jacob detering is making records

Icon... The endless quest to make a record that I enjoy listening to ...

planning to make a record, what's next?

My partner Lauren Markow mentioned in passing conversation that in addition to blogging about the goings on in my musical world, I should begin scripting short utilitarian blogs about the record making process. As with most things, getting started is always the hardest part and at first attempt at writing, I got stuck in the usual places: What do I know about anything? Where would I begin?

Here's a novel idea - how 'bout at the beginning?

Making records is an often cathartic, emotional experience for artists. After all, it's in many ways akin to the birthing process; watching a song enter the physical world, growing from nucleus of an idea into a full on art piece. That being said, I feel it critical when considering the record making process, to set those feelings aside and honestly assess what the record needs to do for you and your career. Are you making a record as a keepsake or benchmark of your artistic growth? Or are you crafting a tool that will serve to further your career? Answer dependent, you should then decide direction, approach and ultimately the budget for your project. This considered, the following are things I frequently run into as a producer/engineer which have potential to make or break a project:

Songs are everything (songs are boss!)::
Send me your demos sooner than later. And while at it, send me everything! Songs are obviously the cornerstones of a good record. No amount of polishing, gear or playing can change that. I like to be involved in helping make play list decisions and working thru re-writes if necessary. I have a gigantic imagination, so don't bother making clean demos; if I can hear chord changes and words, I'm usually fine. If I tell you a song is 'weak' it doesn't mean I don't like you or your songs. It simply means I think you have better material in you.

Right part, right instrument::
Nothing will impact the sound or landscape of a recording like the right part performed on the right instrument. If I had a dollar for every time a drummer loaded in a 27 piece drum kit complete with piccolo snare drum and roto toms and proceeded to tell me he fancies John Bonham-esque drum sounds I'd be a wealthy man. Despite what you might think, you cannot make something sound like something it's not. Carpenters and mechanics all adhere to a simple philosophy: Use the right tool for the job, people!

The studio is not your basement::
Playing in the studio is a honed skill. For drummers, studio work is far more about playing the room and self-balancing the kit (kick to snare, snare to hat, etc) than it is about chops. Be organized about your ideas and execute them in an articulate, organized fashion! This means, don't noodle; play parts. Most brilliant session players I work with are systematic in their approach usually playing just time and fundamentals for the first several takes followed with crazier approaches after we're sure we have the part. Listen to your favorite records and REALLY assess what you hear. Here's a secret: You don't hear drum fills, guitar solos and noodling. Instead, you hear organized, memorable parts and usually, SONGS.

Listening is an art, the studio affords perspective::
Making records allows you to really hear what works and what doesn't. If you come in too sold on your own parts, you often lose the benefit of perspective that the studio offers. My guess is this is why the great players, engineers, producers and mixers all say that making music is truly the art of LISTENING, not playing.

Make your best record, not a record that's already been made::
People often ask me what happened to the music business. While I could give you a million answers, - I think the most accurate one has something to do with artists defining their success relational to something else they know as successful. Writing and making records has become a winnowed process much like a funnel. As you pour your ideas in - the options are abundant; you have creativity in writing, arrangement and engineering. But as you apply the 'success filter' to your process, you start trying to make your art sound like something else already deemed successful. You in turn choose from a palette of five 'successful' guitar sounds, three 'hot' snare and kick drum samples and you abandon your own creative, sonic signature.

Plan your work and work your plan::
In conversations with artists over the last few years, I've been offering the following advice: Assume the record itself will change nothing and that it's everything else that will make or break your career. Trust me, as someone that makes records this is tough for me to say. However, I truly believe that success with selling a record has far more to do with support/sales systems created than the creative/sonic perfection of your recording. Spend time planning about how to increase your visibility, ability to sell product and merch both online and off the stage.

J.

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Jacob Detering said...

exactly what i mean: http://www.pluginid.com/expression-not-impression/

August 1, 2009 at 7:41 AM

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