Music Studio Etiquette - Do’s and Don’ts for Recording Sessions

Woman recording and producing music @ Pirate Studios

In my first band as a teenager, having written our first two tracks we decided we were ready to lay them down. So we booked a studio session with an engineer that took ages to save up for. We thought we were gonna get in there and it would just flow, but in reality we were totally unprepared and ended up with two terrible recordings.

Etiquette isn’t the first word associated with music studios. As creative spaces, they often seem like places where fewer rules apply. However, one thing all professionals have in common is that when it comes to recording sessions, it’s crucial to make the most out of them. Even the biggest pop stars and their labels have to pay for recording time, so every minute you spend in the studio eats into your budget.

Moreover, when you’re renting a recording studio, it's important to remember that this is not your own private palace for the afternoon but a shared working space. Particularly if you’re working with an engineer who owns the studio, they are really the ones in charge - and I’ve never met one who’s okay with the studio getting messy.

With that in mind, here are a few do’s and don’ts to ensure you’re maximising recording sessions and making a good impression on anyone you’re working with in the studio.


Do’s Ahead of the Recording Session

1. Picking the Right Studio

The first thing you need to consider is what kind of studio fulfils your recording needs. For example, if you already have a backing track and only need to lay down vocals, you won’t need a large or expensive studio. However, if you have several musicians in your band playing multiple instruments, you’ll need a larger space. Make sure the studio is large enough for everyone and in a convenient location. Doing proper research beforehand ensures you won’t waste time and money if the studio doesn't meet your expectations.

There are a number of essentials you’ll need to look out for: an audio interface, monitor speakers, headphones, a condenser mic, and a MIDI keyboard. Both Pirate recording studio tiers offer these and you can't really call a room a music studio without them. However, you’ll need to double check whether they have a computer or whether you’ll need to bring your own laptop with a DAW installed. Another crucial thing to check is the drum kit and whether you or your drummer will indeed to bring their own skins.

Also, if you’re particularly keen on going for a raw analogue sound, does it have the analogue compressors and other outboard gear you need like a space echo for example.

Go through the equipment list and make a note of anything you arent sure of. A lot of recording sessions come with an engineer, so it's a good idea to get in touch with them to ensure you’re bringing the right things and all the gear listed/needed is in working condition.

2. Bringing the Right Gear

In addition to what the studio provides, it’s essential to bring any additional gear you need for your tracks. For example, if you want to record an electric guitar at Pirate’s studios, you’ll need to bring your own amp. It's also helpful to do a session in the studio you'll be recording in, or a similar one, to familiarise yourself with the equipment without the pressure of recording. Alternatively, consider booking some extra time ahead of the session proper to ensure you can get set up properly.

Knowing how to set up the gear beforehand will save you time during the actual session. Make sure your cables are laid out, your pedalboard is set up properly and you’ve loaded the correct presets on your synths/drum machines. Then, make a studio equipment checklist so nothing gets missed.


Always check what cables you need and pack them; don’t rely on the studio to have them. Defo make sure to have extra TRS (⅛ and ¼ inch), XLR (normally male-female), Pirate also recommends bringing a USB A-C or C-C cable to connect your laptop to the interface and a headphone adaptor (small to large jack connector). These items can save you time if the studio’s cables are missing.

3. Practice

Practising is crucial. Recording sessions are not the time to perfect your riffs. While improvisation is fine if inspiration strikes, you should know your parts and how to play them before you arrive. Each band member should know their place in the song and not get lost. Guitarists should master chord progressions, drummers should know their snare hits, and vocalists should have the lyrics memorised.

When practising solo, use a click or metronome to get the tempo down. Even better, do some rough demo takes together to tighten up, even if it's just on an iPhone. On the day of your recording session, consider having a jam in the morning to get in the groove. Vocalists should warm up their vocal cords before stepping into the studio to ensure their voices are in top shape.

During the Session

1. Gain Staging

If you’re self-producing, the first thing to pay attention to once you’re set up is the volume you’re recording at.

It's crucial that your track does not clip; recording too loudly distorts the signal, resulting in a poor-quality recording. Conversely, recording too quietly lowers the noise floor threshold, introducing background noise and impurities. Keep an eye on your channel and adjust the input gain of your mic (usually via your audio interface) to ensure you have enough headroom to avoid clipping while maintaining a volume that averages fairly high in the channel.


Many professional engineers recommend setting your levels so that they peak around -6 dB to -3 dB to ensure a clean and dynamic recording.

