From the Stage to the Studio: How To Adapt Vocals For Recording

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how live and theatrical singers can adapt their vocals for the studio and offers five practical tips for singers recording in the studio.]

 

Singers who have a lot of experience performing live can often find difficulty in bringing the same level of performance to the studio. Whether this is because of the space itself, the lack of an audience, the different approaches to singing techniques, or the range of equipment found in the studio, singers must learn to adapt their vocals for the studio if they want to create the “right” sound.

Introducing the Stage to the Studio

There are many elements about the studio that cannot be re-created on stage, but with technology advancing, this gap is closing, especially where vocals are concerned. For instance, loop pedals are becoming increasingly popular in live performances among the likes of famous artists including Ed Sheeran, Radiohead, and Imogen Heap. Loop pedals are used to create layers of sound and add texture to the performance, allowing a solo artist to become anything from a three-person band to an entire choir.

Vocals are recorded similarly to how they are recorded in a studio except they are recorded in the moment during live performance. It could be said that recording vocals in a studio is more intimate and requires more focus due to the enhanced sensitivity of the mics used in these spaces.

Both dynamic and condenser mics usually come with a specially designed acoustic foam windshield which absorbs the soundwaves coming from the voice. Duncan Geddes, MD of Technical Foam Services emphasises the importance of choosing the correct type of foam for the microphone windshield when recording in the studio. He explains that “having the right microphone windshield is essential to ensure an effective barrier against specific background noise while still allowing acoustic transparency. The critical aspect is the consistent pore size and density of the foam, to ensure complete sound transparency”.

To avoid picking up any unwanted sounds including plosives (“b” and “p” sounds created by a short blast of air from the mouth), acoustic windshields can be very effective. These air blasts strike the diaphragm of the mic and create a thump-like sound known as “popping”.

From Broadway to Booth: Vocal Differences

Singing in a recording studio can be daunting, especially for those who are used to singing live in a theatre. This could be because every tiny imperfection of the voice is picked up in the studio, including things that go unnoticed when performing live. Faced with these imperfections, some singers try to smooth out every little bump or crack in the voice in the pursuit of “perfection”.

Others embrace the “flaws” of the voice to create a sound unique to them. For instance, the well-known artist Sia embraces the natural cracks of her voice. This is apparent in most of her songs, especially in the song “Alive” on her 2016 album, This Is Acting. At 4 minutes 10 seconds you can hear her slide up to a higher note. To some, this might sound a little strained, but to others and Sia, this may simply be a natural and welcome part of her sound and performance.

Volume control can also be something to think about when entering the studio from the stage. Theatrical singers are taught to project their voices even in soft, quiet parts so they can still be heard. It could be argued that belting high and powerful notes becomes almost second nature to them, which is why they may find themselves having to reign it in slightly when adapting their voice for the studio.

For instance, according to multiplatinum songwriter and producer Xandy Barry, vocalists need to tone down their performance when recording in a studio. He reveals, “In certain quiet passages [singers] may need to bring it down, because in the studio a whisper can be clearly heard.”

It could also be argued that when performing live, the stage is a space where a certain type of energy is released, something that cannot be re-created in the studio. Playing to a crowd may bring something out of an artist. Some performers feel they can express themselves more on stage compared to in the studio. A live performance is ultimately, a performance after all.

This does not mean that the studio is restricting; instead it could be argued that other techniques are evoked when recording in this space. For instance, some singers display more finesse and subtlety in their work, something that cannot always be re-created on stage.

Five practical tips for singers recording in the studio:

1. Warm up

Studio time can be expensive which is why it’s best to warm up before entering the studio. As well as being prepared vocally, make sure you’re prepared with how you’re going to approach the piece. Some recommend knowing precisely how you’re going to sing every section, but this can come across as being over-rehearsed and may not sound natural. To avoid this, approach the piece differently each time and try experimenting with different sounds, textures, and volumes.

2. Record, record, record

Try and capture everything you can. If you vocalise something you like the sound of, but no one hit “record”, it can be frustrating for you as the singer, trying to re-create that same sound.

