WHY ARE YOU RECORDING?
The first thing you have to do is figure out what you want to use the recording for. If you're just looking to cut some rough demos then you don't really have to worry too much about perfect performances and sounds, you can just focus on the guts of the song and the arrangement and so on. If your purpose is to make a record that is to be distributed physically and/or digitally then obviously attention to detail becomes paramount. Just make sure you're clear on that point so you don't spend hours agonizing over insignificant things like guitar solos and tambourine overdubs on a rough demo when you could be spending more time perfecting the vocal melody and song arrangement.
If you're a new band don't feel that you have to record a full-length album right out of the gate. In fact, I'd advise against it until you record a few demos of your best material and begin to develop a sound and a direction. Having a record that doesn't have a cohesive sound is usually not a good thing when shopping it around to the major players in the music industry. If it's not very clear to them precisely what genre of music you're doing then they won't be interested in working with you.
Doing some quick and inexpensive demos is a great way to get your songs onto a medium that you can listen to with a more objective perspective. When you're jamming the songs out in rehearsal or live on stage it's really difficult to step outside of that situation and look in. You're too busy doing your part to be really aware of how the whole song sounds. Which leads me to my next point.
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PLAYING THERE, MAN??
If I had a nickel for everytime I heard one band member ask this question to another, I'd be filthy rich! It's so important to know exactly what everyone else in the band is playing. You must know what the notes and chords are and how it's being played rhythmically. Pay attention to where the upbeats and downbeats are and make sure that the note and chord choices are always working together. In fact, not only should you know exactly what you're playing, but you should also have a very good understanding of what everyone else in your band is playing. Nothing sounds worse than a guitarist and a bassist who are an eighth note off from each other or hearing bad notes being played here and there.
Many bands don't really know what's going on with each other because when they rehearse, the volume level is up around 115 db and at that level a little thing called psychoacoustics comes into play and your perception of what's happening is greatly distorted. Here's an excerpt from a great article I came across. For those of you who are interested in reading the whole thing, here's the link.
THE TALENT KNOB
Many live sound engineers are familiar with the experience of listening to the tape of a loud show, only to find that what had seemed like a good performance was in fact plagued by out-of-tune instruments and off-key singing. Though the deficiencies of such live recordings are often blamed on the necessarily incomplete nature of board tapes-we are talking about "sound reinforcement," after all-this only explains problems with mix balance or EQ. Critical bandwidth, the ability to discern tone or pitch within a range, is affected by high SPLs and, as a result, many singers will pitch slightly flat in loud environments.
This extra reason why louder sounds better is also a barrier to improving the performance. If you've been in search of the missing "suck" knob, here it is. As volume increases, what might have sounded out of tune or off-key now sounds okay. The widening of critical bandwidth makes it harder to discern tones that are close to each other when it's louder. Similarly, cramped rehearsal spaces can give false impressions. Another example is garage bands that go from clubs to larger venues and have trouble getting their sound right.
A simple remedy for this problem is to turn down in your rehearsals once in a while as you're working out all the finer details of your songs. Once everyone's on the same page and and the whole band is locked down, then crank it up and wake the dead! Just make sure you're wearing earplugs to protect your hearing.
TWO GUITAR PLAYERS
This is really an extension of the last point, but I think it's important enough to mention separately. If there's two guitar players in your band, make sure they both know exactly what each other is playing. No two guitar players will ever play something the same unless they make a conscious effort to do so. The end result of not paying attention to this will just sound messy and unorganized and it will magnify itself greatly in the recording and mixing process. Take the time to work it all out before you come into the studio and you'll be so glad you did.
"BUT WE CAN'T DO THAT LIVE!"
Don't limit yourself to what you can pull of live. In most cases that's not what's best for your song. Playing live and recording in a studio are two totally different worlds and one has very little to do with the other. Listen to records you love and you'll soon realize that a four piece band couldn't possibly handle playing drums, bass, five or six guitar parts, percussion, keyboards, and an 18 part vocal harmony all at the same time. Even live albums are not really live. Don't kid yourself, there's just as much studio magic on "live" records as there is on studio recordings.
THE LITTLE THINGS
Don't forget the little things when you're preparing for a session. Bring an extra set of strings, an extra snare head, drum keys, lots of picks, and any tools you may need for your guitar's locking system or for an emergency repair on an instrument. If you have active electronics, bring an extra battery just in case, because even though it's never too hard to find a convenience store that sells batteries it's still a pain in the ass to have to stop the flow of a session to run out and buy one.
Make sure your gear works. If something is showing signs of acting up before a recording session, either have a back up or don't bring it at all. Bad cables and output jacks on guitars and basses or a kick pedal that's falling apart will just eat away at your precious time.
Recording music is a blast! Nothing is more rewarding than hearing your songs come to life in the studio and then sharing it with your fans and getting feedback on what you're doing. The more you record, the better you'll get at it. You'll get a real sense of what works and what doesn't work and in the process you'll become a better musician and songwriter. So take some time to go over some of these points with your band and then get busy recording some tunes!