You may have been here before. You’re working on a song but it 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 the players and singers know their parts inside out? Is there a part that a player 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 song breathing dynamically? Does the music breathe volume-wise? Does the verse have less intensity than the chorus or the bridge?
4. Does the song lose its drive when there’s less intensity? Do the players forget about attacks and releases when they play more quietly?
5. Is every mix element or player executing the section starts and stops the same way? If not, examine the timeline to be sure that they all occur at the same time. When using musicians, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
6. Does the song sound tight? Are the attacks and releases of phrases being played the same way for each mix element? Are the builds, turnarounds, and accents being executed the same way? If not, with musicians ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
7. Are the players 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 drum or the bass track 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 to see if that feels better.
10. Is the song’s key 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, then 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 troubleshooting session. Either way, you’re on your way to get it sorted out.
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.