‘Success is when preparation meets opportunity’
If you want to have a smooth and successful recording/production sesh, you have to come into it prepared. With tight budgets, and with the tiny amount of time we have for our music, we have to get our act together! Yes, there is a place for the usual ‘improv’, but I’m sure that’s not what your producer or engineer wants to hear (especially when the clock is ticking).
What musicians alike never talk about is, success in this industry is all about the mindset (professionalism) and the execution of a task. You are there to do a ‘job’. Yes, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but the earlier you grasp this idea, the better it is for you. Imagine this; whenever you walk into an Apple store on a new product launch day (let’s say the iPhone X), every single employee has been briefed on what to expect from customers, and how to respond to them. They are also taught not to sell the product, but inform the customer and meet their needs. The employees don’t just ‘improvise’ and expect it to be a smooth and successful engagement; there is a game plan, and an execution to be made.
Once the project officially begins, the clock is ticking; and there is nothing worse than an artist/band who feels they are owed a silver platter, and that they could just improvise on the day. Don’t get me wrong, as a musician, you should always have room to be open to accept new ideas/recommendations from your collaborators. But from my experience, both as an artist and producer, the best work I do is when I come into a project prepared, and knowing what I or the client wants out of it.
Here is my advice to aspiring artists on how to prepare for a production sesh:
- It’s all about solidifying your song idea (it’s all about the song) – A song to me, at its heart, is a combination of the lyrics and the melody. The music behind it is only there to serve the message, not overshadow it (unless it is a certain type of looped genre AKA: EDM). So the first step to all this is to gather all your ideas/song titles/melodies/lyrics in a tangible form and really hone in on its focus, so by the time you come into the session, it is ready to be given the full expression it needs.
A focused and strong song idea will not only help you as an artist (to support your expressions true message), but it will also work in your producer’s favour, by giving them a solid focal point to support). Finally, another reason why a solid song idea is integral, is because it forces everyone to be on the same page, and not detract from it.
- Know your part and role inside and out – If you come into a sesh, with a half-assed unrehearsed musical part, don’t expect your producer to save the day (it is your art remember?). I like to think of it this way, the artist is the person crossing the bridge and the producer is the bridge that supports that crossing. Your only goal is to get to the other side (create an astounding song). Get it?
Yes, there is auto-tune, audio fixing/editing with every studio and DAW nowadays, and it is highly widespread and used, but do you really want these ‘tools’ to be the forefront of your talent? Or do you want to be at the forefront? Have a think about that one.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for everything, and the ‘fix in the mix’ mentality can have its benefits, but if you solely rely on it, it could also hinder your full potential as a musician. Trust me I know. Imagine quantising and perfectly tuning John Mayer’s guitar riffs, would he still be the John Mayer he is now? I don’t think so.
The best songs I’ve personally worked on, are the ones where the musicians came in so prepared and knew their parts, that the external tools were barely used, if not used at all. Most music fans and listeners will probably not care too much, maybe they won’t even notice it. But they can certainly feel when real musicianship is executed on a record.
- Be open to other people’s ideas – As an artist, your art is your reality, and only you can fully make that vision come to life and express that essence. But sometimes, in our musical journey, we get tunnel vision, and stop growing, cause we think we know it all, and know what’s best for us. Maybe we do. But out of all the advice I’ve received in terms of creativity, this is by far the most revered and possibly ignored. The aspect of being open to other people’s ideas. Whether that be a comment on your persona, your vocal tone, lyrics, and hell, even your fashion. Absorb everyone’s opinion, and squeeze out the ones that you don’t connect with.
Let me give you a quick example. I was producing a singer who had an amazing voice, a great sense of timing, and an undeniably captivating performance. But there was one thing missing; the song needed a bit of humanity. It was a song about being vulnerable, why not portray that? She didn’t really get what I meant; but as soon as she applied the sense of vulnerability on the new vocal takes; the song took a level of its own. It suddenly came alive; it almost felt like I could reach into her experience. Pretty powerful stuff. Remember this; when people give advice, it is a sense of nostalgia for them. Try to be understanding, maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re right. Either way, there is no hurt in trying out their advice, or the very least, considering it.
And as usual, take the advice you think will work for you; and get rid of the ones you don’t agree with (don’t worry, I won’t take it personally).
If you would like to know more, or just connect and chat, come say hi (@jonathanmilanes):