Preparing To Record

What is the most important thing you can bring to a recording studio?

You can ask a lot of amateur and professional musicians, engineers and producers and hear just as many answers. Now this is a trick question because most people will suggest a certain piece of gear. Like a Manley compressor, a great guitar, a favorite mic or preamp - you name it. My answer to the question is, "A great song that is well rehearsed."

We have all heard a favorite band make a terrible follow up album to something that was great. If you listen closely to the sound, it may be recorded, mixed and even performed better than the "great album" but what usually falls short is the quality of the songs. A lot of people using today's home recording technology will jump in and record a "final version" of a song when they write it. It's very tempting just press record and you can do it.

What I have found from recording the latest No Walls album "World Abroad" (available on is that it works better to play these songs for a while as a band and maybe play them in front of actual living, breathing human beings. When the songs feel really comfortable and you don't have to think about them when you play, that's a good time to start recording. There is a certain unspoken communication that a band develops only from playing together.

About 5 years ago I started recording a CD with a singer and we recorded the tracks as we were writing the songs and later had other musicians overdub parts. It turned out to be complete hell working like this. I spent about 30 hours working on one solo that never sounded as good as some of my first take solos on the last No Walls CD. The singer spent 4 months working on a vocal to one song. When it was done it was lacking focus and emotion. Now I have put together a real band with this singer and we are in the process of writing music for an upcoming CD. We have recorded ideas and songs as demos so we can listen to the arrangements and remember everything but mostly we are playing these songs and developing them naturally and will play them at gigs before we do a "final recording." I know the results will be much better and the recording process will be fun and not painful.

Take 400 never sounds good - remember that statement. The more time you spend in preproduction, the better everything will come out. At that time you can experiment with different sounds, play solos a million different ways, and if the ideas are good you will remember them.

When we recorded the last No Walls album my '68 Fender Bassman died on me [that will happen to 40 year old amps] and it took 3 months for the repair place to find parts and fix it. During that time we wrote and rehearsed and got several songs polished that I did not want to record without that amp. When the amp was ready, we laid down several songs right away as first takes that had polish and energy. We were chomping at the bit to do it and it felt great.

One way I like to prepare for an improvised solo is to turn on my drum machine to a beat like the song and improvise in the key that the solo is in for several days and get really comfortable with the beat, tempo and key then when the red light is on all the homework is done and I just go for it. That always gets the best results.

Mike O'Malley's instrumental power trio is called No Walls and their latest CD is entitled "World Abroad". He has been playing guitar for almost 30 years and graduated from Music Tech in Minneapolis in 1988.

O'Malley currently has 45 guitar students that range in all ability levels and styles.

Mike O'Malley

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