How to Produce Magical Studio Performances

The original idea for this article was to write something on getting great vocal production. But as I started formulating the ideas, I realize they kind of apply to music globally.

I feel that the basis of great music is fairly simple. Recorded music is a transcription of feelings. Much like how a microphone converts sound waves into electricity, and speakers convert electricity into sound — emotion is converted into music, and that music translates emotion to the listener.

The idea here hinges on the musicians being in the correct state of mind to engage in the feeling of the song. The players must invoke so the music evokes. The first step, therefore, is keeping emotional feeling at the forefront of your mind. If feeling is the compass, the rest is just preparation and execution.

Coaching

If you are the producer, think of yourself as a coach. Some musicians are just brilliant. You can hand them music, tell them the idea, and they do that.

Not all musicians are that way. Many musicians, like normal humans, need inspiration. The pep-talk before the big play, if you will (and even if you won’t).

Vibe

Set up your recording space right. Things like lighting, decoration, comfortability, and temperature matter. Even though it seems like some esoteric nonsense, these physical cues help people tap into their emotional references.

Personalities

Get to know your players. Everyone is different. Some people benefit from a confidence inspiring chat. Other people need to be left alone with a few minutes of clear air and clean space. And others show up just ready to go.

Assess who the players are and anticipate what will put them in the best mood. If your bass player needs to settle in before playing, but the guitar player is just rarin’ to play — schedule the bass player to show up a little earlier. Then get set up and have everything ready by the time the guitar player arrives.

Connection

Emphasize connection. One of the coolest things about music is that you can have multiple people interpreting the same idea, or even have completely different ideas coming together. Rather than getting a simplified feeling, music can reproduce the multi-layered complex emotions that people have. This only works when you have people vibing off each other, complimenting or contrasting what’s being laid down. Something as simple as the way the bass player locks with the drummer can make the difference between something feeling suspenseful, relaxed, driving, angry, or any other host of emotions.

The players need to be able to clearly hear each other  and preferably see each other as well. Similarly, when I record vocals as an overdub, I pre-mix the record. I play up the key emotional ideas and key rhythmic elements to inspire the vocalist. This even works for song-writing. I find when the mix is really happening the lyric writers are able to tap into the song much quicker.

As a quick aside — don’t have the vocalist record to a squashed mix. The vocalist will naturally adapt to this by straining and fighting to cut through the music.

The Zone

Get them in the zone. If music is a story, then tell that story.

I find, particularly with vocalists, if they connect with the lyrics the listener will connect with them. If it’s a love song, have the musicians think about their love and internalize the meaning of the song. Having specific focal points helps the musicians access those things that can’t really be put into words. Think of it as method acting. If the song is angry, get the players to draw on experiences that made them mad — enraged — and that emotion will come through in their performance.

Chime in: What are your strategies for getting the best out of musicians?

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. Credits include Snoop Dogg, Gorilla Zoe, Arrested Development, Dizzee Rascal, Gift of Gab, J-Son and many others. Get in touch at Weiss-Sound.com.
  • http://www.facebook.com/duffbone Steven Duffy

    I’m a freelance musician in Philly, and one HUGE thing for me is when the producer is clear about what they want, and creating a vibe around that. Some producers know exactly what they want and exactly how they want you to play it, and others want you to bring your own ideas or flair to it.

    The worst is when you think you’re working with one personality, but they turn out to be the other. If I feel like you know exactly what you want, but you’re expecting me to be coming to you with ideas, we’re going to have a hard time. Don’t be afraid to be upfront with your session players about how you like to work!

    • Matthew Weiss

      This is GREAT advice!

  • http://twitter.com/juanpablocheca1 Juan Pablo Checa
  • http://twitter.com/CreativelyFwrd Creatively Forward

    It’s very important from minute one to earn each musician’s trust. The artist needs to feel they are liked, respected, and that their input is always being heard. To some this may seem like sucking up, but it’s a crucial part to getting the best results.

    Conversely, if a musician doesn’t feel they can trust a producer of engineer, their focus can be easily lost, and results can be immediately compromised.

    • http://DanComerchero.com/ Dan Comerchero

      reply

    • Matthew Weiss

      A good way to do this is to ask for their help or opinion. Plenty of opportunities will arise where it will genuinely help regardless, so might as well bring them into the fold.

  • Josh Lewis

    Remove ego and make it all about the music. Be honest and humble. If you are passionate, exude it. I think it is easier to win over an artists trust with action as aposed to glib pep talks. Outfit them with recording tools that accurately convey what the aesthetic that they are comfortable performing with. For great tools on how to capture performances visit the finest gear site on planet earth http://www.littlefishaudio.com

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