Studio Shopping Feature

So you’re about to spend money on recordings which means you’ll be studio shopping.

Every day artists come to Nashville and go studio shopping to put together the team that will render their dream. So many artists work with the amazing musicians, some of them in Recordings burning moneyunbelievable studio facilities, but they still end up with incredibly lackluster projects after they spend the money.

Why do poor recordings happen so often even with the best musicians and the best studios?

This report will help protect you and the monetary investment that you are about to make and help you with the scary task of studio shopping.  The idea is to prevent you from experiencing the studio “Car Wash” syndrome (not just in Nashville) where everyone is artistically treated and approached the same way. If you’ve been there (and I have as an artist), the studio “car wash” is a crappy, terrifying experience that delivers dull, disappointing recordings that lack any artistic “spark”.

I want to give you some tools to help you pick the appropriate personnel and facility for what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Have a clear idea of what your goal is for the recordings
    1. Is it a song demo?
    2. Are you thinking of recording a demo to shop to record labels?Recordings Engineer
    3. Is it an artist track?
    4. Are you a touring artist already or are you a new artist?
    5. This will play into how many songs you need to do, etc.
      1. Touring artists are more likely to make a full 10 song CD pay off as they can sell them from the stage and make their money back.
      2. New artists need not pay for a whole record, rather create an EP and use the remaining budget for mission critical marketing.
      3. Demos are demos, but what kind are you making?
  1. Understand the difference between a demo and an artist track and most importantly WHY they are so different.
    1. A SONG Demo is a demonstration of the SONG. The focus is on lyric, melody, and vibe of the song; that is what you are selling NOT the recording itself. Your goal here would be to get an artist cut.7 Things Image 3 Studio Recordings
      1. Demos that are created to showcase your talent to a potential record label are irrelevant today as record labels might love your music but they don’t develop talent. No record label is going to sign you based on your talent as articulated by your demo anymore. Today you HAVE to create cash flow first before a label will sign you. (Yes there are exceptions to this rule as always but that would be like you building your life around income from winning the lottery…NOT likely and your deal would SUCK)
      2. Demos or home studio recordings where you fiddle around artistically crafting your track before spending money in a proper recording are BRILLIANT.
    2. Artist track – The focus is on the Artist, the arrangements, the performances, and the song choices. The intent of an artist track is to sell the actual recording so it has to be HOT.
      1. Think Jamie Johnson’s “In Color”. This track is all about him, the song, and the vocal performance.
      2. Listen to any song from Van Halen I or Van Halen II. Those records are all about the guitar. Producer Ted Templeman found creative clever ways to ensure that focus happened sonically as well as with the arrangements. (For instance, if you listen you’ll notice the guitar is coming out of the left speaker by itself. Drums and bass are in the right speaker.) This was unusual creative production to feature their strength, Eddie Van Halen.
  • Artist tracks typically involve much more craftsmanship (i.e. song selection, preproduction, arrangements, instrumentation, BGV’s, etc.) than a demo, especially when it comes to the vocal.
    1. Song selection is important. A good producer is going to tell you what songs you should record, when to keep writing (especially for the artist defining first single), and what songs just aren’t strong enough. (Treat this process like Billy Joel did when he said, “I love all my songs equally as if they were all my children. Some grow up to be doctors and lawyers and some grow up to be delinquents.”
    2. You have to know and accept the difference between an “A” song and a “B” or “C” song.
  1. An artist track has to BLOW people away!
  1. Understand the genre you are working in and what has to happen to reproduce what you hear in your head
    1. Country/Rock is typically with a live band (although most “new” country and rock are also Recordings Reel To Reelprogrammed these days)
      1. If you use a studio where all the musicians are ONLINE then you may end up with elevator music so be careful!
        1. These online-choose-your-amazing-player type studios are typically the most expensive recording with the lowest return.
      2. If the studio you are considering is really one guy playing all the instruments, engineering the tracks, producing the song, and mixing as well, then your recording will most likely suffer and be flat energy wise. Probably elevator music.
        1. These are typically least expensive recordings (you can find guys in Nashville that will do this for $400/song including a pro singer!)
        2. FYI, professionals can identify these low budget performances/mixes/recordings instantly so these kinds of super cheap recordings are good for posterity but not for any professional applications.
      3. Most Pop and a lot of R & B music is programmed
        1. Here is where a live band is NOT what you want!! You want a killer programmer to nail the parts and you may occasionally use a musician like a guitar player or some other instrument to overdub some “color tracks”.
      4. Understand the difference between a producer and an engineerStudio Shopping Mixing
        1. Producing, arranging, engineering, and mixing are all very specific art forms in and of themselves. There are people in Nashville that make GREAT livings just doing one of these art forms.
          1. Don’t expect your guy to have mastered all these.
          2. Find out where he excels and where you can get better results going somewhere else i.e. for the mix. After all, it’s your track and it has to be good.
  • FYI, typically I’m not as picky about the mix on a song demo. However, I’m very picky about the engineer, producer, and mix on an artist track.
  1. Sometimes Producers are capable engineers, sometimes they aren’t.
  2. An engineer’s job is to tend to the sessions keeping the creative flow going ensuring the performances are appropriate, sonically superior, and relevant.Recordings Queensryche MindCrime
