Different people have different ears for different needs
We have a lot of artists here at Sentric Music now; at the time of writing we’re coming up to the magic 1,000 mark (as of May 2009) and we’re growing every day as more and more come on board to take advantage of our services. Due to this: I listen to shedloads of music. On my way to work, during work, on my way home from work, when I’m in the flat, before I got to bed etc, basically there is very little silence in my life these days, so much so that when I am faced with the prospect of quietness my brain panics and forces me to generate noise in various forms; singing, humming, drumming, whistling and all the other –ings.
Due to the sheer amount of music I listen to combined with what I do for a living I’d like to think I have a ‘good ear’ for picking out songs that could work quite well on adverts and TV shows. Please note that this differs quite somewhat from having a ‘good ear’ for picking out songs that could sell records, make radio playlists or work if given to another artist to record. I’ve never dabbled in A&R and I know a good few people who are far better at it then me.
For example I was flicking through the iPod of a friend of mine who is A&R for a major label and I came across the original demo of ‘Time To Pretend’ by MGMT. This demo sounded truly dreadful to me and I would have no doubt nonchalantly strewn the track straight into my deleted items if I was searching for the next big thing. Fast forward 18 months and it’s pretty much the song of the year thanks to a good quality recording by the right producer.
You can see what I’m getting at here; different people have different ears for different needs.
This is something that you need to consider when recording any material whatsoever. You may be at a stage where you’ve scraped together a few hundred quid to get your first ever recordings done or you may be hitting the studio to get down your third album after gaining a loyal fanbase thanks to all your hard work (and knowledge from reading this blog of course). Regardless of what stage you’re at have a think about your ‘Key Stakeholders’ (if you’ll allow me to add an element of GSCE Business Studies).
The following examples are aimed at unsigned/independent musicians (as ever).
Fans – What do your fans want to hear? You may have thousands or you may just have your mates, but at the end of the day; what tracks do they like? If you’ve got a seven song set and only enough budget to record two then which tracks get the best reaction live? Which ones have you seen people mouthing the words along too despite the fact they may have only heard it once or twice before? Engage them and make them feel part of the selection process, do a vote on your website/MySpace/Twitter etc to gain some feedback to help you decide. Then when you’re at Marillion’s level you can convince them to pay for it before you’ve even wrote any of it.
Radio – As a general rule of thumb radio stations like tracks less than four minutes long, that hit the vocal by 30 seconds maximum and don’t contain any swearing/general offensive lyrics. They’re not going to be interested in long winded, self indulgent three minute openings (bar maybe speciality shows that are on at silly o’clock in the morning) so save them for the album and do radio edits of any tracks you record. Radio can provide both fantastic exposure and good cash in performance royalties for you so try to make it as easy as possible for them to want to play your track. A good radio plugger is arguably one of the most important people you can have on your team so you might want to consider spending any extra money you’ve saved up (or earned from Sentric Music) on getting one on board. Try to hunt one down to get their opinion on which of your tracks they think is the most radio friendly. They’re often on panels during various music industry events which quite frustratingly are usually put on for artists that don’t take advantage of them!
(ANECDOTE ALERT: I remember being at one of these things in Scotland once where I was invited to be part of a ‘Music Industry Speed Dating’ event where the idea was to have someone from all areas of the industry in one room and for artists to spend five minutes with each before moving on to get the most out of an hour they possibly could. Grand in theory; but only four artists turned up and there was around thirteen of us so the point of it was a bit lost and we all started chatting to one another. I started talking to this one guy and when I asked him what he did he mentioned quite a few generic music industry things and at the end of the list he said “oh, I also manage one artist as well”, “Will I have heard of them?” I enquired. “You may have done; Stevie Wonder?”… I’d have started with that one personally.)
Publisher (or ME in this example!) – If you’re a member of Sentric Music then please fire us an email for any advice; that’s what we’re here for! There have been a few times in the past when an artist has sent us their new recordings and they’ve failed to re-record the one track that had brilliant potential for synch. Now I understand that the artist may not like that song anymore, but the benefits of a good synch can (and should) arguably outweigh the fact you’re a bit bored of performing a song you may have wrote a year or so in the past. The things I’m looking for in a song that make it synch worthy; a hook (be it lyrical or instrumental), non offensive lyrics, an instrumental version of the track, good production values and various other things that can’t be considered at the time of recording including current trends and sound-a-likes. Read this post for more help on how to get your tracks synched.
A&R – These guys will be looking for a combination of the above; they’ll consider how radio friendly a track is, whether they can envisage it on an iPod advert and, most importantly, if it could sell gazillions of units to fund their crippling drug habits. Overall a good A&R person is looking for a song rather than a recording; take my earlier MGMT anecdote for example; if they think the song has genuine potential then they may offer you a bit of cash to make some better quality recordings. If you haven’t read the previous post ‘Ask the A&R’ then I strongly recommend you click here and have a read.
Yourselves – Or, you could just ignore all of the above and just record whatever the hell you want. At the end of the day you should be doing this for yourselves and no one else right? Yeah I thought so…