8 Tips To Make Better Recordings Now - Part 2

2009 Nov 04, 2009

In part 1 of this post I laid out four simple tips to help you make better recordings in the least amount of time. If you haven’t read that post yet, go back now and read those first few tips and begin implementing them. You will notice a difference in your recordings immediately! For now, let me share four more tips with you that will help you get better recordings now, not later...



Via James Cridland Flickr

5. Play Cleaner and Simpler

Back in college when I was putting together my first “professional” album as an artist, I hired session players to cover drums, bass, and lead guitar as well as a recording engineer who knew way more than me. One of the things he focused on with me as a singer and guitar player was that I needed to “clean up” my performance when the recording light went on. My guitar strums were so busy and my vocal inflections were a little loose. At first I thought he was just being overly critical of “my style” but I soon learned that the recording sounded much clearer, tight, focused, and rocking. This revolutionized an area of recording for me that today I try to push on everyone I work with in the studio.

If you want your recordings to improve “overnight” then one of the best things you can do is to be very intentional about each guitar strum, piano hit, drum fill, bass riff, and vocal run you lay down. Keep it simple where you can. Keep it consistent where you can. Yes you may lose some of the “live” element of your playing, but part of that nice big studio sound is tight, polished and focused playing. Trust me on this. You won’t appreciate what this one tip can do for you until you commit to it and begin playing differently when you hit record. The final product will that much better.

6. Change Up The Instrumentation

Part of what makes a great song a great recording is that it is interesting to listen to, from beginning to end. The song shouldn’t be static; it should be moving and changing and keeping the listener on his toes until the very end. In essence what I’m talking about here is arrangement. The better the arrangement, the better the song...and the better the recording. What you can do to help out your recordings in this way is to change things up a bit. If you have both an acoustic and electric guitar, use them both. Layer a slightly different part with the acoustic than you did with your electric. Or use a capo to play the chords in a different variation or inversion perhaps.

The idea here is to have a big picture view of your song and your recording. Part of getting a great final mix is to capture your instruments in the best possible way, yes. But the other part is to capture the most interesting and complementary pairings of instrumentation possible for your song. Think of why an orchestra sounds so good, they have so many different types of instruments that complement one another to create a sound that is more engaging than the parts by themselves. That is where music becomes larger than life. Arrangement is the key and you should think about it each time you want to lay down some tracks. Remember, you don’t have to go out and learn a million different instruments or hire session players, but you could try to mix up your tones and sounds from what you do have and not just record the same instrument over and over again without any variation.

7. Use a Comp Track Technique

One sure fire way to cause your singer or bass player to get stressed out in the studio and to waste time is to make him or her re-record their parts until it is as close to perfect as possible. Some people just can’t take the pressure and actually perform worse in “studio” conditions. Instead what you ought to do is take full advantage of your DAW’s ability to comp (composite) tracks together. This will allow to record multiple “takes” of a part, saving each one, and putting no pressure on your performance. Then when you’re ready to edit your song you pick the best parts, lines, even words of a take and mix and match them up to create a final “super” take.

You can use this technique for drums, bass, guitar solos, etc. I do this all the time with vocalists. When it comes to capturing a great lead vocal you want every word and note to be clear, in time, passionate, and authentic. I usually let my vocalist sing through the song once as a warm up, no pressure. (I’ll record this track without them knowing however. Sometimes you’ll get a real gem of a performance in the “warmup” track!) Then I’ll let them record anywhere from 2 to 5 takes of the song all the way through. Sometimes we’ll do a take where we just focus on a challenging part of the song, let’s say a few high notes in the bridge. That way I have more to pull from later. This only takes a few minutes, adds no real “in the moment” pressure on my vocalist, and allows us to comp together a great track later at a time that’s more convenient for everyone. Don’t underestimate the power of this one technique...it’s used on more pro recordings than you can count.

8. Try Something Totally Weird And Crazy

This seems an odd tip to be giving but hear me out. So much emphasis is put on how to record things right. In a way there are certain techniques, rules, or principles that help guide us as we try and capture sound in a real space (or not) and put together a recording that is clear, coherent, and enjoyable to the listener. And a lot of times we (myself included) focus most of our time trying to mimic a certain sound or style we ourselves enjoy. But in reality, recording great music isn’t truly about rules or patterns. So much of what we love about “classic” recordings has to do with the spontaneous, the resourceful, and the radical nature of those recording sessions.

What I’m trying to say is, one thing people have been doing since recording first began and you can do in your home studio each and every time you sit down to do a project is to try something totally different, bizarre, and weird in hopes that you might just stumble upon greatness. Put your mic in an awkward position, record your drums in a gymnasium, use a synth bass line on your emo acoustic song...just do something random and see if it works. Recording music is an art form, not just a vocational skill. Be creative, be daring, be obscure. Push the boundaries just a little bit each time and see what comes of it. If you go “too far” and it takes away from the song, no worries; just back it off and move on. You have nothing to lose by trying...and so much gain if you stumble upon  the next great thing!

Now get to it...

I hope these 8 simple tips help you do one thing and one thing only, make better recordings now! I don’t want you to wait any longer or keep making excuses about why you aren’t ready to record your music. Read this blog and others like it, learn and don’t stop learning...but most importantly, get out there and make music. These simple steps will ensure you get better recordings without spending a lot of money or time, so now you know them...what are you waiting for?

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