Tech Tip:Outta Here: Demo Diagnosis
By Andy Cahan, the Demo Doctor
Organization is the key word when to comes to recording your home demos. The object of the game is to get everything accomplished smoothly and efficiently. These following recommendations will work whether you're a 'one man band,' completing all of the programming and performance yourself, or if you're a songwriter hiring outside vocalists and musicians.
First and foremost, make sure all your vocal and instrumental material is well rehearsed and that the performance is polished. This creates the foundation to get the best performances in your first three recording takes. After those initial takes, the energy level starts to go downhill and eventually you will lose the original feel of your performance.
Obviously, if you are depending on others to perform for you, make sure they have their parts well rehearsed. In fact, you should sit down with each musician individually and go over all of the parts in detail. This is your 'baby', and the final result should be exactly what you envision the song to sound like.
Any solos should be planned out as well. Try to incorporate melodic hooks in solos that will stick in the listener's head. Also, have all your lyric sheets neatly laid out and a separate page for the chord charts.
One very important item: make sure the key of the song fits the vocal range of the singer. As a single programmer and performer, you can adjust the pitch of your sequencer and transpose the keyboard accordingly. On the other hand, when you're depending on outside musicians, the new material must be ready and rehearsed before they hit the studio.
Pre-plan all your vocal and instrumental melodies and arrangements before you record these overdubs. Know what layers you will record first so you can build your sub mixes. Definitely take advantage of composite recording techniques and create your master comp tracks.
Lets talk about the practice of digital sampling, or copying sounds from one recording to another through use of digital technology. This has been going on for well over a decade, and is becoming more and more widespread among mainstream artists.
Sampling itself can take many forms; sometimes a few bars of an original recording are sampled, other times the whole bass or drum line from the original recording is sampled. The technology allows the separation of sounds in some cases, meaning the sample itself may be almost impossible to isolate in the finished 'hybrid' recording. Sometimes, the original sound recording is not sampled at all, but instead an extract from the original composition is re-recorded and then the recording is used for sampling purposes.
A 'loop' is a section of musical material that is recorded and then cycled repeatedly and selectively on some form of sampling tool. That 'loop' can then be stretched, reversed, or otherwise edited to create new and unusual sounds. When combined with other instruments, a loop provides an innovative backbone for songwriting and studio production. Samplers are available through companies such as Roland, Ensoniq, Akai, and Yamaha.
It's a widely known fact that the music industry at the brink of the millennium has a serious fascination with drum samples and loops. We are hearing them in all genres of music, from Hip Hop to Rock. Drum machines are not hitting the mark, and neither are most drummers, even the technical ones. What drum machines and many technical drummers lack is FEEL. Your rhythm section is the backbone of your music. If that backbone is weak, you have no chance of competing with the thousands of artists who have the groove.
By the way, always make a back up copy of all your data and tapes. In fact I usually run two back ups, that way you're totally covered in the event of any defective tapes or disks.
Andy Cahan is a 35-year veteran of the music industry. As a recording engineer and record producer, Cahan has worked with such artists as Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Flo & Eddie and Eric Carman.