We are in an age where recording devices are aplenty. As is the ability to manipulate the recording to make something appear to be a full take when it’s not.
I take pride when I can do a full performance of something, but sometimes things need editing.
Some people have the privilege and means to record in an environment with endless time to make their craft.
A lot more of us if we do have that space have a precious amount of time in there.
Adrenaline kicks in and we are aware of every error. A 4 minute performance is marred in our head because of an error that took place in a second.
Though, for all this pressure, it’s easy to underestimate a quality that is important.
We are humans, making mistakes and errors is part of the process of making something. When so much has gone well in a take, is it really worth discrediting because of one minuscule discrepancy that only you (or the real analytical snobs) can discern?
There’s also a charm in the imperfection of a note as well.
There’s a subjectivity here, a need for careful judgement, but I know for a fact that aiming for perfection alone sets up a trap for ourselves.
On average, I would say that I spend 30 hours a week looking at a screen like this.
Every once in a while, I sit there and think in order to have achieved what I am doing right now thirty years ago, I would have had to be sitting in a much larger room than my office right now, working on a mixing desk that would be the same value as a car then plugging through interfaces that would be twice the value of said car.
It’s pretty incredible how technology and software has advanced and here I am recording music on a laptop with a couple of microphones and an interface. However, the development in technology does not by default make one capable of producing a good record.
The drawback of having such an abundance of sound engineering at the tips of our fingers is that it is easy to forget the important elements of producing a good recording. A lot of the older records made in the 70’s that have become loved so fondly is because the people behind them were working with limitations.
I sat in a class at metropolis studios with Eddie Kramer whilst he told me the virtues of recording Jimi Hendrix with a four-track mix tape and it has been a revelation to me ever since that going to town and back with Pro-Tools 10 isn’t necessarily the way to achieving a good recording.
So, here are the three-essential things I believe are necessary to producing a good recording.
1.) The Song
Without a good song, a good recording is impossible. What is a good song then? The answer to that is subjective but I think it revolves around three words: and that is conviction, conviction and conviction! It’s about knowing what you want to achieve with your song, the emotion, the feeling or the atmosphere you are trying to create; that doesn’t necessarily mean including a strong chorus or hook, you may be able to produce a good song simply from one or two long notes. The more aware you are of what a song’s purpose is, the more likely you are of producing a good recording
2.) The Arrangement
The arrangement is probably where most aspiring writers initially stumble. You can have a plethora of great ideas but the key to then producing a good record is arranging them in a way that is sophisticated and logical. How much should one section be repeated? How much texture should be added? What is the role of the dynamics? Does that harmony really need to be there? When producing a record, one needs to have these questions continually running through their mind, and being decisive and honest about them when answering them.
3.) The performance
As with the song writing, it is all about CONVICTION in your performance. The delivery, the sincerity, the phrasing, the tone, the dynamics; It is about awareness of the details! In my previous record, there were some guitar solos that took me two hundred takes before I got what I wanted, other solos just required the one take. It is a bizarre process, but it is about what feels right.
When you listen back to your records, it is a very difficult task, but you have to truly ask yourself if what you are producing is at all close to what you want. It is by only being very honest with yourself, that you can expect to eventually reach as close to what you envisaged in that beautiful moment of inspiration.
5 examples of great records
There are hundreds out there, but here are the first five that came to mind, and include some of my favourite glorious moments of production. It is a good exercise for any producer, aspiring or experienced to do – sit back, relax, enjoy listening to music and finding out what they love so much about their favourite records and how it can influence their own work.