At some point in my recording journey, I wanted to learn from the pros about recording. So I went to Clear Track Studios in Clearwater and consulted with Spencer Bradham, one of their lead producers. I paid for one lead single in a “Top-40 radio-ready” format. This what I learned from the whole process!
- Song choice and arrangement: Spencer listened to all my songs and chose the one that, in his mind, had the most potential to sound like a hit radio song. He chose one called Too Slow. It was upbeat and catchy.
Spencer asked me what I wanted the song to sound like; I’ll admit, at the time, I didn’t really know. I wanted him to produce it for me. We recorded a scratch track from his piano and my acoustic guitar. After forming his thoughts, he assembled some studio musicians to be “my band.”
- Band practice: the studio musicians were (are) highly talented. There was a guitar, a bassist, and a drummer. Spencer sent everyone my scratch track. We had a short band practice to hash out the song structure. They mostly followed Spencer’s lead, but I interjected here and there with some ideas. I could hear the song being formed into this Maroon5 pop-rock jam, and I enjoyed the aggressiveness of it.
- Recording guitar, bass, and drums: a 2-4 hour block was required for each individual musician to play his part. They selected instruments and positioned mics carefully, then tracked with such perfect tempo that they could have been robots.
- Recording lead vocals: my favorite part! The meat and potatoes of the song! We took a 4-hour block to do this. Spencer selected a large tube microphone for my voice (“tube microphones have a more ‘musical’ quality than condensers,” he explained.) He positioned the mic in the middle of the studio and tested my levels. His positivity helped me to feel comfortable. He told me where I needed to sing louder or with more emotion. We did 4-5 takes of each section of the song, starting with verses, then choruses, then the big finale at the end. I had a lot of fun doing it, even though vocals tend to be stressful for me.
- Recording background vocals: harmonies, overdubs, parts to thicken up the whole song. I love background vocals and the dimension they add to my tracks.
- Final touches, mixing and mastering: Spencer added some extra arpeggiators, keys and cool effects to make the track pop some more. We modified the intro with a low-cut sweep to make it feel like it was fading into view. When it was all done, it definitely felt like a rock track.
Only after that did I realize what I had wanted my song to sound like all along. I wanted more soul and less rock. The track was so aggressive. My original song was meant to sound like a snarky comeback, not a tantrum. I had not communicated that. Also, I wanted more swing, more vocal runs, more ‘soul’. This was too heavy on the drum kit, electric guitars… combined with my voice, it didn’t seem to come together for me.I’m not saying they didn’t do a great job – Spencer did a fantastic job! I got exactly what I asked for, which was a popular sounding song and a deeper look into the recording process.