2. Record Multiple Takes

Although you might feel you nailed the perfect take, it’s wise to record a few more as backups. You may notice imperfections later or decide you prefer a different take. Modern recordings often use a technique called comping, which involves combining the best sections of multiple takes into one seamless track. Billie Eilish recently demonstrated this on Letterman.

Recording multiple takes with different deliveries gives you stylistic options. For example, you can try a more aggressive version, emphasise different words, or do a take with greater dynamic range. After each take, review it, note any changes, and re-record. This process can enhance the character of your song or fit better in the mix.

3. Experiment, but Efficiently

Some of the best songs or moments come from happy accidents. While it's important to stay efficient, don’t lose your curiosity. A well-treated studio space can offer a different sound impression compared to a live setting. If you want to tweak parameters on a guitar pedal, trust your ears.


If you plan to apply lots of effects, record a 'dry' version first and then experiment with additional plugins to achieve the desired reverb, chorus, delays, or distortion.

Try alternative microphones as they have varying polar patterns, frequency response, sensitivity, and impedance, affecting the character of your recording. Some mics may suit different instruments better, and experimenting with different placements and angles can improve recording quality. Consider additional recordings for layering; this involves recording the same part with heavy effects or additional harmonies to build depth into your mix.

4. Ensure High-Quality Sample Rate and Bit Depth

When converting analogue soundwaves to digital, increasing bit depth and sample rate creates more points to accurately reconstruct the analogue wave. Aim to record at the highest sample rates possible - 48kHz minimum, ideally at 24 bits. This resolution is sufficient for most distribution mediums, though archive audio is sometimes recorded at higher rates (96kHz or 192kHz). This level of detail is essential for mixing, as you can always downsample but can’t improve the resolution of lower-quality recordings.

By following these guidelines during your recording session, you can ensure a high-quality and professional result, making the most of your time and resources in the studio.

After the Session

Back Up

This is self-explanatory. You don’t want to lose your hard work. Make a hard copy and back up your files, ideally to the cloud.

Keep It Tidy

This goes back to respecting the studio as a shared space. Avoid bringing food or drinks into the studio to prevent spills on equipment, which could get you in trouble. Before you leave, ensure everything is back in order and leave the studio as you found it, if not better.

Don'ts in the Recording Studio

Don’t Be Late

Being late creates a poor impression and puts pressure on everyone to get things done before time runs out. Musicians aren’t always known for punctuality, but the best ones always show up on time.

Don’t Overmix Early On

A bit of basic mixing is fine to help with the clarity of each part, but avoid getting bogged down in making it sound perfect. While it’s okay to use an EQ to low-cut some bass, don’t start trying to find resonant peaks to remove. Distinguish the recording process from the mixing process. Only worry about perfecting each part and making them gel together once all parts are recorded. You may even need to re-record some parts!

Don’t Tire Yourself Out

Give yourself regular breaks, especially if you are a vocalist, to prevent wearing out. Fatigue can lead to frustration and makes your ears less reliable. Instead of booking a marathon studio session, consider spreading the recording over two shorter sessions.

Don’t Overthink It

The number one rule: if it sounds good, it sounds good! Trust your instincts and avoid overanalysing every detail.

Bonus Tips to Make the Most of Your Time


Turning off your phone while in the studio is a great way to prevent distractions. Treat recording sessions as periods when you’re locked in, focusing solely on the music and not thinking about anything beyond those four walls.

Ask for Advice

The best way to learn is from others. You’re part of a network of musicians and producers - try inviting a more experienced producer into one of your sessions or sitting in on one of theirs. They will be full of music production tips. And while there aren’t strict rules about everything and you may not agree with every approach, it will provide you with alternate perspectives and ideas for your recordings, as well as a firm grip on the fundamentals. If you want to achieve something specific, don’t be shy to ask. Additionally, look things up online. Production forums are particularly useful. Chances are, if you’re encountering a problem in the studio, someone else has too!

Enjoy It

Tensing up as soon as you hit ‘record’ will not result in a great take. If you’re enjoying yourself, people will hear this in the recording too.

Be Respectful

This especially applies when working in studios you’re renting that aren’t yours. And if you’re working with a producer who owns the studio, bear in mind that while you are paying them to provide a service, you’ll have a much better experience if you let them do their job. Don’t touch anything without asking.

There you have it! We are rarely taught manners these days, but these guidelines for some basic recording studio etiquette will help you make the most of your recording sessions. Above all, remember that the recording process is about capturing a performance to turn into something shareable for eternity. So show some respect and make the most of your time in the studio.

More from Pirate