Is Your Song Ready to be Recorded?
You’ve written a new song — great! It may seem that the next step is to record it while you’re on fire with the creative spirit, and the ideas are flowing. You want to capture that moment of creation, but before hitting the record button, step back and think for a minute, and think about what it is you want to record.
A large percentage of the songwriters I know use the recording studio as part of their songwriting process. They’ll start with a groove or a chord progression, and record and loop that progression in their workstation. The melody and lyrics of the song they’re about to write are inspired by what they’re hearing. For writers who work in this manner, recording is a necessity; it’s part of the creative process.
Other writer friends write songs by playing and recording whatever comes to mind (some use the resources of their own studios, others simply use the voice memo app on a smart phone). After a while, something they’ve played will catch their attention and they’ll go back to listen to what they’ve played — if they like it, they have the beginning of a new song. Recording is a necessity for writers like this as well.
Finally, there are the writers who have a piece of paper and a pencil, and who write their songs down as they create them. These songwriters can point to a page of lyrics as a finished song. But they should record the song when it’s finished (again, even if it’s on a smart phone) so that they won’t forget the chords, the melody, and the phrasing.
The above examples are pretty varied, yet all require that you capture audio. Discerning readers will note, however, that recording is used either as part of the creative process or as a way to document the new creation. Ask the same question as, “Is my new song ready to be recorded?” and you may get a different answer — and here’s why.
No, your new song is not ready to be recorded.
If you’ve just finished a song, the odds are great that you’ll end up changing it. You might speed it up, slow it down, change the melody, change the words, or all of the above.
Quite a few songs from the early to mid 20th Century were changed from the original versions to remove offensive lyrics, from Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” to any number of blues songs. In the recent Bob Dylan documentary, “Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story”, Joni Mitchell is shown singing a new song, “Coyote.” But by the time she recorded it on her “Hejira” album, Joni had changed some of the lyrics. When you compare Derek and the Dominoes’ version of “Layla” with the acoustic version of “Layla” that Eric Clapton recorded many years later, the differences show that just because you’ve written a song, it doesn’t mean that you’re finished it.
Once you’re sure you’ve written a good song (that is, you describe it as “I just finished a new song,” rather than “I’m working on a new song”), try singing it for a while with a critical ear — see if you find that some of the words, some of the chord changes, or some of the notes in the melody could be improved. If so, then your song is ready to be recorded only after those improvements are made.
The new, improved version is the one that you want to be heard by the public, so make sure that the version you record is the best you can make it.