Have you ever wondered why some recording artists and producers are more successful in the studio at accomplishing their goals than other people who are equally or more musically talented?
As a recording engineer, here’s what I’ve noticed about successful people in the studio.
I’ve found successful people come in all personality types from the very shy and soft-spoken to the boisterous extrovert but they all share a common trait: they have a very specific “vision” of their songs and what they communicate and emote to the listener.
An artist’s middle-of-the-night epiphany about a lyric or melody or the concert audience’s reactions to a song all contribute to the formation of that vision.
Besides good songwriting and performance, the practical side of the vision for the producer and artist includes the process of getting the song finished and recorded in the studio hopefully communicating and emoting the vision to a CD-buying audience.
Part of the vision is a game plan—anything from a very strict production schedule to a more typical simple list of realistic goals to attain in the studio in a given day.
Sometimes an artist obsesses over the vision and the plan—is it any good or how can it be better?
I’ve never worked with anybody who had all the pieces of the “vision puzzle” in place when they came into the studio—it’s impossible. Besides, it’s generally good to leave room for experimentation and modification. A good vision is a strong musical outline written in pencil.
When I worked with Daryl Hall and John Oates, they had a very specific vision of the entire album and every individual song. They called it a “concept album” and wanted each song to pay ‘homage’ to their favorite R&B songs they grew up with.
Confident in their vision, they had the temerity to announce on the very first day of tracking that we would be recording the first hit single during that session! The song was fully arranged—all instrumental parts and every drum hit and hi-hat accent carefully notated.
All of the guitar and keyboard sounds were carefully worked out beforehand and they played a couple of old records for me as prototypes to follow when shaping the track’s overall sound.
They had this certain vision and never lost it through all the overdubs and final mix! That song we ended up recording three times to get it “right” and it turned out not to be a hit.
Nonetheless, their vision was for the whole album and another song, the third single released and a total surprise to us all, ended up a winning success for them.