You would think that after 25 years of being a professional musician that I’d have it all figured out. You would be wrong. One of the exciting things about being a musician and songwriter, is that you never run out of ways to keep moving forward and improving. The opportunities for growth as a musician are never ending. There is no final destination that you’ll arrive to and have it all figured out as a musician. As a professional musician you need to constantly grow and adapt to the changing environment.
2020 has been one of those years where, despite all the craziness, or perhaps in some ways because of the craziness, I’ve been able to move forward and create new and improved routines and systems for writing and making music. I’ve been able to refine and improve upon past methods and approaches to recording and develop ways to work more efficiently and quickly.
I did something sort of spontaneous and a little crazy this year, in large part because of the Covid pandemic and some of the unexpected changes that came as a result. A good friend of mine and a long-time musical collaborator and I had talked for years about spending an extended period of time together writing and recording music. Over the years we’ve made many trips to visit each other and would spend up to a few weeks at time working on music together. Many of the songs we’ve collaborated on over the years have found their way onto tv shows, video games and more, but we always felt there was potential to do even more, if only we could find the time. Well, 2020 has delivered the time we were looking for!
[Here’s a track called “Breath Divine” we collaborated on that was recently licensed by the UK supermarket, Tesco. (Production by Gary Gray)]
This year, my friend lost his job due to the Covid pandemic and we decided to seize this opportunity to do what we’ve talked about for all these years and rent a place together with the sole purpose of making music. A few weeks ago we signed a year lease on a four bedroom villa in the Caribbean, where we’re setting up all our recording equipment and we'll be embarking on a year’s worth of writing and recording. We chose the Caribbean due to its lower cost of living and the inspiration from all the beauty of all the nature that surrounds us. 2020 just seemed like a good excuse to step back, unplug for a bit and get back to the basics. Which in our case, is simply focusing on making more music, with as few distractions as possible.
Preparing For Recording Sessions
One of the advantages of being in the same space as my songwriting partner and collaborator, is the ease of getting together to work on music, schedule rehearsals and schedule recording times. Since we’re in the same space, we can literally just walk out of our bedrooms and meet each other across the hall in our studio. Being in close proximity is allowing us to easily schedule all the necessary time together to rehearse sufficiently, work on new material and schedule consistent blocks of recording time.
In the past, we would sometimes run into issues when we got together to record music where when we went to work on a track, certain aspects of the performance weren’t quite right initially. Maybe it was something about a particular vocal phrase that was a little off, or maybe it was a harmony part that didn’t quite work. Perhaps it was a rhythm guitar part that wasn’t quite tight enough. It could be any number of different, usually, small things. We would always find ways to fix these issues. With modern recording software and plug ins there are ways to “fix” just about anything. The problem is it can be time consuming and the digital “fixes” are almost never as good as simply performing things correctly in the first place.
My biggest challenge over the years has been with vocals. I’ve come a really long way as a vocalist. A few months ago I went back and listened to my vocals from about 20 years ago. I cringed. It was that bad. Over the years I’ve practiced countless hours, I’ve performed hundreds of shows as a vocalist, I’ve recorded around 100 songs where I’m the lead vocalist. After a lot of work, I’ve gotten to the point where my vocals sound pretty damn good, if I must say so myself.
But as anyone who records music can attest to, recording vocals in a studio setting and singing live or just sitting and singing with a guitar, are two completely different experiences. When you get into a studio, put the headphones on and go to sing a vocal, where you hear your vocals loud in the cans, with other tracks in the mix, it’s a totally different experience. To sing well in this setting, you need to be really prepared. You need to know the part inside and out. There needs to be no hesitation or uncertainty. The more prepared you are, the more you can let go and get a really great, emotional performance.
The main thing my friend and I are doing differently now in terms of preparing for our recording sessions is simply spending more time rehearsing, prior to starting the recording process. In particular, rehearsing vocals. We did a recording session for vocals last night on a new track of mine. This particular song has a two-part harmony throughout the track. It’s a pretty challenging part for me, as it covers a really wide range that is both at the edge of what I’m able to sing in my lower and higher registers.
We decided to spend a week rehearsing the song, pretty much every night for an hour or two, prior to going into the studio to get it as tight as possible. We would get together and record the track, with both of us singing our parts and then play it back. We’d make note of anything that sounded off or needed tightening. Then we would do it again. Then we’d listen back again and simply repeat that process until we worked out any kinks or parts that didn’t sound tight. Once we get our parts locked in, it’s simply a matter of rehearsing them consistently throughout the week until we feel like we’re ready.
After following this method for our latest track, when we went to record vocals last night it was a piece of cake. It was the smoothest, most painless vocal session I’ve ever had. The first take was completely in tune and on point. Then I just sang it a few more times so that we had a few extra tracks to work with. There was no punching in or needing to record things one section at a time as I would often need to do in the past. We both looked at each other in awe.
Who would’ve known, practice really does make perfect!
This might seem like an obvious suggestion, but if you’re struggling to get great, impactful performances in the studio, spend more time rehearsing your tracks before you record them. Get to know each song intimately. Memorize the lyrics. Be able to sing and play your songs in your sleep, backwards and forwards. This sort of over compensation will make your recordings sessions a breeze and will allow you to capture your best performance possible.
PS. If you're interested in studying music licensing and songwriting in a tropical environment, send me a brief email, with a few details about yourself. One of the things we'll be using our space for in the Caribbean, starting in 2021, will be to host small retreats and mentorships for songwriters and composers interested in moving forward in licensing and related music endeavors, in one of the most peaceful, serene environments on the planet. More details coming soon!