5 Things You Need To Know To Cut A Killer Track
By Johnny Dwinell
In fact, if you’re track sounds like shit, then it’s our first red flag as to just how lazy, un-resourceful, clueless, and out of touch you are with the music business these days; kinda like showing up to a gun fight with a butter knife. Today’s music is consumed so fast and there is so much of it available that YOU HAVE TO BE FREAKING AMAZING in every way to stick out. Why on earth would you cut any corners on your artistry?? I mean, aren’t you the one always complaining about how crappy music is on the radio and how YOUR band could do so much better? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Here are 5 really good concepts to internalize before you spend any money recording anywhere that will hopefully help you rise above the fray and cut a killer track!
Demoing your songs as an artist used to be an essential piece of the puzzle to getting a record deal; nowadays, your demos are more a private process of crafting your songs and arrangements to prepare for a master recording session. Unless you are a songwriter trying to get an artist to cut your song, you are WASTING YOUR MONEY with demos no matter how much cheaper the process is compared to cutting master tracks! Forget publicly pushing/presenting demos! Record Labels stopped developing talent a decade ago; so they don’t care about your demo no matter how good your songs are! They care about your momentum, how many tickets, CD’s, Merch, and downloads u sell. If you only have $2,500 and you find someone to demo your 8 songs for that price, you wasted $2,500 because that budget will not have been spent on any activity that will create momentum for you. Relax and save more money or cut fewer songs.
It’s FAR better to spend your limited budget on 3 or 4 GREAT tracks than 10 mediocre cuts. For the love of GOD if you seriously are trying to make a living in the music industry, do your music right or don’t do it at all! It’s so easy to freak out on what it costs to really make a great record these days, I get it! The cold hard reality is that you are going to have to spend some money to get this dream of yours going. The more you cut corners, the more you make it an expensive hobby; so don’t be frustrated because you are the one getting in your own way. I think of one of our artists named Tanya Marie Harris from Canada. I remember our first phone conversation, and she said, “Johnny, for what you and Kelly are charging me for 2 songs, I can cut a whole record up here” and my mind went to the pre-programmed response of thinking that we weren’t going to be able to help her, but before I could open my mouth she finished her sentence, “of mediocrity.” She approached her project with us as if it was the end of the world and it HAD to be done right. We ROCKED those 2 songs of hers and she is now blowing up major radio in Canada because she has 2 KILLER tracks. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up with an investor very soon, because she has created real momentum! Bottom line, her approach has opened WAY more doors for her as an artist.
This is probably 80% of your problem, your songs suck; or some of them are good and the rest are weak. If you spend $25,000 recording a lame, crappy song with Mutt Freakin Lange, it’s going to be the most expensive, slickest sounding crappy song on the planet (he would never cut it, but you get my point). Get some co-writes with some seriously talented writers! If you are now saying, but I don’t have any of those where I live then MOVE! Like Sam Kinison said, “GO WERE THE FOOD IS!” It’s quite possible that your songs are very good but maybe just need a little tweaking here is where a good outside ear can make the difference! Which brings us to our next point, Producers.
Make sure that your Producer has a killer engineer or IS a killer engineer; LISTEN to what they have done. ASK who they have worked with. Your best friend who just went to school for a recording degree is NOT going to deliver for you this time; he/she needs their 10,000 hours before they are going to be able to get anybody to the next level artistically. Since you are responsible for your own development now, you have to think like a record label would think. After you sign with a label, if you are ready to record the next step is PRODUCER SHOPPING so why the hell would you skip this step on your own project? Do you really think a Major Label would allow your buddy right out of school to produce your first effort?? HELL NO!!! I recommend using your buddies with the cool home studios for your creative demo process; use them to craft arrangements and songs, but don’t rely on them to deliver expertise because they have none, or they would be working with professionals already. Kelly went to school and got a recording degree; then he wiped his ass with his diploma and moved to Nashville to learn how to make records. I was an artist right out of high school and learned to make records in a trial by fire kind of method. A good Producer is going to help you pick the songs. A good producer is going to tell you, “NO” to the songs that aren’t ready to be recorded or shouldn’t be recorded at this level. A good Producer is going to have heart to heart discussions about your lane and then service those collaborative decisions musically. A good Producer is going to have relationships with the studio musicians and ensure you don’t get run over by them. A good Producer is going to have the psychological skill-set to push you and your band to artistic performance heights you never thought possible. A good Producer is going to be just as excited about your project as you are!
You would be surprised how many members of your favorite rock bands didn’t actually cut all or any of their tracks in the studio; the ones that did were AMAZING musicians. In Country music, most professional live musicians, as Godlike as they are live, do not cut in the studio; it’s just a different animal because live is here & gone already and the studio recording is forever. All too often I see bands come in determined that everyone in the band is going to play on the record. If your drummer sucks, then we are going to have to manufacture the performance in Pro Tools to get the track in time and find a groove. If your drummer sucks then your bass player is NEVER going to consistently lock up with the kick drum and this spells S-H-I-T; which means we are going to manufacture the bass performance as well since the drum track has been altered. You see where this goes? It becomes a hot mess and your record sounds, well, MANUFACTURED. You would be better served to make the best recordings possible and let any weaker musicians grow into the role; sorry to say it, but if their feelings are worth the whole record budget you have a problem.