It's understandable that a good sounding record requires a good amount of post production. That is.. fine tuning the sound 'post' recording it. This is where a lot of engineers make their living, taking the individual tones and providing balance and creativity so they come together as beautiful, powerful vibrations from your speakers.
However, the longer I work in pro audio, the more I discover that often the unsung hero in a great record, is pre-production. Which in a nut shell means.. getting ready to hit the studio and record your music.
Ive been working with the band Tempermore for the last couple weeks, we've been doing pre-production. We've recorded hours and hours of music together that no one (other then these 5 talented musicians and myself) will ever hear, all of it will be deleted! why? because it's not any good! let me explain..
The band pretty much got all of their bad takes and mistakes out of the way, they exposed all of the parts that weren't working in the songs, and wrote new parts that would work better. They figured out which tones came through too harsh, and which tones needed to cut through more! Lets explore their discoveries a little deeper..
They realised some rhythm parts would work better on acoustic guitar rather then the clean strat. Listening back to the recorded pre production they discussed 'maybe if James (the drummer) you attack the snare a bit more in the chorus, it will push the groove along'. Bass player Darcy had written really flowing bass grooves for pretty much the entire record, so guitarists Jason, and Alex noticed they could really relax into the groove a lot more and didn't have to work so hard to try and drive the songs. There were many many realisations the band had about their own music, and a ton of revisions and improvements they made during the pre-pro sessions but probably my favourite one, and the one that will save them the most amount of time, money and frustration when we begin tracking next week, was tempo!
Man! Jason was on to the boys about tempo! He knew how the tracks were supposed to feel! Pre production like the actual recording was all to the click track (which drummer James was bang on to btw) but the tracks had to feel right, for the majority of the tracks the whole thing needed to speed up or slow down by 2 or 3 bpm from what we'd originally tapped out. But there were a few tracks where the verses sounded good but the chorus needed to move along a bit, so we experimented with different timings for those parts, up by 2bpm, if it didn't quite feel right, we'd go up by 3bpm, and it made such a difference to the flow of the riffs and melodies. Then we would work out which bars the increases needed to occur, and how long they'd take to come back down to the original tempo. As well as being good fun, it was incredibly productive to do this. When we start tracking drums next week, if we hadn't have done this tempo writing, James would have been banging out the tracks to a uniform click, Darcy likewise on the bass, and when it got to the guitars and vocal we'd have realised it was too slow!! then what?! we'd have settled on something sub standard, or... waste a ton of time and money fixing it! When we finished up the tracks and got them sounding neat, I exported the demo version for Corey the vocalist to practise his parts at home, and figure out some extra parts that could be added to enhance the recording.
So not only were Tempermore Pros and Pre-production, I wanted to list some pros of pre-production
1 - IT SAVES TIME, As mentioned in the illustration above, When the red light goes on, and the audio is recording, if you already know, whats going to work and what your part is, you can save a lot of time discussing, revising, and experimenting, and just focus on recording your part well. And in the studio, so often time is money
2 - IT BUILDS RELATIONSHIP, Recording the music birthed from your heart and soul can be a draughting thing, to leave it in the hands of an engineer or producer is scary, especially if what you're recording 'needs work'. I loved these couple of sessions with Tempermore for the ice breaker aspect, I got to know the guys, got to have a few laughs with them, and we began to build trust. When we get stuck into tracking we will both be a lot more open to having some of those 'I think I need one more solid take' type conversations.
3 - YOUR RECORD SOUNDS BETTER, A bit of planning goes along way. Working out what works and what doesn't is no accident. There are a few exceptions to the rule, when something unplanned and magical happens during recording, but more often then not, our favourite parts of the records we love have been planned, figured out, and designed to sound awesome!
4 - SHAKE OFF THE RED LIGHT NERVES, Recording is super scary! I really feel for artists who walk into the studio with me holding their guitar, and I say "ok, lets hear it, lets record your song" bare your soul in front of all these microphones. Pre Production is a way to get rid of all those nerves prior to the crucial takes. When you go to lay down the real vocal you're in a place of familiarity, you know whats required, and more over, you know you'll sound good!
I hope you got something out of this article. I'm a big fan of pre production, and I encourage all the artists wanting high quality recordings to do some pre production
Listen out for Tempermore's EP. The guys are awesome! it's been a blast working with them so far, and they've got some killer songs they're recording with me at Dotted Eight Studio