Monday, January 16, 2012

2 Tips For Recording Your Band

The people that read this blog run about 50/50 seasoned pros to beginners in the business, and this post is aimed directly at those that don't have a lot of recording experience. It's an excerpt from How To Make Your Band Sound Great that covers the mindset of recording, not the technical part.

There are so many great artists, bands, musicians, engineers, and producers out there, and so much written about how they work that's pretty accessible to anyone who wants to find it. The problem is that it's easy to get the impression that recording some great music is an easy process from reading some of these. There are certainly times when the planets align and you can catch lightning in a bottle, but just like anything else done well, it usually takes a lot of work. This excerpt aims to make someone who doesn't have that much recording experience feel a little better about themselves and their journey.
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"Whether you're recording yourselves with your own gear or are using a studio, the goal is the same - make the songs and the recordings sound as big, as polished, and as accessible to your audience (however large or small) as you can. With that being said, here are some things to be aware of:

1. You Hardly Ever Sound Great The First Time
Contrary to what you might have heard about hit records done on the first take, most recordings of any type require a lot of work to be any good. It takes time to get both the right sounds and performances, and unfortunately, these things usually can’t be rushed.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn when recording is not to expect gold-record-quality playing right off the bat. One of the worst ideas that you can get is that you have to be perfect every time you play. It just doesn’t happen that way so don’t get discouraged. Even the best studio players make some flubs or have slightly erratic time when they’re playing. They just go back and fix the problems afterwards and you can too. Yes, it does happen occasionally when someone gets extremely lucky and plays something terrific on the first take, but it’s a rare exception even for studio savvy and expert musicians. 

Recording is hard work. It’s not uncommon for people to slave over a part for days or even weeks until it feels right in the track. So if pros won’t settle for something that’s not the best it can be, why should you?

I know you’re probably thinking about all those hit records in the 50’s that were done in just a few takes, how the first Beatles record was done in one twelve hour session, and how in the glory days of Motown in Detroit they used to crank out three number one hits in three hours. All true. But don’t forget that all those famous 50’s artists honed their act from months and years of playing on the road - the Beatles played six sets a night for a year in Hamburg before they hit the studio, and the Motown studio musicians were the best of the best jazz musicians in Detroit with some hall-of-fame songwriters and arrangers.  But besides all that, the bar is set so much higher for recording these days. Sad but true that many of those incredible tracks just wouldn’t make it through the recording process if they were done today because of defects in the playing.

The fact of the matter is that recording today on any level is a demanding process, so don’t expect great results right away.  Just like a band learning a new song together, everything takes some time before it actually gels, so just be prepared to work until you get it.

As an example, I really believe that a typical overdub takes at least two days to record. The first day you work the part out until it’s a perfect fit for the song. The second day you actually perform it well, since now you know how to play it and can just concentrate on performance. The whole trick to to follow your gut. If you think deep down inside that you can do it better, then you probably can.

It’s A Lot Of Work
In the majority of cases, making a record is hard work. It takes a lot of time to work parts out, make them sound great, and play and/or sing them well. Sure there’s been a handful of records that have been done on the first take or in a couple of hours (mostly in the 50’s and early 60’s), but that’s a rare occurrence that involves as much luck as winning the lottery.

During the recording of one of my early band’s demo tapes, we became increasingly frustrated because it seemed to take forever (a whole 4 hours!) to record  six songs from our set. “We must really suck,” is what we told ourselves from that point until the band broke up, but only later when I began to regularly work in studios did I learn the real truth.  Recording is hard work and takes a lot of time to make something that will sound good.

Now these were songs that we’d been playing at gigs every weekend for about a year so we knew them backwards and forwards. Or so we thought! First of all, you never really know exactly what you’re playing and exactly what you sound like until you record yourself. Almost always you’ll find that something that you thought was gangbusters is in fact just a buster. You might be playing a line differently from the other guitar player. Maybe your rhythm pattern is different from what the drummer is playing. Maybe you just can’t hit that high like you thought you could.

The secret here is to be brutally honest with yourself about your playing and singing, just like in the previous chapters.  If it doesn’t sound great, either rehearse it until it does or don’t play it at all!"

You can read more book excerpts on my bobbyowsinski.com website.
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2 comments:

Fred Decker said...

Bobby,

My friend who owns a recording studio told me once something to the effect that some bands try to capture a live performance when they are recording hoping for energy rather than perfection and other bands try to build a perfect recording by building one track at a time.

His point was that it's important to know which approach you're trying for and not try to mix the two.

What do you think?

Thanks,

Fred Decker

P. S. One of my favorite parts of the "Make Your Band Sound Great" Book is the video where you work with the band on their song arrangement. You get them to play less but sound like more.

Bobby Owsinski said...

Very good point, Fred. Regarding working with bands, that's one of my favorite things to do.

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