It’s 10 years since I recorded my Ist CD. I think 2013 is going to have to have some celebrations and events to mark this, so watch this space. Whilst re-engineering my website, I found the list below, which I’d been asked  to compile for  a record label blog, before I had a blog of my own. Originally advice for a ‘first recording’, I think it’s worth a repost, (with a few contemporary flourishes – times have changed) as the tips hold true for  any artist at any stage of a project. It’s particularly relevant if you’ve been out of the studio for a while and need to get your production head back on – or if you are sonically entrenched mid-process and can longer hear what you are doing.

Fair's fair

 

TOP TEN RECORDING TIPS

1. Your  lead vocal is the first thing that hits the listener. It will only sound as good as the hours you’ve spent rehearsing it. There’s nothing inherently magical about that mic or the reverb options. You know this! Therefore practice and practice and practice that lead vocal – you have to live with (and feel confident to promote) the result, forever.

2. Then once you’ve practiced – let it go, and let your voice be whatever it is on that day, including its flaws and croaks. Be natural, be yourself. Be relaxed. Smiling and laughing are great for pitch and tone.

3. Hard as it is, try not to be ruled by budget, above all things. Do one song well rather than 5 tracks stressed out of your mind. One of the harshest (and truest) criticisms I got for my first CD was that it sounded cramped. I was in a frantic hurry and watching the clock every second. No wonder I sang fast – a ballad would have been a luxury.

4. Which leads to the next point. Every vibe you bring to the studio ends up on wax, even if subliminally. If you’re stressed, that’s what people will hear. If you’re laid back, listeners will feel it. If you’re angry, nervous, scared or depressed because the funding ran out – don’t be surprised if punters start to feel it when they listen.

5. Silence and space speak volumes. Observe phrasing. Don’t feel bound to warble and noodle over the whole thing, just to show what you can do. Invite the listener in – don’t assault them.

6. Be tasteful re: length/content/atmosphere. Less is often, more. Make sure your track, including the lyrics, the tempo and  the arrangement, is the ‘kind of thing you’d listen to’. Does it make you feel like dancing? Or dreaming/chilling out? If any part of it makes you irritated, or like you are struggling, you may need to edit.

7. However original you are as an artist, there is no shame in using other people’s songs – especially favourite songs of your heroes and heroines – as a template for your pre-studio ears, especially when it comes to tempo/bpm and ‘feel’.

8. If possible, do a mockup., even if you are not the world’s best producer. layer up your song, at least the click, main instrumentation and vocal. These days, nearly everyone has access to basic onboard software, e.g. Mac Garageband. If not, analogue 4 track, (which I still sometimes use, along with manuscript and pencil) Jamman or Headrush-style multitrack unit or similar. Get used to the heart-in-mouth feeling of doing the ultimate take until the ‘red light’ anxiety starts to fade.

9. When listening to rough drafts/mixes/mockups, try these 2 methods. (1) with surgeon’s precision, listening for every mistake and vocal nuance (2) next, listen in an ambient way with only half an ear – what do you feel? Do you want to tap your foot? Do you feel motivated, relaxed, romantic, restless, excited? This is what the average punter experiences – what they feel, not what they hear. Be sure you’re creating the vibe that you want, never mind all the little details, though obviously they’re important, but it’s mainly you that hears them.

10. When your recording is complete, be careful about just flinging it out in the marketplace. Protect yourself. Register immediately with PRS. Find out about PPL. Make sure you’ve protected your copyright and be cautious about opening yourself up to ‘constructive criticism’, especially from friends/family/other musicians. Resist temptation to play people unfinished stuff. If you ask for feedback, many will use it as an opportunity to flex their muscles or fledgling journalistic skills, and it can be an uncomfortable experience. Don’t feel that you have to let yourself be a punch bag in order to grow as an artist. If people (especially other musicians) patronise or disparage your work, know that it’s more to do with them, not you and always focus on the positive. One good verbal protection I use when I submit my stuff to new ears is: ‘I’m not looking for feedback, or constructive criticism, thankyou. I know already about the strengths and weaknesses of this material – if you’d like to write a brief, positive review, you’d be welcome. That’s all’. These days, there are increasing sites for professionals and non-professionals to share work. By the time you have read this there will be another ‘cloud’ domain, or ‘unsigned artists’ type of company approaching musicians. Use discretion with what and how much you share for free and as you load stuff up to CDBABY and the like, don’t throw out the idea of the more traditional record deal.We are in a time of flux, where the new DIY paradigm can work in parallel with the old business models, so, embrace technology wisely and enjoy pursuing a combination of everything…

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