2. edit a MIDI bass part
    3. Edit strings or Piano/Keys
    Basically build the song with MIDI to get a good feel for the song. Then when I lay down the Actual tracks, it feels more like I am jaming with a band.
    This only takes me about an hour, and I can do it on my laptop away from the actual studio. Sometimes the MIDI stuff works so well that I leave it in the recording. And it also gets me playing diffrnt then I normaly would. Its a good tool.

    • Joe R.

      Also with MIDI you can change the TEMPO. As soon as the first Audio track is layed down you are commited to that tempo.

  16. Matt Needham

    I create MIDI versions of my arrangements for almost every song I wrote before recording it. My composition program of choice is Powertabs, but that is because I am primarily a guitar player and I have become very comfortable with it. I know there are nicer programs out there, like Finale, but Powertabs allows me to create quick demos of my arrangements. I find it is much easier to create a computerized demo instead of recording one.

    • Joe R.

      I am liking the MIDI arrangements also. Its a very powerful tool. It is a tool worthy of digging into… even if you dont play keys, use the mouse…. I DO! and it works great!

  17. Harry

    I Really don’t have a pre-production process and that’s why it takes forever to finish something… Even though I’m generally very organized, when it comes to recording I enjoy things too much and I just begin recording without a plan… Of course finishing something is an issue that I have to work on.

    I’ll get back as soon as I come up with a pre-production process to share. 😀



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