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."