3. Keep cool and have fun

If you feel like you’re getting frustrated because a take isn’t going well or you’re not hitting the right notes, or you’re sounding rather flat, take a break. Take some time to clear your head and start afresh, so the next time you hit record, you’ll almost certainly get the results you were after!

4. Be emotional

Conjuring up emotions in the studio can be harder to do than on stage. This can be due to the lack of atmosphere, people, and the confined space. To avoid lyrics coming across bland or meaningless, try to focus on the lyrics themselves and decode them.

To stir the emotions you’re looking for, personalise the material by asking yourself “What is the meaning behind these words?”, “How are these lyrics making me feel?”, and “How can I relate these lyrics to my own life or the life of someone I care about?”. Like an actor and their script, discovering and analysing the intention of the words can have a great effect on the performance.

5. Manage the microphone

Singers with experience behind a mic know how to handle one. Skilled singers know where and how to move their head to create different volumes and sounds. For instance, by moving closer to the mic as they get softer, and further as they get louder they can manipulate the volume of their vocals, reducing the amount of compression required in editing later.

Singing into a mic when recording can be different from singing into a mic on stage. The positioning, mounting, angle of the mic, and distance from the singer, can all effect the captured vocal sound. Live singers usually hold the mic close to their mouth especially for softer parts, but in a studio, the mic is usually more sensitive to sound. This is why it’s best to keep more distance between yourself and the mic, especially for louder sections.

Studio Spotlight: Lakehouse Recording Studios Contribute to the Lasting Legacy of Asbury Park’s Music Scene

Continuing our monthly look at awesome recording studios – from the scenes they serve and the atmosphere they cultivate for independent artists – we find ourselves in the seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Known for legends like the bandleader/trombonist Arthur Pryor and rock idol Bruce Springsteen, on top of some notable music venues, the Jersey Shore city has a proud history of celebrating its musical roots.

A few years back, musician and career engineer Jon Leidersdorff opened Lakehouse Recording Studios. Feeling the need to expand his offerings, Lakehouse was designed and built in a building that also features the reputable Russo Music store, as well as Lakehouse Music Academy, a music school for students of all ages and levels. It only makes sense that this complex features a state of the art, two-studio recording facility, right?

We talked to Jon about getting the studio up and running, what sets it apart from the rest, and what it means to be providing recording solutions to the musicians of his hometown:

Tell me about how you made the transition from home studio to opening up Lakehouse. What kind of projects had you been working on leading up to that point?

Jon Leidersdorff: I was recording and developing local artists that started to see some success and working with newer bands that I met through the industry. Some of my producer friends also were bringing artists in to work there. And from that, the studio and I got very busy. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to be involved with more projects if I didn’t have a larger commercial space.

What makes the design and layout (of the studio, specifically), unique and what can artists look forward to getting out of it in a session?

For the new recording studios I wanted to have everything I was previously missing. I wanted space where every musician in the group could see each other and set up the rig of their dreams to record with simultaneously. I wanted everyone to have the sound that they wanted hear and to be able to play together and see each other. I wanted more of a live performance for tracking.

I really missed hearing the magic of when the entire group plays together. The whole group playing at the same time really pushes each musician individually and has a huge impact on the composition. I also wanted it to sound amazing in the space.

We hired WSDG. John Storyk has done this thousands of times before and I realized that there would be no substitute for that type of experience. His rooms sound great. One thing that I hear often from the producers and artists that come through our studios is that they love the feeling in the space. And how we have so much of the gear that they never get to play or that they just see as virtual instruments or plug-ins. We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we have a lot of unique  and vintage instruments that the musicians can use to feel more creative.

Outside of just the studio, elaborate a bit on the overall complex that Lakehouse is situated in and its significance to the neighborhood.

We are located in the downtown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The city has an amazing musical heritage. Early days with Arthur Pryor and the John Philip Sousa big bands, the west side jazz scene of the 1930’s and ’40’s, the Jersey Shore rock scene of the 1970’s and ’80’s and the amazing punk scene at the Lanes in recent years. People believe in music here. They trust it, they support it, they live it. You can see it everywhere. It’s a great place to be when you come to record. There are great art galleries, restaurants and atmosphere, live music venues and of course there’s the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great backdrop to ignite the creative flow.  

