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Tip Of The Day - #4

Discussion in 'Recording' started by hargerst, Feb 24, 2001.

  1. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Words To Live By In The Studio

    At Indian Trail Recording Studio, there is a sign on the wall in very large letters so everybody can read it easily. There are only 14 sentences on the sign, but each sentence is designed to make people stop and think. That's the purpose of the sign. It's very basic stuff, but that's often the first thing people lose sight of when they get into a studio. I'm going to add a few lines of explanation for each sentence (although it's pretty self-explanatory).

    WHERE'S THE "HOOK"? That's the part of the song you mostly remember, either a catchy phrase, or melody, or both. It can even be an unusual instrument. Most hit songs have a "hook". All time great lyric hook? Probably Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild". All time great melody hook? Hendrix "Purple Haze".

    GET TO THE "HOOK" IN UNDER ONE MINUTE If you want to be a star, don't waste your time setting up a long, complicated intro to a song. Get to the heart of the song quickly. Consider the examples listed above. When you're doing your stage show, then you can do the long version. A record executive will give you about 12 seconds of his time. If you spend two minutes just getting into the song, you haven't got a chance.

    IS IT "RADIO-FRIENDLY"? Is it the kind of music you're likely to hear on the radio? If a radio station won't touch it, chances are a record exec won't either.

    IS IT TOO LONG? Again, leave the long version for the stage show. Tell your story in 3 to 3½ minutes. (This isn't a hard and fast rule, but if you're gonna take 6 minutes to say what you want to say, it better be important stuff that people want to hear.)

    DOES IT MAKE SENSE? Is your lyric really tight? Are you just throwing in lines to stretch the song? You've got 3 to 3½ minutes to tell your story - make every second count.

    IS IT BORING? Watch your audience - if they start fidgeting halfway through the song, you're losing them. Either shorten the song or add more excitement.

    FEELING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TECHNIQUE Nobody thinks Smashing Pumpkins are the best musicians on the planet and they'll never win a Grammy for "Instrumental of the Year". Unless you're Dream Theater, go for feeling.

    CAN YOU DO IT BETTER OR JUST DIFFERENT? Guitar players, and some singers, are funny sometimes. If they improvise, they want to lay down 20 tracks and choose the best parts. That's OK if you have unlimited time and money, but most of the time, any good take will work fine.

    A "MISTAKE" IS OBVIOUS TO EVERYBODY During a session, somebody will sometimes hit a note they didn't mean to hit. Is it a mistake? Yes, no, maybe, or maybe not. If the song is in E minor and the guitar player hits an E major, it's probably a mistake, but if the bass player hits a B instead of an E, it may not be a "mistake" - it may make the song better.

    IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT Part of the "I can do it better" syndrome. I once had a drummer in the studio that played simple tom rolls for a whole section of a song and he hated it. It was perfect for the song, but he thought that other drummers who heard it would laugh at him. He was more concerned about impressing other drummers rather than playing what the song needed.

    DON'T OVER-PRODUCE If you have a small group (Bass, Guitar, Drums, and Vocals), you do not need 6 guitar tracks. Two similar rhythm guitar tracks (for fattening) and a lead track are more than enough. Most engineers (myself included) are frustrated producers. When you have all those tracks available, the temptation is to "use 'em all."

    DON'T LOSE THE FEEL The basic "groove" of the song is important. If you cover up the groove by adding more and more stuff, you stand a serious chance of messing up the song. If the groove isn't there, all the extra things you add won't help.

    PERFECT DOESN'T ALWAYS MEAN GOOD Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Days, and Tripping Daisy proved that you don't have to be an Eric Clapton to have a hit record. Do what you do best. If the lyric is the most important thing in your songs, you don't need a killer guitar solo (or any solo for that matter).

    IF YOU OVERPOLISH, YOU MAY LOSE THE EDGES Sometimes a group will work for weeks in the studio, eliminating every fret rattle, adjusting the volume of each note in a solo until it's perfectly balanced, or actually punching in every line of the vocal, line by line. Sometimes it's better, but not usually. Most often, the life goes out of the song and you lose the emotional impact in the quest for perfection. If the group is solid in the studio, it comes through on the tape and it's fun. If it's overpolished, it comes off sounding cold and sterile. "The operation was a success, but the patient died."
     
  2. nrgmusic

    nrgmusic Guest

    Harvey Wrote:
    ---------------------------------------------------------
    PERFECT DOESN'T ALWAYS MEAN GOOD Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Days, and Tripping Daisy proved that you don't have to be an Eric Clapton to have a hit record. Do what you do best. If the lyric is the most important thing in your songs, you don't need a killer guitar solo (or any solo for that matter).
    ---------------------------------------------------------
    Now aint that the truth!!!
    Sorry for jumping in on this one Harvey, but i've had a day today trying to convince a band of exactly this sentiment, and , may I say never a truer word spoken!!!! Your tips of the day are very likely to get printed out and put on my studio wall... Fantastic stuff keep it coming.
    Thanks

    Simon :D
     
  3. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    I did leave off the single most important thing to remember:

    Honor The Song

    The song will always tell you what it wants or needs, if you'll just stop and listen to it with an open mind. That 3 word sentence should be emblazened on a banner stretched across the back wall of every studio in the world, IMHO.
     
  4. Bear's Gone Fission

    Bear's Gone Fission Active Member

    Harvey, shame on you for brainwashing the newbies with such nonsense. Just cut to it and tell them which black boxes will let them make the loudest cd's possible, already.

    (An enormous :) here.)

