Before you make your first recording you need to consider how it will sound to your potential audience. Nothing will make people skip your song faster than if your recording sounds like two dogs fighting over a chew-toy on a windy day, recorded with a potato.
So let's talk about:
Basic Audio Quality.
You’ve put in so much effort up until this point, you’ve spent years learning a skill, working at music until you finally have something you’re proud of to share with the world. This is your moment; don’t ruin it with a poor recording. Your recording should reflect your song; it should sound good.
Think about it. This recording is how your entire audience will experience your music. It represents not only your song, but your level as a musician, and therefore the level at which people will view you.
The majority of people want to listen to something that sounds like it is professional and already popular; they don’t want to go out on a limb. That recording of your band you made with your iPhone at the last rehearsal is good for your reference, but no one else will enjoy listening to it.
You might be using your first recording as promotional material in order to get gigs, and get people to come to those gigs! It should be as professional as possible. I’m not trying to talk you into paying for a professional recording studio quite yet, I’m just highlighting the importance of getting the best recording you can, with the resources you have.
We talk about how to record a demo in the next article, but first; here’s what your recording absolutely must be before anyone will listen to it.
Your recording should be clear.
Any unintentional distortion will distract from the music. Unintentional distortion is created by overloading the recording device with sound. Try it now with the built-in microphone on your phone or computer - make a recording where you speak normally and abruptly start to yell into the microphone. Listen back to it. The yelling has a distorted quality; it sounds fuzzy, crackly and it will be hard to determine what is actually being said. At a very basic level, make sure your recording volume stays within the green on the audio meter (if you can see one), red means it has peaked and you are adding distortion to your recording.
Distortion can be used intentionally in many awesome and interesting ways, but it must be intentional.
Your recording should be balanced.
The listener should be able to hear every element, especially lead melodic instruments like vocals and guitar. Imagine putting all that work into recording and not being able to hear it in the final track. Each instrument or element should have their own space in the final representation of your recording, which we call ‘the mix’. You want to achieve a balanced mix.
Your recording should be in-time.
You should be at least attempting to play at a constant tempo and keep all instruments in-time with each other. Nothing screams amateur louder than an unintentionally drifting tempo. Your music can have tempo changes, but again, they should be intentional.
Use a metronome, practise with it, record to it. If your music has tempo changes, automate your metronome so that your playing is consistent with each change.
Your recording should be free of background noise.
Unless you want sirens and street noise, close your window when you record! The listener wants to focus on your song, not what’s on TV in the next room. This is largely about finding the right environment to record and making it work for you. Some recordings sound fantastic with an atmospheric ambiance, but it needs to be, and here’s that word again: INTENTIONAL. Record in a controlled environment, and your recording will sound controlled and focused.
What it comes down to is this: be intentional with your recording and you’re on to a good thing.
There’s a consensus among sound engineers that whatever goes in, is what comes out. Meaning that even though modern technology can improve a recording, it can’t fix one entirely. Make sure what gets recorded sounds good, and the recording will have the best chance to sound good.
You’re betting on yourself and you control the odds: make them in your favour.
A rough recording is ok as long as it adheres to the above points. People will understand you aren’t a superstar with a recording studio budget just yet. If it’s clear, balanced, in-time, focused, and the song is good, people will listen.