In our building we have Russo Music, the largest and coolest independent music store in NJ. They have the best equipment and do repairs and set ups on site. It’s really helpful for the musicians that are recording here. There is an amazing music academy with very progressive programming. Most of the teachers have really cool gigs and credits.

Monmouth University has their music industry program and record label here as well. They bring really great guests here.

We also have our own small DIY venue. It’s the home for the Asbury Park Music Foundation. They have a killer PA in there and anyone coming through town can book their own show. I’ve seen a lot of great acts there. They are a nonprofit that do tremendous work for the community here.

There is a great photographer and videographer Andrew Holtz. Upstairs is Bands on a Budget who do merchandise for so many different artists. There’s CoWerks, a great shared office space.

There are also some great well-known producers will have their own mix rooms on the premises. It really creates a great community having so many different creative people in the same space.

What inspired you to start Lakehouse Music Academy? What was the reaction from residents?

The idea for the music Academy really came from need. So many of the artists that I was working with really needed support. They needed experts around them and educators who could help them to accomplish their goals. Having relevant mentors opens up so many possibilities. There are really great programs at the Academy that help the students directly and specifically with their aims.

We are fortunate to be in an area where so much of the music industry lives and plays. We have some of the biggest artists and music industry professionals teach at our Academy. The community has been the best supporters. We have a huge student body now in just a few years.

Have you been able to establish a sort of ‘path’ between the academy and the studio?  

We have set up programming that helps young musicians develop into songwriters and artists. There are programs that teach songwriting, audio engineering and connect the students to the music industry. They even have their own record label.

Between watching students come in the doors to the academy, bands through the studio, and everything in between, what makes you excited about Asbury Park’s music scene?

It’s a very exciting time to be in Asbury Park. The music scene is really turning into a ‘music community’. There is so much going on and there are many great collaborations happening everywhere.

It makes you feel good to see these artists helping each other and taking it to the next level.

What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. What do you want to sound like? It’s important to find a studio and someone who understands what you’re trying to get done.

Studio Spotlight: Sine Studios’ Matt Teacher On Recording & Running a Philanthropy-Driven Label

In continuing with our ‘Studio Spotlight’ series that aims to highlight cool recording studios all over, this month we chatted with Matt Teacher, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Sine Studios. Matt started Sine Studios over ten years ago in the Rittenhouse Historic District with business partner Mike Lawson shortly after graduating from Berklee College of Music.

As the duo built up a reputation around town among clients across genres, they went on to launch The Giving Groove – an “artist-friendly, socially conscious” record label in an effort to help musicians they were passion about realize their musical vision while simultaneously giving back to the community. With half of all album proceeds being divvied up between the artists and a music-related non-profit of the artist’s choice, The Giving Groove is showing how members of the music community can make a difference across the board.

Read our interview with Matt below to learn more about his experience, Sine Studios, and The Giving Groove. Be sure to check out all Sine Studios has to offer in the way of mixing and recording, too!

You’ve been running Sine for 10 years now. Tell us a little bit about how you jumped into engineering and what led up to you opening your own studio.

Matt Teacher: My business parter, Mike Lawson, and I have been playing music together since 7th grade. From the first time we began making music together we were interested in learning how to record it. This started with a 4-track cassette recorder in Mike’s parents basement, then moved to a digital 8-track, then the Digi001.

By the time we were graduating high school we both knew we wanted to open a recording studio so we both went to school for it—Mike studying audio technology at American University and I went to Berklee in Boston. We both graduated in 2003 and returned to Philly and began working on finding our space, securing a loan, and finding someone to help us build our space. Mike and I both worked doing sound for film companies as we built Sine and in 2006 we opened our doors.

In terms of overall design, how is Sine unique? What can artists look forward to getting out of the space as a result of the way it was built?

