You’ve written a song. You’ve agonised over it. You’ve shared it with your band. You’ve re-written it. You may even have nearly scrapped it a few times.
But you’ve nurtured it. You’ve fine-tuned it. It’s grown.
Ah, the recording studio. So glamorous, so exciting, so…
…not what you might expect.
We’ve done a fair bit of recording in our time. For us, there’s no drugs (unless you count caffeine), no sex (as far as we know, although sometimes Hughsey spends a bit too long in the toilet) – it’s all about the rock and roll.
‘I know this tune inside out’, you tell yourself. ‘I’ll be done in no time.’
There’s a great bit in Bruce Dickinson’s autobiography ‘What does this button do?’ that neatly sums up the journey.
Iron Maiden are recording ‘The Number of the Beast’ and Bruce is up for vocals. Except he can’t get past the first 2 lines.
‘I thought I could polish it off in a few takes and move on to being loud and bombastic.
Martin, Steve and I spent all day and all night on the first two lines. Again and again, until I was so sick of it I threw furniture against the walls in frustration, taking big lumps out of the damp plaster…
We took a two-hour coffee break. I sat glumly with a mug of coffee. Martin was positively chirpy. Bastard, I thought.
‘Not so easy, eh?’ he grinned. ‘Ronnie Dio had the same problem on ‘Heaven and Hell’.
My head, which ached, and my eyes, which ached, started to pay close attention. ‘Like, how?’
‘Well, he came with the same attitude as you. Let’s bash this one out. And I said to him, “No. You have to sum up your entire life in that first line. I don’t hear it yet.”’
Of course, I know the song. The opening line.
‘Your whole life is in that line,’ said Martin. ‘Your identity as a singer.’
Dimly, I started to see the difference between singing a line and living it.’
Any musician can go into a studio and play and record something in 1 take. Some can even do it without making any technical mistakes. Very few, though, can go in cold and nail the feel first try.
Needless to say, this can cause a certain amount of frustration. You’re a good musician. Why is this so difficult? You can even start thinking to yourself ‘It sounds fine. It’ll do!’
And if you ever start thinking that, just take a break, step back, and relax. Because you’re starting to lose focus and you’re in danger of missing the point.
You’ve paid money to do this. You want to get it right. And your sound engineer wants to help you get there. ‘It’ll do’ is not the aim here. ‘The best bloody track we can possibly get’ is.
It can be a difficult process for those who are new to it or who don’t understand. Recording isn’t about any one person – it’s about what best serves the song. You and your band mates may have spent ages lovingly crafting lyrics or solos, but if, under the intense microscope of the recording process, any of it doesn’t work, you have to be prepared to let it go. Sometimes, you may even have to start all over again.
You have to warm up, to engage, just like for a gig. You have to put yourself in the mental space of the song. That kind of thing takes time.
It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. It can take ages and make you feel utterly and completely stupid at times. But then there’s that magic moment when you just get it. You break through the wall. You pick yourself up, and you get the job done.
And it sounds fantastic.
Need proof? Go and stick ‘The Number of the Beast’ or ‘Heaven and Hell’ on your sound system right now. ‘It’ll do’ doesn’t even come into it.