  3. Different engineers have different “ears”. If you’re fishing from a quality “pond” all your choices will be capable engineers but will deliver far different results.
    1. For instance, if you listen to 30 seconds of Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime you’ll quickly ascertain that Jimbo Barton has very “clean” ears. While this record is a masterpiece in the rock world, and Jimbo is a huge reason why, he wouldn’t have been a good choice to engineer Guns & Roses Appetite for Destruction record.
    2. Make sure you put some thought into how you want your record to sound and choose your engineer appropriately.Radio Appetite For Destruction image
  4. An engineer has to have a detail oriented personality to keep good “books” meaning he/she will painstakingly organize all your tracks to make post production as efficient as possible whether it’s to aid them or another engineer (which is often the case). The old “there’s a method to my madness and I can find what I need when I need it in this pile of crap” methodology is lazy, unprofessional, and unacceptable. You’ll pay dearly for that in set up charges if you ever need to go anywhere else.
  5. A Producer will be at the helm in charge of sailing your artistic ship and articulating your vision.
    1. The producer is a creative that infuses energy into the project. Their job is to help the artist articulate their creative dream.
    2. A producer has to “hear” and “feel” the artists in terms of artistic lane definition, song choices, sonic goals, arrangements, communication with artists and vocalists to “push” for stellar performances.
  • A producer is also a project manager (meaning you’re getting what you want on time and under budget).
  1. A producer will have relationships with musicians (if you need them) and be capable of leading them. Often in Nashville, if you don’t have a producer, the musicians will lead a rookie artist without a producer. That Recordings Musicianmakes for a “car wash” situation without fail and it costs the same. Most musicians are honest, great people but if they’re not getting paid to produce they’re getting paid to record and that’s what they’re going to focus on; recording as efficiently as possible. With no captain on the ship the project will most like run aground.
  2. REMEMBER: The art of “making records” is VASTLY different than knowing how to press the record button with capable musicians. There is a difference and you and/or your producer better know it.
  3. A producer will create psychological bonds with you and your band to develop trust and elevate their understanding of the recording process and how to excel at their performance.
  • A producer is usually the best musician in the room.
  1. Find a reputable production company or studio with an engineer and a producer who understand your vision and needs
    1. Pre-production
      1. Making a record is similar to painting a room. 90% preparation and 10% actual painting.
    2. If you’re recording an artist project are they pushing you with your lyric/songs quality or just agreeing with everything you want to record to complete the project and get paid?Mistake Bon Jovi Collage
      1. Listen to the first 2 Bon Jovi records and then listen to their 3rd release Slippery When Wet. The third release they really focused on songs and it shows. Different producer, different outcome.
    3. What musicians will the studio be using?
      1. Listen to past works
      2. Casting is crucial
        1. I usually keep around 5 VERY amazing acoustic players in my stable. They all have different nuances that are more appropriate for certain tracks (i.e. delicate fingers, heavy handed Stonesy vibe, very clean finger picking, etc.)
      3. Does he have access to the kind of musicians you need?
        1. It’s possible that you could utilize a main studio for certain tracks and OD the guitars elsewhere for instance with someone more appropriate for the job (and less expensive).
      4. Move forward with your songs when you are ready.
        1. Every journey HAS to begin with the first step
        2. Martin Luther King said “faith” is taking the first step when you can’t see the whole staircase. You will never see the whole staircase
        3. A point of perspective, Billy Joel said that he loves every song that he has ever written equally. They are his babies.  Some of his babies grow up to be doctors and lawyers, and some of his babies grow up to be delinquents!! So LET THEM GROW UPRecordings Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
        4. One demo or one artist album or EP is merely a “snapshot” of that moment in time and your artistry so don’t let “perfection” get in the way of forward progress.
          1. Manford Mann was responsible for Bruce Springsteen’s first 2 #1 hit singles with their rendition of “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirits in the Night”. FYI, when Bruce first handed in his debut recording Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. into Columbia records, neither of these 2 songs were recorded or written! Clive Davis told Springsteen there was nothing he could put on the radio so he should go back and write some more. Bruce did that. Maybe reluctantly but he trusted Clive and wrote his first two #1’s (albeit by another artist). Manfred Mann told an interviewer that he rather enjoyed restructuring and “playing” with Springsteen’s early songs. However, when asked why he didn’t continue to revamp Bruce’s songs in lieu of the successes of the first two, Mann said that Springsteen had gotten so good at songwriting he didn’t feel he could improve them.

My point here is that while Springsteen’s first and second releases were critically acclaimed (understood by people with more sophisticated artistic palates who saw the raw brilliance and identified the unusual songwriting approach) they didn’t sell well at all. It wasn’t until Bruce’s 3rd release Born to Run that he refined his craft to the point where the masses began to respond.

It’s also important to note that he was willing to refine his craft and did so initially at the behest of the record label head. He could’ve simply bowed up on Clive Davis and told him his art was just fine the way it is and his art is “subjective” and all the crap you hear from non-professionals.

Instead he chose to learn and that led him down a path to being considered one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.

Well there you have it. I hope this helps you prepare for a KILLER recording!
Good Luck!

Johnny Dwinell