The most important ethos of our studio is that we wanted it to feel like home, but allow our artists to be very productive at the same time. We were incredibly lucky to find Obie O’Brien to design our space and Bruce Slater to do the construction, both of whom had previously worked together building Bon Jovi’s studio, Sanctuary II. Our studio is in a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Philly’s Rittenhouse Historic District.

We gutted the 2nd floor, which was 2 apartments, and built our control room and live room. We used layers of leaded drywall, closed-cell foam, icynene, and sound-stop board to make the floor and walls very dense so that when we record the room holds the low frequencies and allows the microphones to pick them up in an even, well-rounded manner. There are no parallel surfaces in our live room and all the walls are curved or slanted so that it produces very even (but live) frequency response.

We didn’t want our room to be dead so we used very minimal treatment—mostly on the ceiling above where the drum kit is usually set up. Being musicians ourselves we have collected a lot of different instruments, amps, and toys that our clients are free to be inspired by and use during their sessions.

Philadelphia has become an even more prominent music city in recent years, whether it’s hip hop, garage rock, or anything in between. What excites you most about about the scene in 2017?

Having grown up in Philly and then returning here in 2003 I’ve seen the music scene dwindle and surge. When we first moved back a lot of venues were closing, studio options weren’t what they were in Philadelphia’s heyday, and it kind of felt like the scene was falling apart. Luckily, that didn’t last too long though. Over the proceeding years a lot of artists started making a name for themselves, whether it was Dr Dog and War on Drugs or Meek Mill, a lot Philly artists started making a name for themselves.

Today I am most excited about Philadelphia not only being a home to great artists, but also its return to a thriving industry town. I want Philadelphia to be a destination, not just for bands and artists, but for record labels and studios as well, and it’s incredibly exciting to see it happening.

Building on that, what kind of a role do you see Sine playing in the independent music scene around Philadelphia?

I love that many Philadelphia artists call Sine Studios home. We are here to provide a comfortable, creative space for one and all. We also provide a network of musicians and industry professionals and love to make introductions and connections for our artists.

A couple of years ago you started The Giving Groove record label. What inspired this move after so many years of running the studio?

After running Sine Studios for 10 years we wanted to expand into something that could help the artists we were working with. So many times we’d watch as an artist would finish their project and then struggle to get it out into the world in a meaningful way. Making and recording music comes naturally to most artists, but the business side of it is often not something they’re well-versed in.

It can be very difficult, especially when competing for tours and radio play with major labels who are throwing serious money behind their acts. That is why we started the Giving Groove: to have the ability to help artists get their art out into the world and enable them to give back to the music community that fostered them.

With 50% of the profits going to artists and 50% going to a music-based non-profit, what sparked the idea for this business model?

I was inspired by my dad and step-mother who had recently launched a cookbook publishing company, Burgess Lea Press. Their model was this: 50% of all after-tax profits would go to the author; the remaining 50% would be donated to a food-related charity. It needed to be adapted for the music industry, but this model is what would become the core of the Giving Groove ethos.

This model feels like something that really appeals to artists of this generation. What has the reaction been like from the arts community overall?

To date artist reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.  They feel as though they are getting their fair share, something that the mainstream music industry has always struggled with, and they appreciate that the label enables them to give back to the music community in a meaningful way. In the year and a half from when we came up with the model to when we launched we vetted our concept by everyone we had developed relationships with through the studio.

Everyone from Harry Weinger (Universal/Motown) to Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou) to Jon Bon Jovi have been incredibly supportive and are routing for us to make the Giving Groove a success.

What kind of future plans do you have for The Giving Groove?

We plan to keep expanding our roster with a diverse range of artists and allowing them to support a growing network of music-related charities. For us it’s not about putting out a certain genre of music; it’s about the label’s mission and I believe this mission should be inclusive of all styles of music. As our branding grows we hope to continue to sign both well-stablished acts and up-and-comers.

Back to the studio a bit: What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

When I speak to an artist getting ready to head into the studio I always stress the importance of pre-production. Whether they’re working with a producer or not there are certain steps that need to happen before they set foot in the studio to record. For a band they need be well-rehearsed, but not to the point where the songs aren’t exciting to them anymore.

