Not every idea in the studio is a good one. During the recording process it is a good idea to be open to creativity and innovation. You don’t simply have to capture the parts you’ve written, you can also explore new arrangement ideas, instrumentation, and sounds. But the flip side of all this brainstorming is the raw truth that sometimes you have to commit to saying “No” to an idea.


TRR37 When to Say No in the Studio

Via Henry Burrows Flickr

Learning A New Word…”No”

Why is saying “No” important? Well to put it simply, not every idea is going to work. I think we can all understand that concept. But in an age of limitless hard drive space and unending takes, we tend to record everything we can think of and then “decide later” what to do with all that audio. This is a bad idea for 2 main reasons:

1. If you choose creativity over commitment (as if you had to pick between the two) then you create an environment of indecisiveness in the studio. In the end, this is bound to leave you with a confusing, generic, unfocused recording that has no real character or identity to it. Just a lot of ambiguity.

2. If you don’t sift through the good and bad ideas when you are recording them, it makes it that much harder to decide later on in the editing/mixing process. You’re actually making more work for yourself later, which in turn leads to overly long mixing sessions where your focus and time are divided.

You need to learn the art of telling yourself “No” to some ideas. Don’t get lost in what might have been, just try something in the studio and analyze to see if it was a good idea or not. Say “Yes” or “No” and move on. Where this becomes tricky is when there are other band members involved.

Say “No” Together

When you get a bunch of people together in the studio, it becomes apparent very quickly that there are many different opinions relating to how a song should be recorded, which parts should be included, and how the arrangement should come together. Even the most unified bands will disagree at times. The key is to allow everyone to voice their ideas, try them out to see what works, and then be humble enough to be objective to what is really the best decision for a song. The more you learn to say “No” to an idea together as a band, ironically the more unified you will become.

Just this past week I dealt with this exact situation. I was recording a band and we were nearing the end of a long week of tracking. The lead singer had an idea for one song in particular that he wanted to try. His vision was for a bunch of “gang vocals” singing the chorus melody underneath the main vocal on the final hook of the song. In his mind it would be kind of like a male choir filling out the arrangement at the end of the song. So we setup a mic in omni mode, let a bunch of guys sing the part, doubled it all up so it sounded huge, and then stepped back to listen.

When I played stop, everyone was silent. No one seemed to be jumping up and down in enthusiasm. One band member started to say that he didn’t think it worked. The lead singer (whose idea it was in the first place) didn’t quite disagree, but he wasn’t sold on canning it all together. We all weighed in, listened to it some more, and then finally I said, “We need to decide, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ people?” They all stepped up and said, “No”. It didn’t work. Let’s just forget about it. Whew! Problem avoided. What was a great idea, just didn’t quite work in reality for the song. No big deal. What’s great though is that it won’t waste any more of our time as we move on to editing and mixing this album.

Don’t Fear Commitment

The big lesson today is, just don’t be afraid to commit to something in the studio. People used to have to do it all the time and they made incredible albums. These days we struggle with the idea of deleting (or recording over) something. Just let go, use your ears, pick a sound (or riff, or arrangement) and commit to it. You’ll be glad you did.