STUDIO TIPS FOR BANDS, SONGWRITERS AND MUSICIANS
HONOR THE SONG
The song will tell you what it wants and needs, if you're open enough. . . and willing to listen.
WHERE'S THE HOOK?
The part of the song you remember and hear over and over in your head. . . Either a catchy phrase, melody, or both. Nearly all "hit" songs have a "hook."
YOU HAVE 5-6 SECONDS TO DRAW IN YOUR AUDIENCE
Unfortunately, we live in a 5-second soundbyte world. When you're browsing through new music online, time yourself ! How long before you click on the next track or even the next artist if the music doesn't initially impress you? Enough said...
GET TO "THE HOOK" IN UNDER ONE MINUTE
Don't waste your time on a long complicated intro. Get to the meat of the song. . . Do the long version w/ instrumental solos on stage. Record execs will give you about 12 seconds of their time. If you spend a whole minute 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?
Are your lyrics really tight? Are you just throwing in lines to stretch the song? You've got roughly 3½ minutes to tell your story - make every second count.
IS IT BORING?
If your audience starts fidgeting halfway through the song, you're losing them. Either shorten the song or add more excitement.
IS IT SOUP ALREADY?
Too often we all tend to go past the point where a song is finished. Peole like to add extra parts in the studio, simply because they can. Somebody has to say the song is done at some point.
EMOTION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TECHNIQUE
Hits usually connect emotionally w/ the audience, either lyrically or musically...that's what sets them apart.
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 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. 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 Day, 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."
***These tips are a slightly modified version of a studio sign attributed to the extremely talented and accomplished sound engineer and studio owner Harvey Gerst of ITR Studios: http://www.itrstudio.com.