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:

  • Always get the deal in writing.

  • Find out who owns the master tapes.

  • Lock into consecutive recording dates. Spec deals can drag on and on.

  • Find someone to produce your sessions.

  • Work out a payment structure for a good engineer.

  • Make sure the studio can't release or sell your masters.

  • Know what you're recording: A single, EP, full-length CD? What?

  • Are your recording facilities acceptable for mixing the project?

  • What's included in the deal? Extra mikes? Outboard gear? Amps?

  • Don't make any deal before seeing and hearing the studio—in person.

  • Let the owners know when things are going great. When they're not, try to resolve problems without causing a furor.

  • Leave yourself an out-clause in the contract if things go terribly wrong.

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:

  • No same-day studio cancellations.

  • Engineer cost is part of the deal. No separate payment to engineer.

  • Each session must last a minimum of eight hours.

  • You receive a weekly advance notice studio schedule for recording.

  • You must get some studio time at least 2-3 days per week.

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.]

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