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'Masters' vs. 'Demos' (Page 2 of 2)
(c) 2002 Myles Wakeham

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Despite the fantastic stereo systems available in today's market, you'd be surprised just how many people still have that simple stereo cassette player sitting in the kitchen that they listen to their favorite tapes on. Or have a crummy radio/cassette in their car. They probably can't hear much of the fidelity issues that we spend days working on in the studio. It doesn't mean produce bad recordings, but keep it in mind that its the music that has to come first.

Think in terms of great recordings from thirty to fifty years ago. Like old jazz recordings of the greats such as Charlie Parker, or old Beatles albums. Are these recordings anything less because they weren't recorded on modern day equipment? Not at all. They are great because of what went on in front of the microphone, not behind the scenes.

Yes, its back to basics here. What's funny is that when you were sitting down quietly with your guitar or at your piano, or humming away a tune, and something came to you that you felt and it somehow became music, if you were lucky enough to embody that emotion in your song and it carries to the listener, then the last thing you want to do is lose that magic in gadget land. I'm not suggesting producing poor quality sounding productions. By all means, get the best quality sound that you can afford. But I am suggesting that maybe instead of you trying to be both the musician and the engineer, that if you had to pick one over the other, you can always buy an engineer for your music. You can't buy the music. You may find it difficult to do it all yourself and not risk affecting the emotion of the music you want to record.

Second Point: Continuing on from Point One, there is often a subtle yet critical point that comes out of the concept of having a bunch of equipment at home - you tend to work alone a lot more. Well this could be fine, but often a mature recording is based on a team of people working on it. Where the songwriter has his or her role, the musicians play their part, the engineer plays their part and ideally a producer is in there, facilitating the entire process.

Well when you have all this equipment at home, there's no one around you to suggest something that you might not be aware of. Such as "that introduction is a bit long, isn't it?" or "Do you really think it might sound better with a vocal harmony here?", etc. These extra set of ears working on your music are a critical early quality control issue that doesn't happen when you are working alone. So the end product that you send out from your studio hasn't taken into consideration a number of people hearing it. Its hard sometimes to see the forest for the trees when you are writing and doing all of the other things that is part of making music. So consequently having some early opinions by people who can make a positive contribution is critical in obtaining a mature recording.

Third Point: Human drummers. Use humans for drumming wherever possible. There are obvious exceptions here, and that is music falling into a techno, house, ambient, rave, or hip hop classification (or similar). In these cases, drums are typically done using sampled drum loops. So there is a seperate set of rules there. But for the rest.....

Despite the fact that you have just spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on that new keyboard or drum machine, it just isn't going to cut it when you are putting together a "master" recording. Not for drums anyway. 9 out of 10 listeners will notice the difference between a human drummer and a drum machine. And its really a problem when you hear a poor sounding crash cymbal on a drum machine and it ruins the entire recorded production. It would probably be ok on a demo, but not on a master.

The main reason why drummers are so critical is that they control the underlying feel of the music. Machines can't really do this. Of all the recordings that have come across my desk over the past 10 or so years, the ones with killer grooves played by a human drummer are the ones that worked. The only time I have found drum machines successful is when a drummer programmed them. Its just easier to have a drummer do it with a kit.

Drummers are critical in producing high quality master recordings. If you want to produce a master recording and don't know a drummer, talk to a recording studio and have them suggest a session drummer for your music. Session players vary in rates, but the hundred or so dollars that you are going to spend on a session drummer will make the world of difference to your production.

These are highly noticeable points to me when I judged my part of various songwriting competitions.

I should say that I have come across some excellent submissions this way. But the ones that touched me were able to provide emotion and feeling embodied in a quality sounding product. Let's keep up the good work and let's keep some of these points in mind with a view to raising the standard of music productions.


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