As much as we’d like to admit it, not all of our songs are going to be worth spending the kind of money and time that professional recordings require. In order to know whether or not your song is - or can be - worth that investment, song critiques are invaluable. In order to get your song up to a “listenable” level, though, you’ll need to make a good rough recording. And, even though your rough recording won’t be the final, finished product, it’s still important to give your listeners the best representation of your song that you can. To that end, I’ve put together a few quick tips to help you avoid some of the speed bumps that have nothing to do with the quality of your song, but can distract your listener and prevent them from giving you a constructive critique.
1. Pay attention to sound quality
These days it’s easy and inexpensive to get very good sound quality even when recording with a smart phone or tablet. The microphones in the devices themselves are decent, but an investment in an attachable mic for your smart phone/tablet will make a dramatic improvement. As an example, I use the Shure MV-88 plugged directly into my iPhone and I’m truly thrilled with the results. Also, the engineer in me would be remiss not mentioning that these mics are sensitive enough to pick up everything in your general environment, so it’s important to remember to make your rough recordings in a quiet room.
2. Tune your instruments
I understand the feeling of having worked - sometimes all day - on a song and wanting to record it the moment you’re done. That’s fine but as a guitarist, I can say with complete authority that our instruments will fall out of tune after any extended writing session. Take the time to properly tune your instrument(s) just prior to recording. It really does make a difference.
3. Give the vocal your primary attention
At the end of the day, it’s the vocal that communicates your lyric and melody. To that point, there are a few things you can do to make the vocal shine in your rough recording. First, make sure the song is in the best key possible for the vocalist who will be singing it. Secondly, and equally important, make sure the vocal in your rough recording is up front - meaning loud enough - so that the melody and lyrics are clear. This deserves particular mention because often in our enthusiasm to play a new song, the volume of the instrument can overshadow the vocal. You might want to record a small snippet of the song first and listen back to confirm that the vocal stands out.
A rough recording will never take the place of a professional demo but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make every effort to create the best rough version of your song you can as an intermediate step. Remember, when you submit a song to be critiqued, the listener should be critiquing the song itself, and not your recording.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, music producer and educator with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and demo singers for their songwriting demos. You can download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs”.