Posts Tagged ‘ Rehearsing ’

Preproduction: Rehearsals

Practice. Seriously. Do it.

You wouldn’t believe the number of times an artist has brought in an unrehearsed musician to a recording session. It’s a time-waster to be sitting in the studio with a bunch of people waiting around while the guitarist figures out what chords to play.

Ditto for singers: Know how to look after your voice. Know your lyrics. Know how you’re going to sing each part of the song. Know your harmonies. Come prepared.

What’s this got to do with producers and preproduction?

A producer can help the artist with the rehearsal process. In many cases, the artist is quite capable of organising musicians, working out parts for them and conducting rehearsals. In some cases, however, the artist needs a little help.

Organising musicians is something that a producer can naturally help with. Quite often, an experienced producer has a wide network of musicians to draw upon – wider than most artist’s group of friends. For specialised tasks, a producer can often find the right musician for the job.

Writing parts for musicians is also something that a producer can assist with. This can range from scoring string sections to jamming with a bassist. The producer’s experience in working with a wide range of music provides the perspective and knowledge of how to make best use of musicians for a project. A producer with classical music training is especially useful if classical musicians – such as string players – are to be used on the project. Classical musicians often require notated music to be provided. Alternatively, an arranger can be hired to score the parts.

Conducting rehearsals is another activity that a producer can do well. The producer’s skill and experience in project management makes a big difference to the smooth and effective  running of a rehearsal. Rehearsals involving several musicians also has the added complication of having to coordinate mutually-available session times and booking rehearsal studio time. Again, having the producer take care of this allows the artist to focus on the song and the performance.



How to practice effectively

Every skill requires practice. No matter what it is you do – composing, performing, producing, engineering… you need to practice in order to get better at it. Whether you’re learning how to play an instrument or learning how to use reverb, there are four things that you must do in order to practice effectively:

  • Practice regularly. It’s important to put in regular practice – not just ad-hoc. And it has to be frequent too. It might be ok to practice for half an hour once a week when you’re just starting, but if you want to take your craft seriously, you’ll have to quickly move to three times (and then five times) a week. Without setting aside regular time each week, you won’t be able to consistently put in the hours required to improve your skills and progress.
  • Progress slowly. In other words, don’t try to take on too much all at once. When learning to play a new song for the first time, practice playing it slowly so you can really feel your way around the notes before you play it at full speed. If you’re working with artists, try just one song at a time before attempting a whole album. If you’re engineering, learn how to get the best out of your basic compressor before starting to collect many different varieties.
  • Focus on trouble areas. Don’t just gloss over them. It can be fun to avoid the aspects of your craft that you find difficult, but this avoidance will let you down in the future. Many songs have a difficult section or two – focus on those difficult parts to really bring them up to standard. If your’re having creative differences with your artist or collaborator, don’t skirt around the issue – address it head on. If you don’t really understand the theory behind headroom and dynamic range, read up!
  • Build your capabilities. This means doing exercises that aren’t directly related to any projects or songs you have in progress. Instead of full-length songs or projects, exercises are short and intense and focussed. For musicians and composers, this means working on short pieces of music that are specifically designed to develop a certain area of your craft. For producers, this means taking on smaller side projects to explore certain aspects of music production. For engineers, this might mean mixing a particular song using only one kind of tool to really learn the ins and outs of it.

Whatever you do – don’t assume that talent will get you by, or that a lack of talent will hold you back. A natural aptitude or enjoyment will motivate you to work harder, but it’s the hard work that will really push you forward.


Understanding Practice

(With apologies to Joe, who’s actually a pretty cool guy)

Learn to smoothly and seamlessly practice your parts into that polished performance you’re looking for.

You work so hard on your songs – spending hours tracking, mixing and mastering your songs. What’s missing? PRACTICE.

Your mixes sound pretty good, but the timing just isn’t as tight as you wish it was. You’d like you fix some of these issues, but you’re not sure how.

Why would I want to practice my parts?

As a musician (or producer, if you’re directing musicians) you’re creating a performance. Your job is to make the performance sound as good as you possibly can.

As an engineer, you’re capturing a performance. Your job is to capture it as truthfully (and as flatteringly, har har) as you possibly can.

As a producer directing musicians, unrehearsed musicians play out of time occasionally. When that happens, you have three options:

  1. You can accept a mediocre performance.
  2. You can educate your musicians about the wonders and joys of learning to play their instruments.
  3. You can get better musicians.

Some people have a real issue with using practice to improve performances. They think it’s hard work. I agree. It’s really freakin’ hard. And that’s why it’ll set you apart from the thousands of mediocre musicians who resort to technology to make up for their weak performance skills.

I’m a musician as well (no, really, I am), and I’m not ashamed to say I’m actually a really good musician. Two decades of music will do that to you. That said, I regularly make mistakes when I don’t practice. Sometimes I can record a part over and over and over, and the timing is still a little off.

What do I do? I step away from the record button and actually practice the part. I focus on the difficult sections and train my fingers to work with precision and expression. Do I think it’s cheating? Absolutely. I’m making myself a better musician through hard work. Using technology to fix bad performances will still result in bad-sounding music. However, practising a part to eventually put on a good performance makes sense. I view practice as helping the tracks sound as I intended for them to sound.

Ok, seriously…

Practice is really important. More important than you think it is. And you think it’s pretty important. Well, it’s more important than that. I’ll go into more detail about how to practice effectively in a future blog post.