Recording a song can be a challenging process. As if the songwriting part wasn’t hard enough! Bringing life to a song in a recording studio is both a technical and creative journey. When the end is reached it is the best feeling that I, in my short life, can think of. But recording a song has some challenges and I would like to use a project that I’m working on at the moment as an example. The song is called Wounds. It’s been written for a while, and even recorded once before, but the new version is proving a little tricky. Read on and I’ll explain why!

Recording a Song

James Englund is an Australian Singer-Songwriter Producer.

Recording a Song can lead you down infinite pathways…. but you can only take one!

The main issue that a producer will come to find when they begin recording a song is that there are a million different ways that it can be recorded. You can choose different tempos and keys, choose a traditional acoustic arrangement or a modern sound. All the different choices that the producer makes along the way make a huge difference to how the song will be at the end of the production. And that’s the way people will come to know the tune. The way they hear it. So, you’re asking “what’s the problem?”.
Here’s my first major issue when it comes to recording a song that I’ve written; I usually default to recording it the way that I wrote it on a certain instrument. So, if I wrote the song on an acoustic guitar, it’s so much easier, intellectually and creatively, to just go right ahead and record it on an acoustic guitar and maybe add a rhythm section later. After doing hundreds of tracks like that for many clients over the years I have realised, more than most, how boring that approach really is. It may have worked well in the 1960s but now it just puts me to sleep.

One Approach to think about

The trick, for me, is finding an interesting instrument or effect or melodic device to make the song sound unique. That’s really hard to do because it means I need to think about it for a long time. Often, I look at the lyrics and wonder what I can do to bring out the emotion of the song. I search through my mind, and even other resources like Youtube, to find something that will be really unusual for the listener.
Alternatively, it helps to have a track that is inspirational and similar to where you want to go. For my song, Wounds, I love the sound of John Mayer’s Gravity. I’ve listen to the song a few times. I feel there are similarities in the message and vibe. I’ve analysed John’s song a few times and wondered what it was that made it so emotionally impacting for me.
As I mentioned above, what I really love is that he doesn’t just default to the boring old acoustic guitar (Not that I hate acoustic guitar. I mean I spend my life playing it live and for pleasure). Instead, he has an organ / pad sound that brings the song in and holds down the main chordal harmony. It’s a sound that is somewhat familiar to us all as listeners, but yet it has an element to it which is different. The electric guitar plays the main riff over the top. This brings us to our next idea, the riff!

Recording a song with a unique Riff

Some call it cliché but I’m a real sucker for a riff. I love putting this kind of content into my music and it seems to be a reoccurring theme, pardon the pun, in many popular songs. A melodic stamp, if you will. My song, Wounds, certainly has this element. However, I’ve written the song on an acoustic guitar and I immediately recorded the song on acoustic guitar. Straight away it felt very meat-and-potatos.
I think that this is why I looked for a reference track. To guide me away from creating another boring song that has a stock-standed arrangement. Doing that is a sure way to have your song go completely forgotten and unnoticed. However, over the years, it’s always been the hardest thing for an artist to do. Most new artists can be very afraid to do something with their music that is dangerously original. It scares them and makes them feel like they’re doing something wrong.

Let’s make this first post – part 1!

I have so much more to say about this topic. In the next post I’m going to look at perfectionism and how it is the great white shark that feeds on songs. I’ve learned (after recording many songs for other artists) that keeping the ball rolling, and not getting caught up on details, is the key to success! This has certainly been my problem when I’ve worked on my own songs. It’s as much about psychology as it is about music. Until next time, happy producing!