The songs have to be second nature to all the musicians so they don’t find themselves working out fundamental parts in the studio—everyone should just be focused on capturing the best performance and not just getting a passable take. They need to be able to play the material to a click even if they make the conscious decision not to track to it.

If they are going for mainstream pop success they need to take a hard look at the songs’ narratives and make sure their story (or if the lyric is more eccentric: “vibe”) comes through to the listener—artists always know what they mean when they write something, but making sure that comes through to the listener is key.

Music Streaming Platforms & Mastering – 3 Guiding Concepts

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Alex Sterling, an audio engineer and music producer based in New York City. He runs a commercial studio in Manhattan called Precision Sound where he provides recording, mixing, and mastering services.]

Background:

As an audio engineer and music producer I am constantly striving to help my clients music sound the best that it can for as many listeners as possible. With music streaming services like Apple Music/iTunes Radio, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube continuing to dominate how people consume music, making sure that the listener is getting the best possible sonic experience from these platforms is very important.

Over the last several years some new technologies have been developed and integrated into the streaming service’s playback systems called Loudness Normalization.

Loudness Normalization is the automatic process of adjusting the perceived loudness of all the songs on the service to sound approximately the same as you listen from track to track.

The idea is that the listener should not have to adjust the volume control on their playback system from song to song and therefore the listening experience is more consistent. This is generally a good and useful thing and can save you from damaging your ears if a loud song comes on right after a quiet one and you had the volume control way up.

The playback system within each streaming service has an algorithm that measures the perceived loudness of your music and adjusts its level to match a loudness target level they have established. By adjusting all the songs in the service to match this target the overall loudness experience is made more consistent as people jump between songs and artists in playlists or browsing.

If your song is louder than the target it gets turned down to match and if it is softer it is sometimes made louder with peak limiting depending on the service (Spotify only).

So how do we use this knowledge to make our music sound better?

The simple answer is that we want to master our music to take into account the loudness standards that are being used to normalize our music when streaming, and prepare a master that generally complies with these new loudness standards.

Concept 1: Master for sound quality, not maximum loudness.

If possible work with a professional Mastering Engineer who understands how to balance loudness issues along with the traditional mastering goals of tonal balance and final polish etc.

If you’re mastering your own music then try to keep this in mind while you work:

Don’t pursue absolute loudness maximization, instead pursue conscious loudness targeting.

If we master our music to be as loud as possible and use a lot of peak limiting to get the loudness level very high then we are most likely sacrificing some dynamic range, transient punch, and impact to get our music to sound loud.

The mechanism of loudness maximization intentionally reduces the dynamic range of our music so the average level can be made higher. There are benefits to this such as increasing the weight and density of a mix, but there are also negatives such as the loss of punch and an increase in distortion. It’s a fine line to walk between loud enough and too loud.

Here is where loudness normalization comes in:

If our song is mastered louder than the streaming target loudness level then our song will be gained down (by the service) as a result. If you are mastering louder than the target level then you are throwing away potential dynamic range and punch for no benefit and your song will sound smaller, less punchy, and more dynamically constrained in comparison to a song that was mastered more conservatively in regards to loudness.

If we master softer than the target level then in some cases (Spotify) the streaming service actually adds gain and peak limiting to bring up the level. This is potentially sonically adverse because we don’t know what that limiting process will do to our music. Will it sound good or not? It most likely will create some loss of punch but how much is lost will be based on what content was put in.

Some music is more sensitive to this limiting process. High dynamic range jazz or classical music with pristine acoustic instruments might be more sonically damaged than a rock band song with distorted guitars for example so the result is not entirely predictable just on loudness measurement but also on musical style.

Thankfully the main platforms other than Spotify don’t add gain and peak limiting as of this writing so they are less potentially destructive to sound quality for below target content.

Concept 2: Measure loudness using a LUFS/LKFS meter.

The different streaming services have different loudness standards and algorithms to take measurements and apply the normalization but for the most part they use the basic unit system of loudness measurement called LUFS or LKFS. This metering system allows engineers to numerically meter how loud content is and make adjustments to the dynamic range accordingly.

