On Recording and Preproduction

I have been helping a few friends record a couple of demos. One individual wanted to record a several songs in a single Saturday afternoon.  And by several, I mean he wanted to record as many as he could because he wants to do 15 song record. Now, I am not opposed to the idea but a challenge like that would be for a seasoned individual.

The idea of recording music is romantic. Every musician wants to be one of those kids in the music video. We could just pump out your vocals in 1 take.

I wish this was true but sadly, this is not the case. What you don’t see is when the vocalist breaks down in frustration trying to get a perfect take.

Personally, I would rather take my time creating/recording a really great song and dress it properly, over racing through several songs just to have them on tape.

Often a quick dump to tape is great for a demo but if you want to create a song that will stick with you, then you need some patience.

Below is a list of suggestions I give to others who are recoridng their opus. I don’t expect the list below to be definitive. But if this list helps you prepare or overcome any minor molehill, then it was worth the time.

  1. Know your song. Know everything about it. Know what key you are in. Know how many beats per minute you are rolling. Know the structure of your song and be ready to present it. This is your child know it.
  2. Click Click Click. Practice against a click track/metronome. Record your song against the click and listen to see if you stay in time. You might think this is a petty detail. But if you decide to add bass in the future or have a friend do a remix. Then you might want to be sure you use a click.
  3. Practice with your band. Make sure everyone is on the same page.  Know your changes and talk about any sounds that you think don’t fit and know why.
  4. Keep everyone informed. Inform your engineer/producer of the direction you want to go. Tell them about the sounds you hear in your head. And don’t be afraid to reference other artists.
  5. Tune, tune and then tune again. When I record I try to tune my instrument 3 times before I commit to tape. I tune once. I go to the restroom. I come back. I tune a second time. Then I play along to the song to remind myself where I am in the recording and if I am in tune with the other instruments. Then, I tune a third time. Now I am ready to commit to tape.
  6. Knowledge of weakness and strength. As a musician, you know where the weakest spot of the song is. You know were your strong parts are and where the hook probably is. Whether your paying some to record you or you are using a friends studio, time is moving and someone is helping you. But this move smoother when you know where the troubled waters are.
  7. Remember, the tape does not lie. When you play back song, you will hear every buzz, cling and out of tune vocal.
  8. The mixing fable. If you think you are going to be able to fix something in the mix, you are lying to yourself. Very few things can be fixed in the mixing process. You can fade items in and out. You can add effects or compression. It’s best to get it right. Plus you will become a better musician through this exercise.
  9. Can I live with this? When I finish a track, I try to ask myself, “Can I live with this performance? 15 years from now, will I be embarrassed to share this with my family?”
  10. Is this what is best for the song? I ask myself this repeatedly. Sometimes, I get to recording leads and I go crazy. After it is all said and done, I ask, ” Is this what is best for the song?” If I answer, then I keep it. If I answer no, then that idea in a song idea folder for later. Just cause something doesn’t fit today, does not hinder that idea for future songs.
  11. Break It Up. Take a break. Step outside. Make Coffee. Eat. This will keep you mentally fresh and it is more important than you think.
  12. The 24 hour test. Give everything you record the 24 hour test. You spend to much energy recording, that sometimes it is nice to step a for a day and listen with new ears. Be attentive. And ask your self, “Is this what I want to represent me when I am not around.
  13. Be patient. This might be the most important of them all. Your vocals might take longer than expected. But it’s no need to stress. Be patient. Take a deep breathe. It will all work out.

The recording process is a wonderful battle. It tells you if you have a great song. And you will know immediately. You create a song that you want to listen to and will represent you when you are not around.