Many developing artists are shocked to find how different recording is from performing in front of an audience. It can be tricky to approach recording with the same passion and confidence that you would display on stage, but playing like your heart is truly in it is crucial for getting solid recordings. It’s completely possible for artists to write great songs only to see them fall flat because of poor performances in the studio. Whether it’s performing too much inside your own head or not being adequately prepared, there are plenty of things that can cause the energy to slip away from your recordings. Here are four tips to help:
Come into the experience with confidence
Confidence during the recording process comes from knowing exactly what you’re doing as a musician. This means if you’re 80% prepared for your recording session, you’re not ready yet. Fumbling lyrics and forgetting parts will leave you feeling frustrated and distracted as you record, and there’s no way to feel confident under those conditions. Serious musicians don’t set foot on stage without being prepared, so why would you do the same when it comes time to record? In truth, recording takes far more preparation than playing live does. Instead of a single performance, recording songs you’ll later produce and release is a far more permanent and memorable expression of your work. The more prepared and confident you are, the more energetic your recordings will be.
Prepare for the long-haul, not a couple of quick takes
If you’re new to recording, it’s important to recognize going in that it’s not a one and done sort of situation. It can take many takes to feel comfortable and warmed up, and there will be days where you realize your heart’s not in it. Instead of using all your creative energy and momentum on the first couple of takes, use an athlete’s mindset and sustain your energy for a long process. Great music can’t be rushed, so if you’re more focused on wrapping things up quickly or what you’re having for dinner that night than performing, don’t expect to get energetic and passionate recordings out of your process.
Prioritize human connection and remember your audience
After weeks of recording, it’s easy to forget what you’re doing and why. In the short-term, you have a lot of pressures and demands as a musician to focus on. But over the long-term, what you’re creating is something that could impact the lives of listeners in a profound way. If you’re fully prepared to record, you’ll end up getting better performances if you think about the long-term impact of the music you’re making more than the short-term stuff. Music that sounds fresh, human, and compelling always wins the day, and you won’t be able to be your best if you’re obsessed with technical perfection. If you want to show real passion and intention in your performances while recording, just remember that what you’re creating will (hopefully) end up in front of an audience and will take on a whole new life for those that hear it.
Keep the story behind your music in mind
It’s completely possible to record music and feel totally separated from what motivated you to create it. In fact, this is the position many of us find ourselves in when recording. For some musicians, the pressure during recording drowns out everything else. Others have trouble remembering the story of the music they’re recording because it’s been so long since they first wrote it. But no matter what situation you find yourself in when you record, you’ll get better and more passionate takes if you keep the story of your music in mind throughout the process. That initial spark and energy you felt while writing a particular song is incredibly important. It’s what allows you to perform live in a compelling way, and it can give you energy and purpose while you record.
Recording is like everything else we do in music in the way that practicing will make you better. If your recordings aren’t as good as they could be, a lack of energy and intention could be to blame. But by remembering your audience, being prepared, and being patient during the process, you’ll set yourself up for better experiences in the future.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.