Success In The Recording Studio: From Your Mind’s Eye to Your Listeners’ Ears
Although its great to plan the production of a song in advance, I do believe there are important and spontaneously magical moments that can happen in the studio.
All the pieces have finally fallen into place! You are ready to record your music, and you’ve found a great studio and producer to work with. After working so hard writing and tweaking your songs, your vision of the musician you are (or who you want to be) is getting clearer and you are really excited. As you get ready to take the leap, you wonder: how do you translate all my ideas into what goes down in the studio?
The time for you to decide the many important details of your songs is known as “pre-production”. Before you record a single note, the overall process is better served if you know in advance as much about the final product as you can. This makes it easier to map out the song on the recording software and prepare the musicians for how they need to play.
What key is the song in? Will it be a rocker tune, or a ballad? Do we want to use drums, bass, and electric guitars, or do we want to use acoustic instruments and some hand percussion? How about a cello solo? (My personal favorite!) In my opinion, this is one of the most important phases of the recording, and it is often overlooked.
Once all the details have been decided, I like to map out “scratch” tracks in the studio. I would recommend recording just a single rhythm guitar and your lead vocal to a click track, so that all the other musicians have the correct frame of reference. More than just a rough draft of the song, it has the correct timing, tempo, chords, and arrangement. By planning in advance, you will be able hear if those guitar, sax (or cello!) solos are unneeded and make the song too long. Or, maybe you need to sing that catchy chorus again.
I start with drums and bass – they play to the click track along with the scratch-rhythm guitar and vocals as a guide for the vibe of the song. Then, we will go back and replay the rhythm guitar so it locks in with what was recorded by the bass player and drummer. From this point on, we will continue to add all the parts as needed.
So, now a bit of a contradiction: although its great to plan the production of a song in advance, I do believe there are important and spontaneously magical moments that can happen in the studio. There is a special synergy when you bring in experienced studio musicians so, be sure to keep an open mind and experiment if time permits. Sometimes one of your musicians might have a great idea that radically changes the direction of the tune. I think it’s important to make space for these swift turns in production. Sure, there is a risk that you might get something that’s completely different than you set out to create, but sometimes it winds up better than you had hoped!
Scott Leader, Producer/Musician