5 ways to make a better record – before you record it.
- Write enough material.
As an artist, it feels valiant to attempt to write a perfect masterpiece from the outset. In reality creativity is just a game of numbers. Ask anyone to come up with twenty ideas, then by the law of averages more that half of them will be terrible, one or two will be ok and most likely one will be great.
The secret that successful creatives share is that they have the ability to discard most of their output and keep the good bits. Nobody paints a masterpiece straight away. You sketch, change, rub out, sketch again, try a new idea, sketch, try again – then start painting.
Young artists are never taught this, and it’s a thing that successful artists learn over time. This is why you will often see a young act play a gig with only one great stand-out song and nine average or bad songs.
At first it can be very hard to throw your precious material away but if you write with a more healthy view of “just trying ideas out” instead of “writing my masterpiece” you will be freed up considerably. Throw away bad songs. Throw away pretty good songs. Work on the excellent ones.
“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”. – Thomas A. Edison
- Don’t fear being you.
You’re unique and your music should be too.
There is nothing wrong with having influences, but trying to recreate your favourite band down to the exact guitar tones, accent and dance-moves is doing yourself a disservice. As well as being unoriginal (at best), you can guarantee that you aren’t the only people copying that band. When a hip act comes along, hundreds of teenage carbon copies are sure to follow. Sure, borrow an element from another act but don’t impersonate. The most successful acts have always taken an element and twisted it. Nirvana strived to do Beatles-esque pop songs in the style of ACDC but brought their own personality to the table. The Beatles were hugely influenced by rock and roll artists but brought a whole lot of their own personality and LSD into the equation.
Don’t fear bringing your own personality into your music. Some of the things that you are currently trying to hide about yourself are the exact things that others will try and emulate in five years time. If you are successful.
- Keep the interest up.
Song structure is all about engaging and keeping your listener in a state of rapture. It’s easy to lose sight of the song structure if you compose on a screen and in loops. Even if you make dance music if you stay on a loop people will get bored.
An amazing trick is to listen to engaging songs in and outside of your favourite genres. If you’re making a trap song, listen to Dolly Parton and see how she stopped people being bored with her song structures. Or listen to Nirvana. Or The Beatles. Soon you will soon hear new tricks to keep the listener engaged. Sometimes that is slowly increasing the instrumentation through the song. Sometimes it is altering dynamics or dropping instruments out.
One trick which I developed for assessing interest is the Bobby Bloomfield Interest Curve. You get a piece of paper and run a pen along it along with the song. This time when you are listening you are a cynical hater. You are easily bored and you can’t wait to skip to the next song. If something peaks your interest move the pen up. If it’s doing the same thing move the pen down. It’s ok for a song to look like a rollercoaster. It’s bad if the curve is consistently downward.
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the record shops have all closed down and music magazines went bust, so there’s no great benefit to being easily pigeonholed unless you want to game an algorithm. In this information content age, the important way to be classified is “interesting” or “not interesting”. If the people at the one remaining record shop in town don’t know whether to file you under “death metal” or “Japanese cat electro”, it really doesn’t matter as long as you are pinging up on people’s radar as something to share via social media. If you are breaking the mould then GREAT!
- Don’t plan on fixing it in the studio
There are many quantising and tuning tricks you can do in the studio but the old saying “you can’t polish a turd” is a truism. You can add a little pixie dust on a great song to make it shine – but all the pixie dust in the world won’t help a crap song. If your instrument playing, your vocals, your ideas and your songs aren’t good enough to make that final record just yet, work on it and do it when you are.
At The Rattle, we have different types of studios for different stages of record creation. We have a community of other artists to collaborate with and play unfinished songs for feedback. We also have producers on hand to give song advice and hands on creating advice.