Tips to Craft Your Recording Process
“I love recording,” said almost no one ever.
Recording is a necessary evil of a performer’s life, and more often than not we are doing it for auditions and competitions rather than personal enjoyment. If it goes well or better than
expected, we have the rare gift of a moment in time where we are happy enough with our
performance to even share it on our websites and social media. It is NOT the same as live
performance, no matter how hard we might try to convince ourselves otherwise. Even if a live performance is being recorded, it’s a little easier to live in the moment of storytelling in front of an engaged audience. The beauty of live performance is that it exists in a moment in time that can never happen again. A recording can be viewed over and over again, and that permanence can make it harder to let go of our judgy inner critic. As a result, instead of living in the present and phrasing forward, we tend to be looking backward at mistakes, worrying if we look natural on camera and wondering if we’ll have to do another take. Having started a home studio (@CRStudios), recording is my new normal. Hopefully these tips will at the least remind you of things you already know, and maybe give you new ideas of things to try before your next recording.
1. Craft your pre-recording ritual.
How many times in a recording have you said, “This was going much better yesterday!”
Probably more than once! No matter how prepared you feel with your music for your recording session, we often don’t practice the process of recording throughout the year. As soon as you press “record,” your critical voice can go into overdrive or you might get distracted by things you haven’t worked out yet (what on Earth was I doing with my hands?). A lot of us have rituals we go through before a big performance and carve out the time for them, such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or cleaning. Do you leave yourself time for a similar practice before your recording session? Everyone is different, and some people just want to dive in and go for it and others need mental prep. When I’m recording accompaniment tracks, I like to just turn the button on and start playing, not even necessarily what I’m recording--sometimes my brain needs that mental warm up. Allow yourself the grace to try a bunch of things until you find something that works for you.
2. Keep going.
The more you let yourself stop, the harder it can be to do continuous takes because you’re more likely ruminating on mistakes, instead of phrasing forward and living in the moment. Unless something really goes awry in the beginning, don’t give in to the temptation to stop. Often when you listen back, you won’t even remember what motivated the stop in the first place. Before recording, sometimes I’ll literally say out loud, “I’m not going to stop” and I’ll give myself a cap on attempts. After three takes, I’m often wasting time mindlessly repeating something that was acceptable enough a couple takes ago when I was more fresh. When I’m getting ready for a recording, I make it a point to just practice continuous takes regardless of what happens on the way. I can always tell when I haven’t done this because I’ll start micromanaging more things in the actual recording, which usually ends up with me so stuck in my head feeling that I can’t escape. The only solution I’ve found to this is to get up and come back later, but in an actual recording you might not have that luxury. Let yourself get through that first complete take so you can shake off recording jitters and firm up things like where you want to look, and then try again.
3. Be kind to yourself.
Let’s face it, recording is a vulnerable thing. When you feel vulnerable, you’re more likely to let your insecure and critical thoughts in, and if you’re not careful they can take over your
recording. In a live performance, you are more likely to give yourself grace and let go of
perfection. You might say things such as, “Oh well, I missed a couple notes… that’s all part of the beauty of live performance and I’ll fix it for the next show.” Because recording is permanent and usually used for a competition or audition pre-screening, you get more caught up thinking of the judges or if you’re what a company is looking for, so you’re harder on yourself and demand perfection.
4. Let go of perfection.
“Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect. It makes you feel inadequate” (Maria Shriver).
I frequently hear people say that they want things to be perfect, especially my younger students. But what does perfection even mean? The truth is, it doesn’t exist because we’re human. Part of the beauty of being human is having the amazing ability to recognize things we would like to improve upon, and actually being able to do so with hard work. The more you’ve planned what you would like to do, where you would like to look, when and how to gesture, additional staging in your aria, phrasing, etc, the more able you’ll be to focus on sharing a story without overanalyzing your every move. I can always tell when I’m focusing more on perfection, because I’m trying to control which leads to excess tension which ironically leads to more mistakes. If you feel this happening, take some deep breaths and maybe try recording your second piece. Sometimes this change can help you refocus.
5. People want to hear you.
I think a lot of us forget this (I know I do!), especially because we live with ourselves constantly. It can be easy to forget that even a panel of judges wants to hear your voice. Because recording can be so expensive, we often only give ourselves one shot to record, which can make it feel like a lot is riding on it. This can make us push, among other things. Try to train yourself to think of the judges more as friendly and on your side, and it’ll be easier to forget about them during the actual recording. There are plenty of other things, but this is a start! I used positive language on purpose--the more you can think of recording in a positive light, the more you’ll be able to enjoy it and you’ll even perform better. With recording being the new normal, I now think of watching myself as an added benefit, since we can’t when we’re on stage! I think a lot of us don’t enjoy watching and listening to ourselves, but the more we make that part of our routine, the more used to it we’ll become and we’ll even learn from it. Even as a pianist, I can obsess over how my hand gestures fit the character, what my face looks like, and wonder “does my hair really look like that from the back?” Remind yourself that it’s a learning experience, and don’t engage those self-
critical thoughts unless they’re actionable, like “don’t look at the floor so much” instead of “I’m such an idiot for looking at the floor.” In a ZOOM coaching a couple weeks ago, I’d asked my student to record herself with a track and she’d done it but hadn’t emailed it back to me, so I had her listen and watch herself along with me. Then I asked her to tell me a couple things she liked and some things she wished she’d done better, and she told me almost exactly what I was going to tell her. It ended up being a happy accident and the most instructive part of the lesson. Recording might be a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be. The more you practice the process and develop your own strategies, the more you might even come to enjoy it and appreciate another chance to watch and learn from yourself.
Remember: “Start from wherever you are, and with whatever you’ve got.”--Jim Rohn