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Music Life: 09 - MUSICAL PRODUCTIVITY! - Part 4 - Record Final Performances
By Brian Donovan - 05/14/2009 - 06:37 PM EDT

Hello and Welcome.  If you're joining our discussion midstream, I suggest you go back to Part 1 so you understand why I'm about to make a heap of unnecessary work for all of you.

Alright, I know what you are all thinking: "I just spent all this time, capturing & organizing my musical ideas, then I wrote and re-wrote scratch versions of songs from those ideas, then I arranged (and re-arranged) full demos from those scratch versions.  So what the heck are you making me do here?  Go back to my sessions and start RE-RECORDING performances and RE-WORKING mixes?!?!  That's a waste of time when I could start making money off these fully-produced recordings right now!ď

But can you?  I've been a member of a notable A&R service that most of us have all heard of for some time now.  And I can tell you that what YOU think is high quality, may only be "close" in the industry's eyes.  When I first joined Taxi, I had a record that was totally completed and I was using the mixes of the pop/rock songs off this record for my submissions to A&R Reps and notable record producers looking for tracks that, stylistically, my songs fit to a T.  All of which were rejected with scores of 7, 8 or 9 out of a "10 being best" scale.  Why?!  Because they fell short.  Mostly in the performances category.  That record wasn't much more than a demo in terms of quality and I didn't know it at the time.  The industry is looking for top notch.  Not a notch FROM the top.

So, with that in mind, (and if you're still with me, cudos to you for being willing to accept that maybe you need work in some areas) we need to jump into the next and FINAL step of completing our songs:

4. record (and re-record) individual parts to create final versions of these arrangements and call the project done

So hereís what you do: accept that your mix is just a demo, and then stop listening to it.  Perhaps for a day or two.  If you listen to it constantly, youíll get used to how it sounds and it will grow on you, then itís MUCH harder to change things.  Now, imagine a shiny piece of metal.  Imagine if it sat in your garage for a month, it would be dusty, perhaps grimy (depending on the weather) and definitely a bit dirty.  It might still be your favorite piece, but when you polish it up, it will look even better.  THATíS what you need to do to this song: polish it.  Make sure all your performances (guitar, drums, piano, vocal, etc...) have clean endings (no clicks or pops, no lip smacks, no stick clicks, no pick noise, etc...)  And with todayís technology, itís pretty easy to clean up a performance thatís a little short of perfection.  But you have to look (and listen) a little harder than normal, so be prepared to listen all the way through to the bass part as itís soloed by itself, without the fx on.  If you canít do it, because youíre bored, maybe the bass part isnít exciting enough.  Every part of every song should be exciting to listen to.  If not, either the part is boring, or the performance is.  Either way, you should re-track it.

Now for a real-world story about bass, since weíre talking about it.  I was working with a pretty prominent producer who was high up (at the time) with a cartoon-based company that centered around a small, furry creature with big ears.  ;)  And he listened to a track that I was working on for him.  His response was very A&R-ish: ďI donít understand what the song is about...the track is all wrong.Ē  I was secretly horrified and quickly thought of an idea: I turned the bass part way up in the mix and played the intro again.  This time, he started tapping his foot and noddiní his head.  He jumped out of his chair when the chorus hit and exclaimed, ďThatís it!  I donít know what you did, but THATíS IT!Ē  He just didnít know how to tell me that the bass was too low and so he wasnít feeling the all-important groove he was looking for.

After youíre sure that all your performances are great to listen to by themselves (and remember that sounds play a huge part in these performances!  I spent an enormous amount of time re-tracking individual parts for my last record when it came time to mix and I had realized that a bunch of my guitar sounds just didnít blend in the mix.  Itís important, because once youíre done with these songs, you donít want to HAVE to go back to them...EVER.  At least not for fixes to the songís arrangements.  I recently got asked for instrumental versions of my pop/rock songs for tv placement, and thus, had to spend almost a week tweaking and bouncing out mixes that I just simply neglected to create the first time around during the mix process.  Phew...  (Side Note: ALWAYS (notice thatís in caps) create instrumental mixes of your songs (absolutely no vocals) AND versions that just leave out the lead vocal (leaving the background vocals in)  -  !ALWAYS!  Itís REALLY easy to do when youíre mixing, not so easy 6 months or a year later...

So, once you feel your performances have been recorded amazingly well and the playing is top notch, THEN, mix.  Actually, do a ROUGH mix.  Then play that rough mix on several different stereos, in your car, on your ipod, through your tv, over at your friendís house, in your friendís car, etc, etc, etc...  Youíre looking for consistency.  And take notes on what stands out.  Some speakers will make the bass stand out, some will make the kick drum stand out, and still, some will make that guitar you really canít hear on any other speakers...louder than the vocal.  Once you hear these differences, go back to your session and find a middle ground for each problem area.  The last thing you want is a great mix in your car that sounds crappy to the A&R Rep listening to an mp3 through his mono computer speaker.  Remember always that a mix is like a painting: youíre telling the listener what to ďlook atĒ and when...give the mix itís proper treatment and your song will be around and relevant for years to come.  If your mix sounds good on all the different speakers you test it on, all your friends and relatives love it AND youíre happy with your spotless performances:

. . . CONGRATULATIONS!  You now have a finished product that strictly came out of your random inspiration and should stand the test of time as well.

Next time, Iíll be sure to pick a lighter subject.  ;)

Until then, appreciate the horizon...

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