This Article Originally Published March 2000

by Kenny Kerner

The first step in the recording process is called Pre-Production. This is where you work out the kinks in each of the songs and you practice rehearsing it without vocals first (to get the feeling of recording) and then with vocals. This is usually done under the guidance of a producer. If you plan on rehearsing just the drums and bass first, then rehearse the songs that way and be prepared.

It's always a good idea to start shopping for a studio when you begin the pre-production stage of preparation. That way, you have a deadline and something to look forward to. If you're recording in your home or garage, it's still a good idea to schedule things so you set some kind of goal.

Your first attempt at studio business should always be to try and get it for free—as a favor from a friend, let's say. Second best is to make a "spec" deal. "Spec" stands for speculation. This means that the studio owner believes in the band and the music and will allow you to record for free—for the time being. Usually, the artist must still pay for all tape costs and sometimes, for the recording engineer, as well.

Then, if you are lucky enough to get a record deal, you pay the studio back for their costs. If you fail to make a deal, the studio speculated and lost. With that in mind, here is your official "spec" checklist:

The real key here is to always try and own your own masters—whether analog or digital. Very few in the industry today own theirs. Part of a major record deal is that the label you're signing to will own your masters. You do not want to begin an indie career and give away the prized possession from Day One.

Spec deals are tricky, at best, because both parties make up the rules and terms of the deal. Be smart. Consult an attorney before signing or agreeing to anything. Here are some things to insist on:

Always keep in mind, that paying customers come first, so you're not gonna get preferential treatment. On the other hand, if you continuously get bumped, why make a deal in the first place?

Many times, the key to getting a spec deal is to find an engineer who is searching for a band to produce. That could be all the incentive he needs! Have a good session!

[The above was excerpted from the book "Going Pro" written by Kenny Kerner and published by Hal Leonard corporation.]