Author: McNeal, Brian

How Many Hats Can You Wear?
 

So your band is going into the studio to record their very first CD. You're excited, you've planned and prepared and saved and re-planned and saved some more.

You're going to play more than one instrument. You're going to sing lead on some songs and backup on others. Some of the songs you know well – you wrote them. Others you're still not comfortable with but the other band members insist they need to be on the project. You have limited funds with which to work and time is limited also.

You've got your hands full! So why do you think you and your band mates want to take on the extra burden of producing the recording too? Here are some very critical questions you must first ask yourself and your band mates:

A) Have you ever produced anyone else in the studio?

B) Do you really know what the job entails?

C) Finally, are you the BEST person for the job?

If only every amateur bluegrass band who wants to go into the studio and record their first record would just call me beforehand and ask what they should do or should not do!

backup on others. Some of the songs you know well – you wrote them. Others you're still not comfortable with but the other band members insist they need to be on the project. You have limited funds with which to work and time is limited also.

You've got your hands full! So why do you think you and your band mates want to take on the extra burden of producing the recording too? Here are some very critical questions you must first ask yourself and your band mates:

A) Have you ever produced anyone else in the studio?

B) Do you really know what the job entails?

C) Finally, are you the BEST person for the job?

If only every amateur bluegrass band who wants to go into the studio and record their first record would just call me beforehand and ask what they should do or should not do!

The first three things on my top ten list to tell these bands would be:

1) GIVE UP THE IDEA OF SELF-PRODUCING!

2) GIVE UP THE IDEA OF SELF-PRODUCING!

3) GIVE UP THE IDEA OF SELF-PRODUCING!

Self-producing for some can be another creative outlet and can often lead to super-individualized material. However, for the newbies, and for many seasoned professionals as well, it can also be the kiss of death for the project.

One of the reasons many choose to self-produce is to save the cost of a producer. When budgets are tight, we all try to cut back somewhere; but, cutting back here is much like putting all your money into a brand new Cadillac but going down to the city dump to pick up four free tires for your new ride. It's just not going to be all it can be … and neither will your recording.

Another one of the reasons for self-producing is ego-based. It's the idea that no one knows their music better than they do and therefore no one can be as good at producing as they can. This is true in only a very, very few isolated cases, but the concept seems to dominate new recordings anyway. And more new recordings get round-filed at radio stations, record labels and prospective new agents offices everyday because of it.

I remember watching a video several years ago on a young new string band. They had the wisdom to choose a well known producer and she was all over them for playing or singing lazy – not giving it everything, playing with heart, etc. – all the things they couldn't hear themselves. Watching the video and hearing the difference in the band after she had finished coaching was amazing. It was something they themselves just couldn't hear. They were too close to the project, too involved and therefore unable to be objective.

I've just previewed a few new groupss debut efforts for my radio show recently. One in particular, I've seen live on stage and they're great. They win contests. I couldn't wait to hear their CD. Now I'm sorely disappointed. I've gotten through the first five songs out of 12 and I haven't been able to listen all the way through to the end on a one of them because of that dammed amateur stamp. It's almost as if they got themselves a rubber stamp with AMATEUR on it and rubber stamped the whole project to death. I never heard that from their stage performances. What happened?

On one of the songs, at just barely14 seconds into the song with three-part harmony, two of the singers are pronouncing the word "THING" and one is pronouncing "THIN". The word is “thing.” It is so obvious. I can't imagine why someone - even the engineer didn't yell "CUT" right then and make them start over.

Geez … is 14 seconds of re-do that much that you can't start over?

Same song, the word they're singing is "ROAD." The song's melody calls for the word to be stretched out. Two of them are singing ROOOAAAADDDD. And the third is singing ROOAOAOADDD! Again, didn't they listen to the finished digital file before they moved on to the next song? A good producer would never have allowed that song to stick to the project unless it could have been improved.

These may be the very same things they do with this song on stage – I don't know. But in a live performance, there are so many other things for the listeners to focus on that little things like this might go undetected. Whereas on a recording, it is going to be that way forever and without any visual stimuli from the band, the listener will key-in on the sound a lot more and a lot quicker than at a live show.

With home studios so prevalent these days, there's just no excuse any longer for having studio fright and not getting the same sound on tape that you can produce on stage. There's also a lot to be said about using professional studio musicians instead of your stage band. Just like you use different tools to accomplish different jobs. There is a reason they're professional STUDIO musicians.

Case in point: A good friend of mine had a great country band in Phoenix. And he was a pretty fair songwriter. By day he'd work construction then play three or four nights a week, saving everything he could to go into the studio and record. Phoenix had some pretty top notch studios in those days. (Waylon Jennings recorded one of his albums there after he was a big superstar.)

I'd heard a lot of my friend's recordings using his own band. They were quite good. Then the radio station where I worked hired Buck Owen's son, Buddy Alan, to work on the air. Buddy had just come from Bakersfield and wanted to play but didn't have a backup band. I introduced him to my friend and they became Buddy's band anytime he needed one.

That led to my friend and Buddy having a great friendship and Buddy convinced him to go to Bakersfield with him. Buck was scaling down just before retirement and wasn't touring anymore. So the Buckaroos were pretty much just sitting around with not much to do and Buddy knew they wanted to play. So my friend's songs, the ones we'd heard before with his own band got re-recorded with all of the Buckaroos picking on them. I can't begin to describe to you the difference it made on his songs! It was like the Buckaroos elevated his songs from good to superstar status. But then, they knew their way around a studio.

I often see folks at the do-it-yourself home store attempting to load 8 foot long lumber and tons of block or mortar into a compact vehicle. Obviously, the wrong vehicle, and renting or borrowing a more suitable truck or trailer would be the better choice. But they didn't realize when they bought that car that they'd be using it for this purpose … lack of planning.

So it is with your recording too. Knowing just what you want to do with the end result will help you in the studio. But then after the project is finished, remember what your intent was and don't go trying to make it more than what you started out to accomplish. For instance, if all you wanted was to produce a commemorative CD for fans to purchase at live shows and you had a very limited budget, switching your purpose after the fact to wanting radio stations to play your music could be a mistake. Likewise a CD produced for the fans and then later used for a demo record to get the attention of a major record label could also be a mistake. What your fans will accept from you is going to be a lot different, and should I say, a lot less critical than what a broadcaster or a record label exec is going to be looking for or listening to.

So, if your purpose is multi-fold, go for the most critical situation. Produce your CD for the one that matters most and most likely all the other purposes will be more than satisfied.

Producing a good quality CD is like anything else in life. The really professional people make it look a lot easier than it actually is. That's because they've already paid their dues, made the same mistakes you're making and they've learned from them. The really, really professional people also learned from the mistakes of others and avoided them in their own projects. You can too.

Remember, when it comes time to fly to the moon, wouldn't you really like to have Buzz Aldrin or John Glenn at the controls rather than flying the craft yourself? Your CD recording is just as critical.

Here's wishing you the best of luck.

Have a great Bluegrass Day...and Happy New Year!

 
Posted:  12/28/2013



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