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The Importance of Pre-Production

Transcript
Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

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Okay, so today, I just want to have one of those talking videos where we just talk about pre-production. Now, I thought about this as a subject, because it seems like a lot of the questions I get asked about production would be answered with greater pre-production going in.

Now, you don’t always have the luxury of a lot of pre-production. Especially in this day and age when I’m working with bands from all over the world, I don’t get to spend a week with them in their home town of Poland, or Germany, or Spain, or England, or wherever they’re coming in from, so quite often what I have them do is I go into a rehearsal room, and I have them work on the songs, and then they send me an mp3 of the tracks. Mp3 of the songs. Then I critique them, I work on tempos, arrangements, keys, you name it.

But to me, if I can do as much of that before they actually arrive, the easier it’s going to be when I’m here. Now, obviously, I can do a lot of things on the fly. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I can do a lot of things on the fly, but I prefer to get as much work done before hand. I mean, even just as simple as doing song selection. You know, if an artist turns up for a week’s amount of work with you, and in that one week, you’ve got to go through 30 songs to pick the best five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten songs, that’s a lot of work.

So the more pre-production you do, the better. Now, pre-production for me falls into two distinct categories. Number one, it’s working on the songs, but most importantly, it is choosing the songs, and your job as a producer is to get involved in choosing the right songs, because if an artist does have three times more songs available to them that you’re going to record, you need to go through those and make sure you choose the best song.

You know, you can do the best production in the world. You can do the most incredible guitar tone, you can do all the booms and crashes and exploding choruses you like, but if the chorus isn’t that good, it doesn’t really matter how big you make it. It’s got to have that hook that you want, or it’s got to have something about it which makes it compelling, and your job as a producer is not only to record material really, really well, but it’s to help and aid the artist record the best songs.

Now, obviously, there’s a lot to that, but if you’re working with artists remotely, then get them to send you mp3s from their rehearsals. Get them to send you acoustic guitar/vocals of the song so you can hear the song in its purest form, and you know, because sometimes, bad demoes make it worse for you to hear the song, when I get asked all the time about, “Do I want to hear the demoes?” I say, of course, and they say, “Well give us a couple of weeks and we’ll make some demoes.”

I’m like, “No, no, no, no. Don’t do that. Don’t spend two weeks going into a studio recording demoes. Just go into a rehearsal room and throw up a stereo pair of microphones and record the live band rehearsing.” Because sometimes, an artist can tie themselves in knots doing tons and tons of demo work, and they can hide the song underneath layers of guitar overdubs, and keyboards, and stuff like that. The initial stage of doing this, when you first hear the song, for me at least, I want to hear it in its rawest form.

An acoustic guitar/vocal. A piano/vocal. A loop vocal. Whatever it is that’s the purest essence of the song, and then have the band go in once you’ve got the arrangement right. Have the band work on it. Or if it’s a solo artist of course, that’s probably all you’re going to get is a vocal or acoustic.

But pre-production. Song selection. Number one, select the right songs. Number two, get the tempos, get the keys, and get the arrangements together, and whether that’s doing it remotely or it’s doing it one on one, if you’ve got where you live — if you have in your studio a large enough live room a band can rehearse in, or there’s locally a rehearsal room, go down two or three times a week and see the band rehearse.

What I did recently with Robert Jon and the Wreck is they rehearse miles away from me. Like, 60 or 70 miles away, and what I would do is I went down to one rehearsal, they ran through the set, we picked a couple of songs to work on, we worked specifically on those songs, and then let them rehearse on their own on all the ideas I’d given them, and then I went back and checked on those ideas and then worked on some new songs and gave them new ideas for that.

We did that over about three weeks, and I only had to go to rehearsal three times for two to three hours each time. So it’s not a huge amount of commitment, but it’s worth it, because you can go in there and you can work with a band on the ideas of the song, the drum patterns, the arrangement, whatever it might be, the keys again, the tempos, have them work on it. Give them a couple of days to practice it, and then come back and see the results. If you’re good, move on and choose other songs.

But I’m telling you, I have learned so much from watching others. At my old rehearsal studio that I co-owned, Rick Reuban would come in and do pre-production, and he would come in and do pre-production with the Chili Peppers for months on end. Whatever criticism he has about not going and spending that much time in the studio, I will say, from what I can see from him working with the Chili Peppers is he would go in there and do exactly what I just described.

He’d come in for a day, he’d listen down to what they did, he’d give them pointers of things he wanted to change, groove ideas, arrangement ideas, and then he’d leave them alone for a few days, and then he’d come back in and work with them again and see how those ideas had come along. Give them finer points or move along to different songs.

He did that over a few months on two or three albums, and those albums are obviously massively successful. So I do believe that pre-production is the key. Now, pre-production can be one-on-one or it can be remote. However you choose to do it, or however more importantly you have to do it, I strongly advise it.

Obviously it’s not just bands. Solo singers, the same kind of thing. Spend time choosing the songs and then working on the songs remotely if necessary before you record.

Okay, so please give me your — give me examples of what you’ve done down below. I’d love to hear your comments, I’d love to have a discussion about it. Give me your experiences, and any tips you’ve learned is great to share amongst us all. I really appreciate it. And of course, as ever, subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com and sign up for the email list and you’ll get a bunch of free goodies and entered for competitions, and all kinds of fun stuff.

So thank you ever so much for watching!

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.
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