You may have been here before. You’re producing a band but the song just isn’t coming together. If you’re experienced you probably know exactly what to do, but even after a couple of steps you might hit a dead end. This excerpt from my Music Producer’s Handbook provides 10 questions to ask in order to troubleshoot a song if it just doesn’t sound as good as you think it should be.
1. Do all the players in the band know their parts inside out? Is there a part that someone is unsure of?
2. Are all the players performing their parts the same way every time? (This assumes that you aren’t recording some form of jazz or blues in which you want a different performance for each take). Any variation can lead to a section not gelling or not being tight.
3. Is the band playing dynamically? Does the music breathe volume-wise? Does the verse have less intensity than the chorus or the bridge?
4. Does the band lose its drive when playing with less intensity? Do the band members forget about attacks and releases when they play more quietly?
5. Is everyone playing the song and section starts and stops the same way? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
6. Does the band sound tight? Are the attacks and releases of phrases being played the same way by everyone? Are the builds, turnarounds, and accents being played the same way by everyone? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
7. Is the band in tune? If not, make sure that everyone uses the same tuner and tunes the same way.
8. Does the song have a groove? Is the rhythm section playing in the pocket? Is the drummer or the bass player wavering slightly in tempo?
9. Is the tempo right for the song? Try playing the song a beat per minute or two faster or slower and see if that feels better.
10. Are all vocals in the best range for the singers? Does the vocalist have trouble hitting all the notes? Does he or she sound comfortable singing, and is the sound right for the song?
If the song still isn’t coming together after these 10 questions, the it might be best to come back another day and start fresh. On the other hand, it could be that the song’s arrangement needs to be torn down and built back up again, which will require another troubleshoot session. Either way, you’re on your way to get it sorted out.
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook 2nd edition and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.