I received an email a couple weeks ago asking to share my thoughts on recording. When is a track done? How important are the “sprinkles?” If you can’t perform them live, are they worth having at all?
If brevity's your thing: 1.) it's subjective 2.) potentially very 3.) absolutely, unless they're not.
For the more stalwart...
This is a great question and invites a wide range of answers. Personally, I’ve run the gamut of recording experience - everything from one-take wondering and the attendant euphoria to folding in on myself after take nine hundred and eight, tear-soaked lyric sheet crumbled into neurotic origami.
Keep in mind I'm an ignoramus, but here's an in-studio check list that works for me, ie it’s short.
- Build an arrangement you can perform live. If playing together off the floor sounds good, it’ll 100% work on record, and overdubs are a blast because you already have something awesome and can pare back if things get too “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Ideally, the tune holds up just acoustic guitar and vocal - then you really know you’re onto something. If you're needing tracks to pull off a compelling live show, the songs aren’t ready yet. Stevie Wonder doesn't need that shit, and neither do you.
- Every part should sound like it belongs in the band. I’m all about a string quartet and flute solo, but if the core instruments are playing unique and complimentary parts the result's usually plenty huge. We pay close attention to this in the Allen Stone camp. If Swatty’s playing a percussive clav part, for example, I’m not going to whacka-whacka along with him. Maybe one of my blatantly plagiarized Andy Summers shimmery minor 11 chords will work, and if it doesn’t goddammit I’m forcing it in there anyway. Fall back on rule one if you're feeling overwhelmed. Also, consider Miles Davis's advice on soloing: if the band's playing fast, you play slow. If they're playing slow, you play fast.
- Give less of a rat's ass. The studio and stage are very different worlds and should be treated as such. Have fun! Everything does, in fact, need more cowbell. If you go too Phil Spector (minus the manslaughter, ideally), that’s ok - following rule one means you’ll deliver where it matters most: on stage. Allow yourself to be imperfect and learn as you go. Personally, I enjoy cringing a little listening back to records I’ve worked on - it means I’m growing as an artist and had the guts to put myself out there, which is the most important thing.
I told you it was a short list. Make your record and share your art. I can’t wait to hear it.