Just this week I started working on an EP I’m producing for an artist friend of mine named Whitney Winkler. She’s ridiculously talented, and I’m very excited about the project.

Once you’ve locked in a project, what do you do next? Schedule a recording session and start tracking guitars, drums, etc.?

Slow down, turbo. You’re getting ahead of yourself.

Don’t forget about Pre-Production.

Are you familiar with pre-production? Do you do pre-production on your projects? Do you think it’s dorky? Let me tell you why I think pre-production is just as important — if not MORE important — than the recording, editing, and mixing stages of the pre-production process.

Aside from that, pre-production is fun.

So what IS pre-production?

Pre-production is simply the planning process for the album. It’s the part where you analyze the song(s) and decide on things like tempo, arrangement, and instrumentation. I cover all of this in-depth in Week 1 of the Production Club.

The whole idea behind pre-production is giving yourself a sense of direction. If you dive headlong into a recording project without every giving any serious thought into what you want the end result to sound like, you’ll likely waste a lot of time in the studio trying to figure it out. Or even worse, you’ll want to make major changes to the arrangement of a song after you’ve already recorded a lot of the parts. It’s back to the drawing board…

I don’t think anyone would disagree that having a plan is always a good idea, so I won’t harp on that anymore.

“Pre-Producers” Have More Fun

What I love about pre-production is how fun it is. The possibilities are endless. You’ve not yet committed to anything, so can make all the changes you want.

Pre-production is heart of the record. It’s where you decide what you want the song to sound like. The rest of the recording process is simply working out how to make that vision into a reality.

So, back to the EP I’m producing. Whitney actually lives in Kentucky, about an hour and a half away, so we can’t just get together to work on the music very easily. So…my wife and I had her and her husband over for dinner.

After dinner, I ran to the studio, grabbed a mic and a long mic cable, and set the mic in the middle of our living room. Whitney pulled out her guitar, sat on the floor and played through each of the songs. I recorded everything in Pro Tools.

Is the sound quality amazing? Nah. But her performance was. She’s so talented, and having her play and sing her songs in a comfortable environment like that was the perfect way to kick off the recording process.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be listening to these songs over and over, in their raw, natural form. By the time we have our first tracking session, I’ll have a notebook full of ideas for each song, and I’ll have a very specific plan for how I want to approach each song.

That’s not to say things can’t change during the recording process. I’m sure we’ll come up with things to add as we get further down the road, but having a plan and a vision will help guide our efforts.

You can never go back once you start adding all sorts of stuff to a song. Be sure to spend some time with the song in its purest form before you start adding all sorts of stuff to it. You’ll be glad you did.

What do you think? What pre-production steps do you take? Leave a comment below. I’ll need at least 10 comments before I post tomorrow’s podcast. 🙂

Note: I know that yesterday I promised a video tour of my studio…well…yesterday my iMac died, so my studio is in disarray right now. Once it’s all up and running, I promise I’ll post something.

[Photo by WorldIslandInfo.com]

  • Matthew mplus

    Thanks joe, I just stared with u today, and am a beginer in production field, can it be recorded as an acapela with an MP3 or any device?

    • Absolutely. Lots of people do pre-production using the built-in audio recorder on their iPhone. 🙂

  • Good post Joe. 🙂

  • GlenK

    Joe, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple weeks now and I must say you have greatly inspired me. For me, pre-production with one or two band mates really makes it a blast. Bouncing ideas off each other, provided you all get along, can take a song to a completely new level. Case in point. I’ve been working with some friends on a CD project for some time. Initially, we tracked the accoustic guitar and vocal just so we can get a feel for the songs. By the time we were done throwing ideas around, a couple songs completely changed from say slow to upbeat or country to rock. Bottom line, pre-production is a MUST.

  • Yeah, I just let it roll. Again, this has nothing to do with the final versions. I’ll create sessions when we’re getting ready to record the real deal.

  • Joseph J.

    Joe, did you just let the tape roll while she played through all of her songs or did you create a new PT session for each song? I imagine you didn’t want to interrupt what probably was a private intimate performance in your home!

  • Sorry about the iMac. Was it a new machine?
    I think I know how you feel.
    The other day I wrote a reply to your post about backing up. But after I got a new C2d 27″ iMac with only firewire 800 and no matching cable I`ve been having trouble backing up. And whadayanow, last friday, my only FW800 disk died, taking with it the last 4 months of work. Luckily, no paying customers work (exept a guitar solo). but my own bands demos, various ideas and snipets and stuff.

    So after running dual backups for 2 years, i go for 4 months with only one drive and that`s when it dies.

    Hope you didn`t loose anything important in your iMac death.

    Stian

  • Smurf

    “you can’t figure something out unless you spend the time to try to figure it out!”

    This is the best line I have seen on this sight so far!

    • Ethan

      Haha thanks Smurf! It’s weird because I’ve done projects without pre-production and so the first time I really sat down to do it I literally thought that in my head! It like finally clicked that you really do need to spend that in depth time to figure stuff out…even if you don’t like it it’s totally worth the time you will have put into it!

