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Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Value Of The Preproduction Demo

I've always been a great believer that before any serious recording begins, you should record a quick pre-production demo just to get a feel for what kind of shape the songs are in. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my recently released Music Producer's Handbook that illustrates the point.

Preproduction Demos

No matter how well preproduction rehearsals seem to go, it’s really important to make a preproduction demo recording too. Why? You never really know what a player is playing until he’s recorded. Also, getting a band out of its safe and comfortable environment will make them play differently. Psychologically it helps a band to know that  when things sound different in a new environment (as they will) that it’s not necessarily a negative thing.
The preproduction demo doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the cheaper, the better. Even someone’s old 8 track recorder will do, because you don’t care about track count as much as discovering just what each instrument is playing. What you’re trying to learn is how well everyone is playing together and if the arrangements and song structures actually work.
Don’t spend too much time recording the demo. A couple of passes of each song at the most is all that’s necessary unless there’s a major train wreck. Performance mistakes are okay, as long as you can hear the complete form of the song. Don’t worry about overdubs or layering except for a quick run through to check out an idea. Perfection is not the objective for the demo, information about the song structure, arrangement and individual parts is.
After listening to the recording (even just listening to playbacks while recording), it should be apparent what needs to be fixed or improved, which should take place at another round of rehearsals. It’ll also help the players as they hear what they’re playing against everyone else. It’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “I didn’t know you were playing it like that,” during a playback.
The idea behind all of this is to get the parts down so that the real recording be done efficiently with no surprises and the players only need to concentrate on their performances instead of having to learn new parts. Many times, by the time a player learns the new part in the studio, his performance has suffered so much it takes an additional session just to capture a great performance. Preproduction hopefully eliminates that.
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