Being able to understand how our music masters are metering with this scale is useful to see what will happen when they are streamed on different services (i.e. will the algorithm gain them up or down to meet the target or not?)

Concept 3: Choose which loudness standard to master to.

Direct your mastering engineer if you are working with one to master to a target loudness level and consult with them about what they feel is an appropriate target level for your music. If you are mastering jazz or classical music you probably don’t want to make a very loud master for sound quality and dynamic range reasons but if you are making a heavy rock, pop, or, hip hop master that wants to be more intense then a louder target may be more suitable.

iTunes Sound Check and Apple Music/iTunes Radio use a target level of
-16LUFS and this would be a suitable target for more dynamic material.

Tidal uses a target level of -14LUFS that is a nice middle ground for most music that wants to be somewhat dynamic.

YouTube uses a target level of -13LUFS, a tiny bit less dynamic than Tidal.

Spotify uses a loudness target of -11LUFS and as you can see this is 5 dB louder than iTunes/Apple Music. This is more in the territory of low dynamic range, heavily limited content.

Somewhere in the middle of -16LUFS and -11LUFS might be the best target loudness for your music based on your desired dynamic range but the goal is not to go above the chosen target otherwise your content gets gained down on playback and dynamic range is lost.

In all services except Spotify, content that measures lower than target loudness is not gained up. So for people working with very dynamic classical music or film soundtracks those big dynamic movements will not be lost on most streaming platforms.

However since Spotify is unique and adds gain and peak limiting if your content is below target it is potentially the most destructive sonically. So should you master to -11LUFS and save your music from Spotify’s peak limiting but lose dynamic range on the other platforms? It’s a compromise that you have to decide for yourself in consultation with your mastering engineer.

You might want to test out what -11LUFS sounds like in the studio and hear what the effect of that limiting is. Is it better to master that loud yourself and compensate in other ways for the lost punch and lower dynamic range? Or should you accept that Spotify users get a different dynamic range than iTunes users and let your music be more dynamic for the rest of the platforms?

In all cases there is no benefit to going above -11 LUFS because that is the loudest target level used by any service. If you go louder than -11LUFS then your music will be turned down and dynamic range and punch will be lost on all the services needlessly and permanently.

Further Reading:

Great info – graphic on the different streaming loudness targets.

More info on LUFS/LKFS metering.

Slapback Delay – A Must Have On Vocals & Guitars

[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

Slapback delay is a very common effect on tons of hit records. It’s really easy to set up!

When you think of delay, you probably think of yelling down a long canyon and hearing your voice repeat over and over. In my mind that’s an echo.

That’s what a slapback delay is, except it’s one single echo. One single repeat of the original signal.

It’s more like you clap while standing in a small alley between 2 buildings, and hearing a very quick repeat of your clap.

It’s a super fast repeat that adds a sense of space.

Guitar players love it when playing live, and I love using it on guitars and vocals in the context of a mix.

It just adds some energy and sense of depth without having to use a reverb and running the risk of washing out your dry signal.

I tend to use more effects after the slapback delay, but I more times than not start with it to set the foundation of the sound I’m trying to achieve.

A little Goes A Long Way

This effect is used more as a subtle effect on vocals or guitars.

It can be used on anything you like, but those tend to be the most popular in my opinion.

BUT… there are no rules, so if subtle bores you, then go crazy!

Also you can start with a preset on most delay plugins, and then tweak to taste.

If you are tweaking your own slap delays, just make sure your delay times are not in increments.

For Example: 32ms and then 64ms.

That would put the delay on the beat and that’s not technically a slap delay.

I learned that tip from the great mixer and teacher Dave Pensado,  so  I wanted to pass it on to you.

Watch the video above to see how I set all this up inside a real mix.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]


Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.

It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?

I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.

As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.

Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.

Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.

There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.

We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.

Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.

This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.

I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.

I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.

Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.

Is this a safe place?

The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.

In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.

Who’s in charge?

Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.

A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.

Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.


In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. Until next time!


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!