    Nah, the tips are dead on. And pretty universal, really. I forget who it was and what song, but I heard about some big name jazz soloist who was asked to play a particular standard and said he couldn't do it because he couldn't remember the words. If you gotta be true to the words in instrumental jazz, there's no getting off the hook for rock or pop.

    da Bear
     
  5. Rader Ranch

    Rader Ranch Member

    um, i think this list should be titled "Words to Live By in the Studio for Aspiring Pop Stars". to state the obvious: not every composer/musician's goal is to produce 3 minute radio friendly material...and some entries on this list could be downright uninspiring for some folks...
     
  6. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Originally posted by Rader Ranch:
    um, i think this list should be titled "Words to Live By in the Studio for Aspiring Pop Stars". to state the obvious: not every composer/musician's goal is to produce 3 minute radio friendly material...and some entries on this list could be downright uninspiring for some folks...I agree, but it seems the second most bands have finished their album, they start talking about "looking for a record deal", even if te music is inappropriate for the major markets. These tips are for those bands that are looking to make it big in the commercial market.

    Obviously, they're not 100% universal or even important to anyone that is into classical, jazz, or some of the other longer form genres. Tips are just that - tips, and only good if they're relevant to your needs. If I get a string quartet in, I'm not gonna talk about "getting to the hook".
     
  7. Rader Ranch

    Rader Ranch Member

    geez...i thought Moderators knew better than to double post ;) :p

    by the by...was this your own list, or did it come from somewhere else?
     
  8. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Originally posted by Rader Ranch:
    geez...i thought Moderators knew better than to double post :) I'm just learning this moderator stuff.

    Most of them are mine - the others are things I've heard over the years, in one form or another. I compiled the whole thing into this list - which really does hang on the wall in the control room. :)
     
  9. Kevin F. Rose

    Kevin F. Rose Active Member

    Harvey,

    Great to see you here adding tricks to everyone's hat...
    The hardest thing an engineer/producer deals with regularly is the bands ego in all aspects of the recording process. There have been so many times that the artist(s) served themself to the detriment of the song.
    This past week I was working with a band that had two "vocalists" and the one with *the voice* was soft spoken and confident. The one who couldn't blend, harmonize etc. kept asking me to turn his vocal up and the other guy down. AAArgh! I finally assigned his vocal to a bus and showed him how I could ride his vocal. When it came time to do the final mix I disabled the Bus. Is deception related to ethics and if so is this a tip<g>?
    Serve the song! There's a song in there!
     
  10. br0d

    br0d Guest

    I've actually heard that Billy Corgan is, or at least has been, a notorious overproducer at times, sometimes tracking like 30 guitars to obtain a specific sound.

    And nevermind is known to be one of the most produced punk pop albums of all time.

    But yea, the point is, don't let the production hamper the soul. A better example might be Albini's own work, which has almost always sounded like crap in the production sense, probably because the irony amuses him. And yet, he enjoys a huge, cult fanbase. Evidence that there is more at work than production.

    Great list BTW. :D
     
  11. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    Boy your words are right on. We write a CD review column for a state wide publication and nothing makes me more frustrated than to hear a CD that is absolutely perfect with killer solos and perfect harmony parts. Then I go hear the band live and they suck. They went to some studio and used unlimited tracks, cut and pasted their leads and autotuned the vocals..and they suck.

    I remember getting a demo tape from a band that wanted to play at a festival I was producing. Great songs, nice horn section, killer B3 sounds..too bad they were a THREE PIECE rock trio.

    You need to add Truth in Advertising to your commandments.
     
  12. audiogirl

    audiogirl Guest

    here is one to bake your psycho-acoustic noodle:

    I was a watching a well rehearsed band in the studio and the drummer was trying really hard to lay a solid basic track on a latin-rock number. it was late and we all wanted him to "get it already" so the producer called the band in to "listen". we all thought it was a decent take, nothing that couldnt be repaired in the DAW. but the drummer didnt feel good about it. he heard our assurances and said.."ok, but im doing it again. i almost had it." so they did it again and the take was better but maybe not as emotional as the previous take when he was a bit frustrated. the drummer comes in overjoyed, declaring that he felt the groove and his whole demeanor was one of a man who had conquered a mountain.

    so here is the question:
    do we go into the studio to make music for the "pop market" or do we go into the studio to climb our mountains? sometimes one more take does the trick for the song and for the soul.
     
  13. audiogirl

    audiogirl Guest

    the odds are...that most of us wont get to "pop market", but all of us should have a shot (several re-shots) at those experiences in the studio that make us proud of the mountains we've climbed
     
  14. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    I usually tell the group something like this:

    "Ya know how during a rehearsal, sometimes you'll finish a song and everybody will just look at each other and go, Wow, why can't we do it like that everytime?" "Well, that's the sound I wanna get on tape."

    I explain that the group shouldn't hafta make any excuses for their demo; if they hafta make excuses, they shouldn't be giving it out to anybody.

    And finally, I explain that if my name is gonna be on there, it better be something that I'm proud of, too.

    If I think the take is "good enough", but the drummer thinks he can do better, I'll simply keep what I already have, and do a second take. If it's not as good as the take I have, I'll explain why, and that usually stops any more arguments. The groups pretty much trust me to be objective and to act in their best interest.

    That trust is earned by actually listening to their music, understanding what they're trying to achieve, and not displaying any ego about suggestions I make that they don't like.

    I always try to explain why something isn't working for me, and some ideas on how they can eliminate the problem, then it's their call as to changing it or leaving it alone. If they like it as is, we simply move on.
     

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