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In The Studio: Uncovering Hidden Gems In A Song

Finding a phrase, or a note played against a chord, or something else, that adds real magic...

By Mark Marshall June 9, 2014

This article is provided by the Pro Audio Files.

Often when working with bands or songwriters, I find it helpful to have them record every rehearsal and gig. It’s not necessary to have a high-quality recording. Something as simple as an iPhone or Zoom recorder will do the trick.

Often through the course of time, songwriters vary their performances, take chances or make mistakes. A lot of good that can come out of each of those instances. It could be a phrase, or a note played against a chord that adds a real magic to the song. Most likely you wouldn’t have found these new colors if it wasn’t for artistic impulse, an accident or even compensation for a less then desirable setup onstage.

It’s really hard to remember these gems in the the moment. Often artists shrug them off, thinking they were no good because it may have not been their intention. However, on playback it can be a different story.

Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone)
Let’s take for instance some rehearsals I recently did with Jenna Nicholls. We’ve been changing some arrangements for her songs. We set up shop and recorded a rehearsal at Euphoria studios in NYC.

There was one song called “The Long Goodbye” that we took two passes at. The first pass had some mistakes and we just shrugged it off. Thankfully, the “virtual tape machine” was rolling which would allow me to review later. When I was cutting up the files into mp3’s I gave it a quick listen. But this time I had forgotten why it was not correct.

What I found was interesting. I had begun playing a line that had the perfect character in the banished take. I only played it for a short number of bars. By the next take, I had moved onto something else. I had no real idea of what I stumbled upon in the moment.

This was not my first experience of the kind either. There are all kinds of gems you will find in playback.

Think of it as workshopping the song. Sometimes, I book a gig just to try out new material. I like to know a song a little before I go into the studio. I want to know it enough to where there is still that new excitement, but not meeting the parents yet.

The Rolling Tape
You should record everything. Storage space is so cheap these days. Record, import into Logic, cut up files, label them properly. Can’t stress how important labeling is!! Make sure you label them with the song title, location, album and date.

After I cut them up with Pro Tools or Logic, I export them to iTunes and label them. I want to easily search for all versions of a “workshop” song.  Original demo, rehearsal, live show, 3rd rehearsal, live show number 2…

I’ll listen through and mine out the moments that are special. I’m not focusing on what wasn’t right. Was the tempo work a bit faster on one the gigs? Did you extend a section and it opened up the song at a rehearsal?

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