  • Ethan

    I couldn’t agree with this post any more! Right now I’m going through pre-production with the project I’m doing and I honestly don’t know how much time I would have wasted if not for pre-pro! Stupid little stuff like “do I wait 2 or 4 bars after that first chorus until I start the second verse….or do i want this song 2 clicks faster…should there be a guitar solo here…?? ” Which all may seem super easy to figure out…but you can’t figure something out unless you spend the time to try to figure it out!

    And yeah I totally agree about how much fun pre-production can be! It’s been some of the most enjoyable times I’ve gotten to spend with the songs…can’t recommend doing it enough!

  • Your iMac DIED?!?!?! That was fast! Hope you get it sorted…

    Everything I have on my computer seems to be pre-production haha.

  • Ox

    Joe,
    Pre-Production is so paramount. I never did that for the longest time and it made a mess of things!

    It’s like setting out on vacation, car full of gas and saying your going ‘somewhere’ to relax and vacate. Well, that all grand but if you don’t have a destination in mind it makes finding the right roads and even alternate ‘scenic’ routes incredibly difficult and hard to arrive at your destination.
    Because unless your retired, your boss will probably not care if you made it to your vacation spot to relax, the weeks over and you got to get back to the daily grind.

    Can’t wait to see the studio and bummer on the computer crashing!

    Peace

  • Preshan

    Wow, thanks for the tip Joe.

    I’m starting to record an EP for some friends of mine tomorrow – they have 8 songs – and I was wondering how to tackle it in an orderly kind of way. And making some raw initial recordings is a great starting point so I can figure out how to record each one. When it comes to recording them properly though, would you record the songs one at a time, or would you say record all keyboard tracks for all 8 songs first, then move on to guitars, percussion, vocals etc.?

    • Hmm…that’s a tough question. It really depends on the band and what they’re comfortable with. Ideally your first session(s) would capture as much live performance as possible, then overdub things from there.

  • I just started working with a new client today and also wrote a blog post on pre-production. It was so funny to see yours posted the same day. Basically, my process is to:

    1. listen to the scratch demo over and over
    2. determine the “sounds like”
    3. use the “sounds like” to determine the instrumentation
    4. lock in the arrangement and tempo

    For more info: http://wp.me/pUCIn-1m

  • As a case study: I have two songs I wrote last fall. As soon as I’d finalized the lyrics, I started recording, probably investing about 15-20 hours into each. Since the, I’ve realized, oops, I want to take both a little faster, and with a different feel! I still haven’t started re-recording them, just because it’s kind of demoralizing to start from scratch.

    So, the moral is listen to Joe:) Play your song different ways, listen to it with your imagination cap on, and *only then* decide you’re ready to record.

    • Absolutely. Thanks, Neil. This is especially true when the song is fairly new. If you’ve been playing it with your band for a year, then you’ve probably worked out all the kinks. If you just finished writing it, it’s a great idea to let it simmer for a while before you commit anything to tape.

  • Godzirra! Nice…
    I too am in the “pre-pre-pre” production phase (finishing some half-written songs, etc…recording ideas as songs come together). After this phase, I’ll sit down and perform the songs into a single PT session, probably without a click track or anything. Just for listening back and thinking about/planning tempo & arrangement (electric guitar, glockenspiel, or xylophone?). This would be done before a single scratch-track or “session” is done. After that tracking to a click starts I’ll be able to push through and layer things & get through it as fast as possible.
    That’s my plan anyway. It’s extra time, sure, but a little pre-production can all but eliminate false-starts and re-dos.
    There’s an online production course I took where I saw this demonstrated really well…hmmm 😉

  • Adam

    One thing that we’ve done to enhance our vision, is try to find 2-3 songs similar in feel to each of ours to pull ideas from. Before this, we probably would have gone in and just played the parts straight, and several ideas we’ve had would have been overlooked. For example, one of the guitar parts has been reworked to be 2 guitar parts and panned to different sides. Also, it’s helped us decide where to place things space-wise, or where to double a part, etc.

    I really think that it has helped add to the sound, and gives it that feeling of layers rather than being so flat.

  • Hey Joe
    I love this idea cuz i feel like my songs change from when i’m in my room to in the studio.
    Did you use a click track or loop with her or was it totally live? Would those even be needed at all? Cuz I want to try this with a.j. but he’s gonna want to turn on a loop…and i’m sure you remember how assertive he is…

    • I would suggest NOT using a click or loop or anything. You’ll do that when you actually start recording. The recordings I did with Whitney were strictly for me to listen to. I won’t be using those recordings in the final project.

  • hi Joe, the Godzilla pic really hits the spot! lol

    i’m currently in pre-production as well, with my rock & roll project. hanging out at HSC definitely gave me a sense of direction, so thanks for this, Joe!!

    on the first month, i sat down and recorded every idea i could think of on my guitar, arranging the parts (verse, chorus, bridge). also, i figured out the title for every song, which will double as the chorus. at the end of the month, i chose the ones that sounded the most fun to qualify for the nexth phase.

    the second month (the current one) is all about lyrics and melody. i’m writing the lyrics to match the title, and the vocal melody is being done on a keyboard. that way, i’ll have a clear blueprint to invade japan -sorry, to make my record. 😛