It is the day after Christmas and today I wanted to talk a little about producing yourself, which is something that I have done since my first recording for Wooden Nickel/RCA, though I did have a co producer on the first two albums and on the Freelance Human Being CD ( http://www.jamesleestanley.com/reviews.html --you’ll have to scroll down to the FHB review). With the exception of those three, it’s been me calling all the shots for the remaining seventeen albums.
In the first article about producing I talked about choosing a producer and working with a producer. For most of us, that simply isn’t an option, so we end up producing ourselves. Not an easy job for a variety of reasons. In order to produce yourself, you need to have at least these four things:
1. The ability to listen to yourself critically and admit when something wonderful you did just isn’t happening. When that occurs, either do it again til you’ve gotten it, or admit that presently you can’t give it what it needs to serve the project and hire someone who can. On the solo guitar and voice CD Freelance Human Being, I wanted full performances; no overdubs, no punch ins, no edits. Consequently, I ended up sometimes recording the same song for three or four hours (in one instance, six hours) because that is what it took to get it where I wanted it.
If you don’t have the luxury of your own studio, then I recommend being completely and utterly prepared when you go into a studio; use the time for recording, not for practicing. When John Batdorf and I did All Wood and Stones (www.allwoodandstones.com) at my Beachwood Recordings studio, he showed up at each recording session completely prepared. If it was vocals, he was already warmed up, if it was guitars, his were restrung and stretched and tuned. Saving time in the studio saves you money. So be prepared.
2. Some distance from the project during it’s creation because you do fall in love with the stuff you work hard on. You need to be able to hear what actually happened and not what you think happened. I find that going on the road always brings a new perspective to what I recorded while I was home. On Freelance Human Being, I recorded the entire CD and then went on the road. When I came back, non of it sounded good enough to me, so I did it again, and then went on the road again. When I came back that next time, the playing and singing still didn’t sound good enough to me, so I did it a third time and that’s when I just stayed there and did each song until it worked. No matter how many hours it took, I didn’t stop til I had what I wanted. And yes, you can keep redoing it until you have completely wrung the magic out of it. So I keep every pass; every recording of it til I’m done and then I erase everything I’m not going to use. Don’t want some mediocre version of something by me to come back and bite me on the buns some day.
3. The ability to simply cut something from the project that you love if it isn’t serving the vision of the whole project. On my latest CD, The Eternal Contradiction, (www.jamesleestanley.com/eternalcontra.html ) there were several songs that I really liked that simply didn’t fit with the others when we were done. They weren’t bad songs or bad performances, they just didn’t flow into and out of the other songs in the way I wanted the recording to unfold. So I didn’t put them on the CD. Still love the songs, still perform the songs, they just didn’t make this CD.
4. A trusted friend, cohort, engineer or mate (my wife is the straightest shooter I know). When you are working a long time on something you can lose site of what you are doing in terms of the song, or the service of its vision. Sometimes I’ll be slagging away at some track and think that I’ve got the whole thing together, and she’ll walk in. I’m full of myself and what I’ve created and I solicit her opinion. If she likes it, it’s obvious from her smile. If she doesn’t like it, she will actually offer up a comment like, “it sounds like a train wreck.” OUCH! But sometimes that is what you need. If you decide that is what you wanted, then you go with it anyhow, but at least you thought about it from someone else’s point of view before committing to your own. I try to hear criticism and consider it against what I wanted and my vision for the project and then act accordingly. You also have to be able to handle someone not liking something that you love. Just ask yourself my favorite question, “what do you want to have happen here?”