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You should be recording more often.
Record early, and record often. That’s the advice I would give to any aspiring musician, artist or band. I’ve been a home recording enthusiast since I owned a tape recorder (who remembers those things?). Over the years I’ve come to know how powerful it is to record your work. I’ve experienced first hand the real advantages and opportunities that hearing yourself, or your latest song, in playback offers. It can be a vital tool to help you develop both as a musician and as a songwriter.
Musician development: How many times have you thought you nailed a run or a riff or <insert musical element here> only to be told it’s not quite there. How you hear what you play, from the inside perspective, is not how others are hearing it. Much like how you hear your own voice, and how that’s influenced by resonances within your own head. There is something similar happens with your own, non-biological, instrument(s). It’s weird. The great thing with having a recording is the feedback is immediate, and honest. If you’re woodshedding your skills, it can also be private. I write and record a lot of music at The Electric Recording Lab, and in that process, hearing back a riff and realising I’m not quite on, mean’s it’s take two...and adjusting how I’m attacking the piece or the instrument. Analysing why the third chord feels late...what am I doing wrong? Adapting. Learning. Growing in my abilities. You should also record all manner of practice sessions. Scales, running through tunes, noodling. It will give a real insight into what you’re getting right, and what you need to work on.
Outside perspective for the songwriter: As I’m writing I usually hear the song in a fully produced form even while it’s just me and a guitar. I’ll hurriedly pull out my phone to record that killer riff, only to be completely underwhelmed when I play it back. It’s not a sound quality thing...and it’s not, ‘with the full production behind it this will kill’...it’s just the outside perspective. Hearing the song, or riff, from the audience’s perspective. Some stuff is more fun to play than it is to listen to. The recording allows you to put the instrument down and walk around to the front of the stage. If you’re still digging it when you do that...please, continue. If not, then it’s time to problem solve. Should it be faster or slower? Should there be less notes or more, or more variation? Etc.
Crafting: great songs very rarely just happen. There is a lot of folklore around the song that just fell out of the sky…”yeah, we just started playing and, well, the number one selling single you hear is the the song we wrote that day inside 10 minutes”. I’m sure it happens. I’m also sure a lot of those stories are kind of like those movies that are based on a true story. They’re mostly true...with some embellishment for the sake of a good story. Typically, great songs are honed out of the raw ideas over a period of time. What are the songs strengths? Does it have weaknesses? What are they? Does the ‘air come out of the tyres’ at any point in the song? Is the listener engaged throughout? Does the chorus lift? Is it too ‘samey’ throughout? A recording allows you to run the song around, in different locations. In the car, on your bluetooth speaker etc. and let it wash over you. Be constructively critical without the distractions of, ‘how cool does my guitar sound tonight?’. I often found that playing the song for an audience (friends or acquaintances) highlighted every fault really fast. No words were necessary. There is something about the intimate pressure that sort of situation creates. Rehearsal recordings done on phones or demos done in home studios are both critical parts in the crafting process. Playback can be especially powerful after a small break. Put the song down for a day or two, longer if you can. Listen back with a notepad and a pen at the ready. That break will give you clarity. It’s nearly as good as a first listen.
Sharing: Having an updated rehearsal recording of songs in progress was an invaluable tool for bands I’ve played in. Gone are the days of sharing tapes with band members...thank god! Now you can put the recording in a google folder, or upload to a private Facebook page, so everyone can access it. Same for the demo or pre-production phase. I’d put the latest iteration in a shared folder and send out a quick message to the group chat to alert the rest of the band. Their homework was to listen and comment - still crafting.
Final product: For some musicians playing live is what it’s all about. For me, the end goal was always the studio recording. While I love locking in with the band on stage or in the rehearsal studio, there was nothing greater than hearing the songs we’d roughed out, and smashed out in venues, now playing back in hifi, full and exciting. Fist pump moment. The recording is how people know you, or learn about you. It’s primarily what they ‘buy’ from you, or stream. At some point the band is going to want that pro sounding recording when all the song crafting is done. Then you can share that with your current fans...and get new ones. Playing to 5 people sucks...better to make it 5000, or more! It’s exciting to capture the performances and build the track, and see where that all takes you. While you’ve already laid a solid roadmap for the song, be open to the magic of the studio. Great things can happen in there!
So get recording! Get that mobile phone out at rehearsal. Keep everyone in the band on the same page, shape those songs. Dig into that DAW, or hit the local studio, and get those demos together. Work towards that single ready for release. Tech tip: the memo recorder on an iPhone seems to distort in loud band settings. Record using video in the camera app. It has better headroom. Also think about where to position it in the room. Where is the most balanced sound? It might NOT be on the floor in front of a roaring quadbox!
Lastly, a couple of things to keep in mind on the song development front:
Make good art.
Hi, I'm Scott. I own The Electric Recording Lab. It is an independent recording studio located in Ferntree Gully Victoria, Australia. The Electric Recording Lab focuses on recording local bands doing an EP, a single, or tracking drums or loud guitars or other overdubs. Use the contact page to discuss how I can assist you with your next project.