Preproduction is the best time to work out any kinks in songs and arrangements way before you begin to record. Chances are that there will come a time when your band is playing either in rehearsal or in the studio and suddenly there’s a train wreck where something sounds way off, and you may have a difficult time telling exactly what’s going wrong.
This excerpt from the 2nd edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook will provide a number of questions that you can ask if the song just isn’t sounding as good as you think it should.
1. Do all the players in the band know their parts inside out?
Is there a part that someone is unsure of?
2. Are all the players performing their parts the same way every time (assuming that you’re not recording some forms of jazz and blues where you want a different performance)?
Any variation can lead to a section not gelling or not being tight.
3. Is the band playing dynamically?
Does the music breath volume-wise? Does the verse have less intensity than a chorus or bridge?
4. Does the band lose its drive when playing with less intensity?
Does it forget about attacks and releases when they play quieter?
5. Is everyone playing the song and section starts and stops the same?
If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
6. Does the band sound tight?
Are the attacks and releases of phrases being played the same way by everyone? Are the builds, turnarounds, and accents being played the same way by everyone? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
7. Is the band in tune?
If not, make sure everyone uses the same tuner and tunes the same way.
8. Does the song have a groove?
Is the rhythm section playing in the pocket? Is the drummer or bass player slightly wavering in tempo?
9. Is the tempo right for the song?
Try it a BPM or two faster or slower and see if it feels better.
10. Are all vocals in the best range for the singers?
Does the singer have trouble hitting all the notes? Does the singer sound comfortable singing and is the vocal sound right for the song?
This preproduction checklist will take care of at least 90% of the problems that a band will run into, but if you find that you still can’t get it right, there’s one more thing that you can do that will probably clear things up. Either take a break or come back another day and try it again. It’s amazing what some time away will do to clear a band’s collective thinking.
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