Making magic in the studio can be easy with some preparation. If you ever feel like your songs are missing something, there are habits you can adopt to capture lightning in a bottle while working. Use these six tips to make the most out of your studio time and record everything needed to make your tracks stand out.
1. Leave the mic running
The brief moments that precede and follow recorded audio takes can be packed with valuable content. A drummer sits on the throne and picks up her sticks, gently shutting the hats before giving the four-count. Band members converse excitedly as they enter the tracking room. The prospect of recording your music is exhilarating, and that energy might translate to tape.
A live track’s conclusion is no different. Band members can’t help but laugh at how hard they just rocked. A dead-serious frontman sighs “That’s the one” after baring his soul on a lead vocal track. Not to mention, capturing your surroundings is a great way to establish the kind of atmosphere or energy you want your track to embody.
For a lot of people, especially the die-hard fans, an artist revealing their personality is a special gift. By injecting a little humanity into your studio tracks, you can circumvent the sterile fourth wall that separates you from your audience.
2. Go organic
Everybody’s process is different these days. But one constant across the spectrum of production routines is the use of digital audio processing. MIDI is completely non-destructive, giving you total control over your performance. Plugins are sounding better every day, and they’re much cheaper than their hardware counterparts. It’s easy to digitally produce a track, but you may find that something is missing when you listen back. And the answer is organic audio. If you’re shaking your head, thinking there’s no way you could afford the studio time or equipment, stop doing that. It doesn’t take much to infuse a little realness. Chances are you already have a microphone, so add real claps and stomps.
Musician Gabriel only used a computer to layer the 25 overdubs that build the claps and stomps of song “6 8.” Everything else was recorded directly to tape. His track later got sampled on Drake’s track “Jungle,” which became one of his biggest songs to date.
3. Utilize outtakes and ad-libs
If you’re running an efficient session, you know what needs to be captured and you do so methodically. Once you’ve got everything you need from your vocal or instrumental, create a new track and ditch the script. This is the time for musicians to have fun and do what comes naturally. Tracking ad-libs will surely improve the quality of your pop or hip-hop vocal. Allowing your guitarist to jam on the track could result in a fresh lick that drives the hook.
Manipulate these vocal or instrumental fragments further by dropping them into ARCADE and transform a sample into something extraordinary. Inspired moments like this, where anything can happen, are what leads to magic in the studio.
4. Experiment with plugins
We’ve stressed the importance of organic elements, but let’s be honest. If it weren’t for 1s and 0s, modern music as we know it wouldn’t exist. The elements that set you apart in today’s scene will almost certainly require the use of a computer, whether it’s a software instrument or a glossy mix.
Output’s instruments and plugins are known for challenging the standing ideologies of artists and producers. Software and sample libraries like REV and Analog Brass & Winds puts a unique spin on familiar sounds, and are programmed to facilitate effortless modulation. Tweak some knobs, combine strange textures, or drop in your own samples and let ARCADE do the work!
5. Collaborate often
Sound familiar? Believe it or not, toiling alone in your cave with the curtains drawn for weeks on end will not yield optimal results. Falling into the trap of “I can do it myself” not only limits your resources, but it’s also rather unhealthy for the mind and spirit. Collaboration starts as a seed before blossoming into a full-on rainforest. On the most basic level, working with other minds will expand the possibilities of what your song can become.
The right element to revitalize your track could come from anywhere at any moment, and being open to such an occurrence is what fosters magic in the studio. On a broader scale, every positive collaborative experience will lead you to a larger network and, ultimately, more opportunities to work with inspirational artists. Community begets music, so engage yourself with your surroundings and witness real, human magic.
6. …and one for good measure
The oldest trick in the book. Once you’ve got the perfect take, especially after straining for hours to do so, you may be tempted to say “got it” before slamming your laptop shut (after saving the project) and heading to Denny’s. After all, they do have delicious all-day breakfast at affordable prices. You may think capturing the take you’ve been after is the knockout punch, but it’s more like your opponent leaving himself open for an uppercut.
Once you’ve got a good take, the shackles of a high-pressure recording environment are broken, and your musician can breathe the sweet air of relief. Use this opportunity to get one or two more takes. When “messing up” is no longer a complete failure, an artist can really let go and, more often than not, cut a performance that’s far beyond what you’d imagined.
Want more studio tips? Here’s Output’s list of guide to quickly humanizing your beats.