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Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Value of Preparation

For this recording, and for the CD I produced for Jane, my plan included a lot of preparation. I believe that unless you are an experienced studio musician, the unfamiliarity of recording can diminish or stifle the quality or genuine nature of your performance.

Playing a gig is one thing, and recording is another. At a gig, time and errors fly by without much notice. In recording, however, an error is there to be replayed a thousand times. This possibility can cause even seasoned performers to scrutinize their singing and playing to a degree that can make the performance tight and unnatural. It’s like being a kid in a new school for the first time. You can get so self-conscious that you trip over your own feet!

For me, the best way to dissolve this overbearing scrutiny is to do a great deal of preparation, the first being preproduction arrangement. Using my laptop, I create rough recordings of the songs and sort out as much arrangement detail as possible. I then create detailed charts and mp3s for everyone prior to rehearsal. In rehearsal, I make sure those arrangements are adjusted with player input and finalized. If required, I make rough recordings of the rehearsed versions and distribute them again.

This preparation encourages players and singers to know their parts ahead of session, which allows energy to be focused on playing and having a good time. In contrast, when arrangements are being tackled during a session with others waiting and the clock ticking, tensions inevitably arise that stifle natural performance. Spontaneity is fine during recording, but I’d prefer it to arise out of a solid foundation.

Another aspect of preparation for the “At Home” sessions was tending to the challenge of having to sing, play, oversee, and produce all at the same time. I know that in performance I am very affected by my surroundings, and every little distraction drains my attention. If there is a cord under my foot, the mic is blocking part of my sightline, my strap is twisted across my back—part of my brain is noticing those things instead of fully playing and singing.

To deal with this issue, I decided to replicate some of the recording environment in rehearsal. I found a solid, comfortable chair for the sessions and always sat on it while practicing. I set my strap length and guitar position the same as I would in session, placed my music stand and lyrics the same, sang into a microphone, and played with headphones and a metronome. Although a click might not always be used in session, the metronome helped to broaden my awareness of keeping solid time with the “other,” whether a click or the band.

When the sessions arrived, all of the paraphernalia surrounding me was already familiar and transparent. I was able to relax, connect with everyone, and make music in my home.

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