As a result of recording and producing literally thousands of song demos, I’ve learned that it’s better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent. Here are a few steps you can take to help make your demo recording experience more successful.
It may sound obvious but make sure your song is FINISHED. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients come into the studio only to start rewriting a part of the lyric or melody. It is significantly less stressful – and quite a bit less expensive – to write a song when you’re not paying the studio’s hourly rate for the privilege.
You can also benefit from trying a few rough recordings at home before you get to the studio. The simple act of listening back to a song instead of performing it will reveal any weaknesses or issues that need to be dealt with before the studio clock is running. The last of these home recordings will become the definitive rough recording.
By definition, a rough recording is any simple, inexpensive recording that you do directly into your smart phone, laptop or any hand-held recording device. Generally a piano or guitar plus a scratch vocal will do the trick. The key here is not a perfect recording but rather an accurate representation of the song structure. In other words, it doesn’t have to sound great as long as the chords, melody and lyrics are correct. The purpose of this recording is to provide the demo vocalist and session musicians with a completed version of your song that they can learn from.
When working with the demo singer, it’s always a good policy to get the a copy of the rough recording and the lyrics a week or so before the session. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the singer can let you know what key the song should be in to best suit their voice. This way, if you end up recording the instrument parts before the singer comes in, you’ll know the correct key. Secondly, the more time the singer has to learn the song, the less time he or she will take to sing the song when the studio clock is running.
When you get to the session, it’s wise to have printed lyric sheets for the engineer, musicians and vocalist. The lyrics should be printed (not handwritten) and have each chorus written out in full. First of all, it’s easier for a singer to read a lyric sheet straight down from top to bottom. Secondly, you’ll be using these lyric sheets to mark spots that need fixing – or spots on certain takes that you like – and having “Repeat Chorus” written for the second and third choruses won’t allow you to take good notes. The better the notes you take on the lyric sheet while the vocalist is recording, the easier it will be to tell them what works and what needs to be fixed.
Professional session musicians do not need anything in advance. They will be learning the song from your rough recording when they get to the session. You can save a little time by writing a chord chart of the song if that’s something you’re comfortable doing. If not, the session musicians should have no trouble doing it for you on the spot using the rough recording you’ve brought to the session.
After that, it’s up to the singer and musicians to bring your song to the next level. There’s nothing more exciting than listening to world-class musicians and vocalists record one of your songs. The more you prepare in advance, the more you’ll enjoy your studio experience.