The Recording Process
How I imagined it would be
To be honest, up until two years ago, I never really expected to get the opportunity to be involved in the recording process of a song. I always thought that anything related to being a professional singer was unachievable for me. In a way, I never even let myself consider the possibilty of releasing my own music one day. This had many reasons, the first being that I had absolutely no clue about what goes into the making of a song, from the recording process, to the production and post-production. Plus, I didn't know anybody who had the skills and knowledge that I lacked. So if I ever wanted to record any of my songs, I would either need to:
a) go to a recording studio, which I couldn't afford.
b) buy all of the equipment necessary to build a home studio (also not affordable), teach myself how to produce and possibly learn to play more instruments.
c) meet people who would be willing and able to help me fulfill my music-making/recording dreams.
But none of these options seemed very attainable to me. I could of course start listing a million excuses as to why I didn't think that these options were feasible. But buried under all of these excuses clearly lies one thing: fear.
Fear that time, energy or resources that I would put into creating music would be a waste.
Fear of neglecting my obligations in favor of creative self-expression.
Fear of uncertainty. Fear of failure.
Fear of not being good enough, self-doubt.
But then, something strange happened.
How did I end up recording?
So how did I actually end up experiencing a recording process, even though the scenario of this happening almost seemed like a utopian dream to me?
Well, somehow the universe went:
"Here you go."
and Alessandro and I crossed paths.
In Alessandro I found an experienced guitarist and awesome musician with skills in music production, who had a little home studio and who's taste in music as well as personality I happen to vibe with! Also, being quite the dreamer himself, he gave me the courage to finally pursue my desire to make music.
Our work space
It's a work in progress. So far Ale's little home studio consists of one computer, an interface, three monitors, two speakers, a midi keyboard, a minilogue synth, a microphone (my contribution!), headphones and guitars. We also attached some soundproofing panels to the wall and installed thick courtains to seperate the room and provide further soundproofing.
My recording experience / What it's actually like
The recording process turns out to be a lot more challenging than what I initially anticipated. Especially recording at home can pose particular difficulties. There are plenty of things that need to be taken into account which I had absolutely no clue about up until about two years ago.
S O U N D P R O O F I N G
One of the things which I wasn't aware of is the fact that it's important to record in a sonically 'dead' environment. This means that there shouldn't be too many hard surfaces or windows around, which would cause the sound picked up by the mic to bounce around the room. When this happens, the recorded sound becomes reverberated and the room resonances and reflections become audible, making the quality of your recording less clean and clear. I learned this the hard way when I had to record the entire vocals of a song for a second time. Unfortunately, it was too late when we realized that the space we recorded in affected the quality of the vocals negatively and basically rendered them useless. So, we had to start all over again.
But hey! Every mistake is an opportunity to learn, right? Ever since that experience we have implemented multiple changes in order to be able to get as clean of a recording as possible.
Firstly, we laid down a carpet and installed our sound proofing panels. Then, I invested in a better microphone. But the third thing we do to achieve a cleaner vocal recording is definitely the weirdest. Weird, but effective. Remember how I mentioned that we have curtains which seperate Ale's home studio in half? When I record, I wrap these curtains around me. Alessandro then presses record and holds the curtains in place so I can record inside my little curtain cocoon. And there you go! No room reflections! In the beginning it felt quite odd to sing into a microphone surrounded by giant, dark curtains. But I have gotten pretty used to it by now. When I happen to have to record vocals at home in Germany, I use a similar technique. But instead of using curtains, I set up my microphone in my closet and let the clothes act as a shield against sound reflections.
The things you do to get a clean sound, am I right?
R E C O R D I N G V O C A L S
Weirdly enough, singing while recording feels a lot different from regular singing, at least for me. When I record, I become hyper-aware of any mistakes or imperfections in my vocal performance. This happens because of two reasons: Firstly, I am wearing headphones while recording, which means that I get to hear my voice in a different way than what I'm used to from regular live singing. And secondly, I get to listen back to my takes over and over again, which gives me the opportunity to spot every mistake and overthink every note. It's quite interesting how you can think something sounds fine while you sing it, only to notice a million little flaws when you listen back to it. Flaws that, if it wasn't for the recordings, you might not even have thought twice about. As a result, when I first started making vocal recordings, I was quite taken aback by the fact that it takes more than just one or two takes to get the desired result. Since I become more aware of every little pitch imperfection, unpleasant undertone or tremble in my voice, recording vocals requires quite a bit more concentration for me than singing whithout being recorded. And of course it is especially important to me to do the best possible job I could do when I record vocals for a song of mine, since these recordings are going to be imprinted on the song and live on there forever once it's released.
Another thing that I sometimes struggle with while recording and when I sing in general is the fact that I feel like I can't always express my emotions effectively through my vocal performance. This is just one more thing about my voice that has become more apparent to me through the process of recording and it's something I'm trying to work and improve on.
Sometimes there are moments where I get quite overwhelmed by the pressure I feel to do a great vocal take. I can get very frustrated and a bit impatient or disappointed in myself when I feel like I am not succeeding or my voice is getting tired and not cooperating with me. But of course there are also moments where everything seems to flow and come together quite naturally.
On another positive note, I have also learned to experiment more with my voice and the way I sing and I'm exploring different ways of how to change it up according to what is most fitting in a certain song or section of a song.
T E A M W O R K
The key to having a pleasant and successful recording experience is good team work and communication between everyone involved in the process. Especially since Alessandro and I are equally involved in the creation of our music and both care a lot about the final outcome, it's important to listen to eachother and be respectful of eachother's suggestions and wishes. Another crucial factor is not to rush things along and take the time that is needed in order to achieve a satisfying result. I find that sometimes we get caught up in the idea that something has to be done in a certain amount of time and when this doesn't happen, we freak out a little. But in order for the recording experience to be a positive one, it is essential to try to keep your cool even if things go wrong or not according to plan, and always be understanding of eachother's pace when you are working in a team. There are most likely going to be moments where you are trying to get an idea or vision across to the person you are working with and they aren't able to immediately understand and execute it the way you had it in mind. In those moments, it's important to be patient and practise productive communication based on kindness and empathy. If you let your frustration out on the other person and put pressure on them, it's most likely going to backfire: the process stops being fun, egos get hurt and creativity is being blocked. Maybe what you are asking for is not viable. Or maybe you just need to try to explain yourself in a different way. Maybe you will need to reach a compromise. In general, whenever you are working with someone on a project, whatever it may be, it is absolutely vital not to make it a you vs me type of experience. It should never be about who is right or wrong, better or worse. Instead, the focus should lie on creating an environment where each person can express their needs and wishes openly and where the goal is to find the best possible solution for everyone involved.
At the end of the day, the recording process should never feel like a chore. Rather, it's a time to have fun, be creative and do what you love: make music.
F I N A L T H O U G H T S
Even though the recording process comes with many unexpected challenges and, at times, has even made me question my abilities as a singer in a way I hadn't before, I am so very grateful I even got the opportunity to experience it. I love singing, I love creating and getting to record my songs is just a dream come true! And I can't wait to release some of the original music Alessandro & I have been working on once we are ready. But until then, stay tuned!