A recording can have many problems. Bad timing. Thinness. Blandness. So I want to share five methods that will improve your recordings. These are things I do as an indie songwriter and artist who records all my stuff from home and also produces and mixes music for other artists.
Simple Beat + Click Track
A click track can be difficult to hear when you’re recording. So to help yourself stay in time, layer the click with a simple beat.
Create a new MIDI drum track. If the song is in 4/4, put the hi-hat on all four beats, put the kick on 1 and the snare on 3. For a song in 6/8, put the kick on 1 and the snare on 4 (or whatever emphasis with which you’re playing the song).
It doesn’t matter what drum sound you have, it’s not going to be in the final recording. This is just to play in your headphones as you record your parts to help you stay in time.
If you want fuller, warmer productions, layer stuff. Layer everything. Then when you realize you’ve layered too much, pull it back a little. But literally, you can layer anything.
I like to record three or four takes of acoustic guitar (all playing the same part) and pan them left and right to varying degrees. It feels like the guitar is giving you a hug.
You can layer an 808 beat underneath your drums. Layer your lead vocal, background vocals, and harmonies. Instead of just one cello, layer it 2-3 times.
Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
Using a Reference Track
You make music you like, right? And you’re influenced by others’ music, yeah? So why not go directly to the source?
Before you record your next song, find another artist’s song that you love. Then listen intently and find things about the production you want to incorporate into your track.
Is it the guitar sound? The groove of the drums? The softness of the piano? How the synth pierces through the mix?
Try to get that sound, vibe, feeling, what have you into your song. This is how you use a reference track during the production stage.
Look at your all-time favorite songs. I bet they were written by more than one person. If not, I can still say with confidence, the creation of that production involved more than one person. The engineer, producer, session musicians, mixing engineer, mastering engineer. One or more of these roles were probably filled by someone other than the artist.
Could you learn how to perform all of these roles, from songwriter to mastering engineer?
Yes, you could. But the downside of doing literally everything on your own is you miss what others might bring. You create in a bubble and run the risk of your song not reaching its full potential.
Invite others whom you trust into your creative process. It may just heighten the end result and it will be a lot more fun.
Experiment, experiment, experiment
The key to being a good music producer is to try every idea you have. You won’t know what something sounds like until you hear it in the song.
So just record that crazy, stupid, “out there” idea. It may just work. It might not, it might sound like garbage. Or maybe it doesn’t work, but it gives you another idea you wouldn’t have gotten without that first bad idea.
Experiment. Try it. You won’t regret the attempt.