I just had the pleasure of spending some time in my home studio recording a few solo tunes.
During the past few days I have experienced the range of emotions from elation to frustration, mainly with my own guitar playing.
I’d like to share some insights with you. The following applies to do-it-yourself home recordings as well as sessions where you go to a pro studio.
(Please comment post any info you think may be useful below.)
There are a million options for software, microphones, interfaces, pre amps, guitars.
While It’s fun to jabber about gear, but the truth is that only YOU, the musician, can make your guitar and gear sound good. You are the front of the “signal chain”, the source of the music.
So…Here are 7 Tips That Will Help You With a Fingerstyle Guitar Recording….(I hope!)
1. Go In to a Session With an Open Attitude
It’s VERY good to go in to the studio….
- not knowing how it’s going to turn out
- realizing you may find some weak spots you didn’t know you had
- going in with an attitude of discovery and exploration
- willingness to say “I may have to record it again another day”
- willingness to get less done than you thought you could
You will set yourself up for frustration if you think
- it’s going to come out perfect
- it has to be perfect
- you have to finish it today
Know that in the studio, you will have some “awakenings”, simply because you are hearing yourself back, maybe for the first time. It’s always a shock!
Hearing yourself on playback is a totally different experience than “playing.” Playing is fun. Listening back can be downright painful.
2. Practice The Music Beforehand
What’s going to make your music sound great is your expression and the spirit in the playing. Your touch, tone, time technique, groove and good taste are what the focus should be.
If you are still trying to play the music and barely “cutting” it, you need to have practiced more ahead of time.
You want to be operating as much “right brain” musical intuition in the studio as much as possible, rather than “left brain” analytical, running damage control.
The distractions of fatigue, concentration and the new environment ail wear on you, so you at least have to have the “notes under your fingers” as best as you can. Being prepared is your best weapon!
If you are paying a studio, that’s even more of a reason to be prepared. It can be a source of stress when the clock ticks…you fall back into the trap of “it has to get done today” and then the music suffers.
3. Play through full takes
It’s easy to end up in an endless loop of false takes. You start playing, make a mistake, and then stop. Then you do that again and again.
As you make more mistakes, you spiral downward until you practically make a meditation out of it. 🙂
- you need a break to rest
- you need to just bust through and play a full take, accepting your mistakes
Try to discipline yourself and play through the mistakes, so that you get full “takes.” Solo guitar botches can be fixed easily in your editing software.
A full take of a song has a breath of life, whereas too many fragments pasted together in the edit room sound like a Frankenstein and never have the feel of a full take.
And…often what we feel was a bad take can sound pretty good a few days later!
4. If you make a mistake that you know will need a fix
- Stop playing but keep your groove, maybe by patting your foot.
- Go back a few measures before the mistake and play through the spot again, with enough lead time.
- Maintain your groove, touch and tone as you play forward.
- Later on you’ll find a good edit point, so play confidently.
I know I’ll never get the same sound if I get out of the flow. The groove, touch and tone will sound different. Especially if I get out of my chair after a take, I may not sit at the same distance from the mics.
That’s why I hang on to the presence in my touch and tone, and re-play, mid tune. As far as edits it’s easy enough to find a “splice” point and cut out the small extra “overlap.”
5. Practice With The Groove in Mind That You Will Use For The Recording
Long before you get in the studio try to know exactly the groove you have in mind for a song.
Be able to sing the drum part to your tune as a count off when you record. Here’s why…
When people listen to your recording they hear:
- your tone
- your groove
- your expression
When you listen back see if:
- you are tapping your foot
- you are smiling when you hear the playback
- the melody is clear
- the bass is clear
No one cares about speed (except guitarists!)
The experience you want on hearing yourself playback is that you are not listening to the “guitar” but that you are listening to “the music.”
“Pocket” is the ultimate ruler, even for ballads, classical and thumb picking.
When the Groove is Internally Unclear, Here’s What Can Happen…
Yesterday I recorded an original “boom-chick” thumb picking tune. I was shocked on playback at the groove rushing, and a wobbly feeling in the time.
I was not smiling or happy at all, and bugged at myself. It sucked! Why?
Aha! Here was the problem – I had not made up my mind what the drum beat was.
Was I strong on 1 & 3 or 2 & 4? Was it swing, was it straight? I was vague with the underlying feel and the music had no backbone, even though the technique was fine.
(The beauty of a home studio is that I did not pay hundreds of dollars to learn this lesson!)
After the session I practiced slowly with even more emphasis on rhythm only. Today in the studio the groove was way better. I listened back and the groove was thumping!
6. Take Breaks While You Record So You Don’t Fatigue
If you are alone in the studio, make yourself take breaks. Sometimes I catch myself just doing “one more take” and the quality of my mental, physical and emotional powers starts to decline.
Working with someone else is good in this regard, they can tell you to take a break!
A 15 minute break refreshes the mind and relaxes the body. You’ll actually get better music out of yourself the whole day long if you pace yourself.
Drink enough water too, rather than endless coffee!
7. Set up an Inexpensive Home Studio
Even if you plan to record a CD in a professional studio, I recommend doing a demo version of each song at home. You’ll hear the weak spots in your own playing for free (almost) instead of being charged per hour.
By going through the roller coaster of experiences recording yourself, you will be better off in a studio situation. It’s all about becoming familiar with the environment.
(I will update you soon regarding my simple studio gear…I’d rather have this post be about the music prep work needed before you even use your gear!)
Theres a lot of work we can do ahead of time to make a fingerstyle recording session go well. Remember to be…
- prepared by practicing enough
- open to new ideas and whatever may happen
- kind to yourself rather than punish yourself mentally
And know that YOU are the front of the signal chain, regardless of your gear!