A former student of mine from Biola University recently approached me for advice as she prepared for her first recording session in a big studio. This got me fondly recalling my first legit session all those years ago…and reflecting upon the excitement, wonder, and my
ignorant bliss!

Here are some things I shared with her, and things I wish present-day Norm could go back and share with mullet-wearing Norm. :^)

Early is on time…and on time is late

It may be cliché, but that’s because it’s very solid advice in most professional contexts. The studio environment is one in which respecting peoples’ time is highly valued, and arriving early is a great way to demonstrate that you do.

Make sure your internal clock is calibrated

Solid timekeeping might be the single most important musical skill you can bring to the session as a bassist. Regular practice with a metronome will help tighten up your internal sense of time and dramatically increase the likelihood of successful results in the studio.

Err toward simplicity

It’s always preferable for the producer to ask for more notes vs. fewer. We often find ourselves recording to an empty track (click or guide drums) to which keyboards, guitars, vocals, etc., will be added later. What might not sound particularly busy early on can very easily sound cluttered once the rest of the layers are added.

Just because you might have the facility to play some crazy lick doesn’t mean that you should…

Play for the song

This goes hand in hand with the preceding point. Just because you might have the facility to play some crazy lick doesn’t mean that you should, or that the song will benefit from it. Very few things will diminish the chances of being called for future sessions as quickly as the producer discerning that you’re a “me-focused” player. Following the lead of the session recording greats, I look for a couple of moments in the tune to inject a tasteful and song-appropriate variation, then go right back to my part.

Play dynamically evenly

Dynamic range can be good (especially in the live environment), but too much of it in the studio can be problematic and a hassle for engineers and producers. My favorite feedback in the studio is when the engineer says that they just pulled up the fader and the bass is sitting nicely in the mix without a bunch of compression—which can be attributed to dynamically consistent playing. Compression then serves as an enhancement rather than
a fix.

Groove Awareness

This goes to my earlier point about calibrating your internal clock, which is a key step toward developing the ability to play well with drums. Listen to the drum part and strive to make the bass and drums sound like a unit coming at the listener. The importance of possessing a strong sense of groove in your playing can’t be overstated. Even for parts in the song where you might be playing tied whole-notes, be groove aware so that any pick up notes or embellishments can also be locked in.

And for extra credit, I’d add:

  • Be friendly, professional, collaborative, and keep it light.
  • Ensure your gear works well.
  • Turn off your cell phone.
  • If there was homework to do, make sure you’ve done it and are walking in prepared.
  • If charts are given to you when you arrive, scan them right away for any potentially challenging parts. Mentally run them while others are chatting/setting up/getting sounds. Scribble in any notes that will help you sight-read. And learn to read if you don’t!

Have a blast!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.