Today on the Recording A cappella podcast I tell you why most recording projects are set up to be mediocre before you ever step in front of a microphone and how you can avoid this common pitfall.
What are we talking about here? In technical recording jargon, we call this Pre-production. This is basically all the stuff we do before we ever hit record.
I want you to think about a recording project like a chef preparing a great meal. And preparing that meal starts with reading the recipe and gathering the ingredients. And what I’d like to do is give you the recipe to a great recording and also a way to capture the ingredients. So what I’ve done is created a checklist for you, a PDF that you can go and download as a reminder of the things we’ll cover today… but it’s more than just a pre-production checklist, it is the ultimate guide to creating a successful recording. Do everything on this checklist and you will avoid the pitfall of creating a mediocre recording because you will have the tools necessary to do so much more.
Now here’s how you get it, after you listen to this episode, head over to https://recordingacappella.com/checklist and you can download the PDF. And then you’ll have a reminder, a cheatsheet to reference before and during your next recording project.
So what are some of these ingredients that will make your next recording awesome?
Even though the landscape is different today and you may not be doing a full album, planning and pre-production are still the most crucial step in any type of recording project.
Do them and you will get a better result.
For many groups, recording is a given. “We’re in an a cappella group, we have to record.” That’s where I was when I started a group in college. I heard the groups on BOCA. Going to school in Virginia, I heard some great albums from groups like the Virginia Gentleman and the Hullabahoos and I just assumed that being a college group meant that you had to record.
That used to be the case. Many groups put out an album each year or every other year of the stuff they’d performed. That’s what we did. And you know what, our albums were always a bit of a let down. Frankly, they sucked!
Things just didn’t fit together or keep the listener interested.
Why were they a let down? We didn’t do any planning for them. At all.
We just walked into the studio ready to record what we’d done on stage. There are so many issues with that.
If you want to record your group, first ask yourselves a very important question.
WHY ARE WE MAKING A RECORDING?
It’s so important to state an overall goal and vision for the recording. You’re about to spend a lot of time, money, and effort on a project that will exist forever.
Do you just want a record of what your group sang this year (which we would call a yearbook album)? Awesome!
Maybe you want something to use as a marketing tool for your group?
Do you have a great artistic idea for a themed concept album? Go for it.
Maybe you have an enthusiastic audience who wants to listen to your stuff on Spotify?
Fame and fortune???? Cool!
All of these are great goals/visions. You have to state them and you have to get everyone involved in the project to buy into these goals. If you do, you’ll have a much better chance of reaching your goal.
Once you’ve agreed upon and stated your goal and vision, you need to start selecting songs for your project whether it’s an EP or an album.
Remember how I said this recording will last forever? Even if you are just creating a yearbook album, you probably have more songs in your current repertoire than will fit on an album.
Maybe you want to get all your graduating or retiring members solos recorded. This can work though I’m much more a fan of thinking about your current and future audience when selecting songs.
What do people outside the group who support you and are paying money for the recordings want to hear?
Which songs might hold up 10 years from now?
Even if you have to record all of your songs, you can always pick some songs to go on the EP or album and release others as singles. Think about which songs fit well together or are most popular with your audience.
Dare I say it, you may even need to ask yourselves which solos are the best? I’m hoping you don’t have this issue because you’ve followed the advice of not arranging or performing any songs for which you don’t have someone capable of singing the solo but if you do, or if you have too many great solos, you might have to choose.
If you have a theme for an album or EP, that may inform your selection process as well.
So far we’ve mostly talked about things that require nothing more than talking and listening. The rest of pre-production is mostly technical and preparatory.
If you listen to a lot of a cappella recordings (or any recordings for that matter), you’ll notice that the majority of recordings are slightly different from the live version. This became standard with the dawn of multi-track recording where bands could record additional tracks over what they play live (which is known as overdubbing). A 4-piece band like the Beatles could add additional percussion, brass, strings, and synthesizers to their songs. This is not as much the case any more because many bands actually play live with their additional tracks being played live by a DAW like Pro Tools while they play their core parts.
The recorded version of the song became the band’s ideal version of the song because even though they may have written the song and played it a few times live, they were crafting the completed version of the song in the studio first and then playing the song live.
A cappella groups can benefit from this as well even though you are usually arranging a song to perform it live and then recording it later on. This is your chance to do some things that you can’t do live or tweak some things that will sound different in a studio mix than they would live without microphones.
Once you have your recording arrangement done you’ll need to prepare guide tracks for your singers to listen to while they record. These will provide your singers a pitch and tempo reference so that everything will stay in the right key and consistent across the recording. Most often I use the MIDI file from your arrangement to create these guide tracks.
Maybe you don’t have a written arrangement for the song. You created your arrangement while singing along to the original version of the song. You could always record to the original recording though I tend to recommend writing things out so that you know what is being recorded.
Along those lines, you should start rehearsing with recording in mind. People will be recording individually or in small numbers while listening to a piano track and metronome in their headphones.
That’s a very different experience than singing live in a group. Start isolating voice parts in rehearsal. Check parts that may have evolved over the course of singing a song throughout the year. Ever played the game “telephone?” You know what I mean…
Lastly, it’s a great idea to choose a producer to oversee the direction and logistics of the album. They will be responsible for creating a recording schedule and keeping things on track. They can keep the goal in mind and the group focused. They’ll also communicate with any outside professionals you use for editing, mixing, mastering, graphic design, licensing, distribution, and manufacturing.
Alright, so what have we been talking about today? I told you that lack of planning and not having a common goal is why most recording projects are set up to be mediocre before you ever step in front of a microphone and that you can avoid this common pitfall by not only setting goals, having a common vision, and planning but also prepping great guide tracks, tweaking your arrangements, rehearsing with recording in mind, and choosing someone from the group to help coordinate all the details of the recording project.
And one of the ways that I can help you make a successful recording is to remind you again that if you go to recordingacappella.com/checklist, you can download my ultimate pre-production checklist and you will avoid the pitfall of creating a mediocre recording because you will have the tools necessary to do so much more.
And you know the funny thing about podcasts… YOU, my listener can subscribe to the podcast…. Listen to every episode on the apple podcasts app or through other apps… But never actually visit my website and that’s a shame because on recordingacappella.com that’s where I have other content, products and services including blog articles, video courses on recording, editing, and mixing, individual and group coaching, and so much more. I am a professional engineer and have worked for years coaching, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. And if you visit recordingacappella.com, you’ll find all of my content and services available to you.
So thanks for joining me today. The recording acappella podcast is produced every other Monday and more resources can be found at recordingacappella.com where you can also subscribe to my email list to receive exclusive email content and the ultimate pre-production checklist.
If you liked what you heard today, please drop by iTunes and subscribe and while you’re there, leave me a review. And if you have a message to share and want to start your own podcast, I can help you make that a reality. And if you are looking for a place to host your podcast, I recommend Libsyn. They host all of my shows and most of my clients shows and provide amazing service. When you choose Libsyn, use the promo code DANNY and you’ll get the first month free. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy week to listen to me talk about recording a cappella and I hope that I’m helping you on your journey.
I’m Danny Ozment and this has been the Recording Acappella Podcast.
Ultimate Pre-Production Checklist – https://recordingacappella.com/checklist
Interested in a coaching session or joining one of our groups? – https://recordingacappella.com/coaching
Video Courses – https://recordingacappella.com/shop