Getting the Best Performance From Your Artist

So now you've decided to record your songs. Good for you, except that you will need people to play the instruments for which your music calls for. If you can play all the instruments on your own, then all the better. You will have less people to argue with! Other wise, you will have to hire (read: bribe with beer/food/hockey tickets) session musicians and vocalists to play and sing for you, putting you in the producer's chair.

Your songs are only as emotional as the performers who play them. It goes without saying that you should hire the best performers your budget will allow. But if $100/hour for a professional vocalist is a little steep, here are a few ways to help encourage the best from your session players.

1.) Always praise, never criticize.

The is THE most important rule in my book. The only way any session musician could ever get comfortable at your studio is if YOU put them at ease. That's one of your jobs as a producer.

When trying different versions of a take, tell them how you would like it to sound, instead of what they did wrong ie: "That was great, but let's try to hit the high note a little stronger" instead of "you know, you were a little off on the high note, it didn't sound that good".

Always start with praise, then with a correction. Keep your vocabulary positive. The best producers make the artist feel as if they can do nothing wrong.

2) They Can Do Nothing Wrong

Remember this rule while you are writing or recording. There is no "wrong way", there is only "a different way". Don't tell people that their way is wrong. Remember that music is an art, and there are no rules in art. When a performer is playing something you don't like, correct them by saying "let's try it this way too". Don't start off my saying "nope, you were wrong, do it the right way".

3) Let Them See The Light

Ambiance, atmosphere, vibe: whatever you call it, they need it. I guarantee that you will get a much better performance if you have water on the table, comfortable chairs, maybe a few candles, a towel, mints, and candy. Have you ever tried recording in an office with harsh florescent lights and hard wood chairs?

4) Take Your Time

If you're recording at your own studio, you have all the time in the world (which is an evil thing in my opinion). Let the artist relax, "get into the groove", talk a little and get comfortable with the other people in the control room. A tense artist's performance will always sound 'artificial' in the final song.

Don't be worried if it takes another 10 minutes to finish the take. Each performer works at their own pace, and the best thing you can do as the producer is to respect that and adjust your pace to theirs. Unless you have a record company breathing down your neck. Then everyone has to work at THEIR pace!

5) Ask For Help

Artists love to be listened to. It's always good to ask them for their opinion. Whether you actually listen is up to you. But once in a while, a simple question like "What do you think? Do you want to keep that take?" can do wonders for their performance. It helps keep them involved in the project and make them feel less like a "hired hand".

Obviously, if it was the worse singing you've ever heard and they want to keep it, just mention that you will do "one more take as a safety". And then, when they're not looking, use the better take instead and auto-tune it to no end. This is a little producer's secret, but don't let the artists know!

6) Know The Words

Make sure that you, the engineer, the assistant engineer and everyone else in the control room has lyrics to all the songs. The best way for your studio team to find their way around the songs is with the lyric sheets. Another good idea is to USE THE WHITEBOARD! That's why it's there. If you don't have one, get one. Write down the chord progressions, lyric ideas, timing marks, track listings, McDonald's lunch orders, everything.

7) It's MOSTLY About The Music

I've heard people say "it's ALL about the music". Well, in my books, that's not the truth. I'd rather say "it's mostly about the music". Because you have to remember, it's also about having fun, having a good time, writing and performing the best you can and above all, sharing your talent and gift with others. Try to make it less of a job, and more of a passion and you'll find yourself doing it for the rest of your life!

©2005 Richard Dolmat (Digital Sound Magic)

Richard Dolmat is owner, engineer and producer for the Vancouver based recording studio Digital Sound Magic. Visit his site at:

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