Updated: Jun 5, 2021
It sounds odd to say it, but be sure that you know why you're going into the studio.
Recording? Sure, but to what end? Are you looking to put your music out through YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, iTunes, Amazon etc for people to buy as streams, CDs, videos... Looking for radio plays? Maybe you'd like to demo some of your songs for other artists to check out. Or do you just want to make an album? I mention this because so many want to make an album but haven't given any thought to what they'll do with several hundred freshly pressed and slip-cased CDs. First, have an idea who those CDs will be for and how you'll connect the two things up. Merch for live gigs, sell online... or are you after a publishing/record deal? With distribution?
Are you ready? A big question. Unless you're under a development contract with a label investing in you (and don't forget that's generally two way financial traffic), you don't want to be going into the studio with a handful of ideas you need to work on, with possible songs you haven't actually written yet. You need a set of songs that you know backwards, that are ready to be laid down. Further development can happen in the studio, and almost always does, but from that springboard of a fully formed song set. Studio time is expensive and you don't want a bunch of songs that will 'probably work out fine with some editing'. Which is not to say that editing won't be needed - it will be - and here is a thought - always go in with a drive that'll allow you to take your tracks out with you, it gives you the possibility of working on them at home. At the mixing stage you'll need to commit them to a mix engineer who will hold them until you sign off and pay up, but at the tracking stage you have that chance to edit and fine tune. Of course, this presumes you are producing yourself - either way, its info aimed at the producer. You will need a producer - if it's yourself it's an extra hat you need to wear - to look at the project through a producer's eyes, not just an artist's.
On the local scene it is more than likely that you will be self-producing and that your studio will be carrying out the tracking and the mixing. If you are a band you will need to think about issues such as playing to a click track, recording parts in isolation... or if thinking of recording all together, and it's very often how to get a band at it's best, expect to spend time with the recording engineer setting up to avoid unwanted spill from one instrument into other mics. It will often impose a discipline on your playing quite different to that you've evolved on stage playing live, and expect that there will still be a need for overdubs. Drummers will need to provide some samples for use as replacement triggers, guitarists will need not to be upset at a DI slotted in before their cherished amp... these are all methods that ensure that there are all the options for blending and tweaking your sound that - in your Producer's hat - you will want.
Then, there is publishing... this is a necessary evil for your own songs, but you can publish yourself - if you want a third hat for the project. The potential rights for any one song can be many and multinational - and it's well worth having this planned out in advance, along with determining who is credited for what - something that has broken many a band on the wheel of even just moderate success.
Lastly, in the album charts this week (physical and download) is a wholly independent, one-woman-band from Bristol with a dozen self-penned songs. Written, performed, tracked and edited, then sent out for mixing and mastering, then replicated, before being packaged and distributed with her own online marketing. Bloody well done, Laura Kidd!
Making a living out of your music is still an option - the game has changed but in some ways for the better, and it's still changing. Technology and social media are making it ever easier to get your music out there - but that also means a whole lot more people are in the game. Start planning ahead - it's an extra hat to wear, but there's a few of us around to help out with the process.