When I interview people, I usually try to ask them for the one, single piece of advice they’d give up-and-coming home studio recordists.

What’s ONE THING we home studio guys and gals can do to get better?

I think we tend to get so bogged down with recording techniques and mixing skills that we sometimes miss “the vision” for the song.

Subscriber Max asks, “Are there any tips for developing the vision for a song?”

While it’s a seemingly simple question, it really gets to the heart of everything we do in the studio. Think about it. Who cares if the acoustic guitar you just recorded sounds amazing if it just plain doesn’t fit the song?

Or who cares if the bass tone is great if the actual part being played by the bass is completely wrong for the song?

How do you answer THOSE questions? Questions like…

What instruments should I record for this song?

What parts should each instrument play?

Should I do a huge production on this song or keep it simple?

With such subjective questions it can be really hard to get a straight answer.

But there’s one answer that seems to keep sneaking up on me. One piece of advice that seems so simple I tend to overlook it.

It’s simply this:

Always be listening to new music.

Great producers listen to a LOT of music, and that’s where they get a lot of their ideas for how to flesh out songs they’re working on.

No, it’s not stealing ideas, it’s FEEDING your creative self. If you ONLY listen to projects you work on…or the same set of albums in your iTunes library…you’re music will probably stay fairly…stagnant.

On the flipside, if you’re constantly feeding new music into your brain, creative things will happen.

This is just some of the great advice I got from pro producer Brent Milligan and mix engineer/producer Kevin Ward for my VIP members. Solid advice from great guys.

You can listen to the entire interviews by becoming a VIP member here:

www.homestudiocorner.com/vip

P.S. The VIP forum is a great place to share songs you’re working on. Sometimes you just get stuck and need a few opinions. The VIP forum is a great place to get just that.

  • Andrew

    “Good artist copy, Great artist steal”

    -Pablo Picasso

    • Max

      standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us

  • Xan

    So the moral ov the story is: Ripping off other’s ideas is good so long as you don’t repeat it in an obvious way..! πŸ™‚

  • I have a philosophy – “The song will tell you what it needs to be.” Easy to say but once in a while achingly frustrating to get to.

    I don’t listen to as much music as I used to, and I rarely listen to the same style of music that I compose, record and produce. To me it’s sort of odd but I accept it.

    After recording the initial idea of a composition, which may be just guitar or include several instruments, begins the mix process where I listen not only to the mix but also for what else is needed: add/take away instruments, play a part differently, use electric rather than acoustic, play it on piano instead of guitar, etc. This listening could take minutes, hours or days to hear what’s needed – the song will tell me.

    I realize this is somewhat an ethereal explanation, but I think music itself is ethereal in nature, and if we hear the initial idea of a song we can also hear what it fully should be.

  • Jon

    Great article. I’m recording an EP right now and I’d hit a total brick wall. I was undecided on what percussion (if any) to use, mic placement, live recording or all overdubs etc., just getting totally bogged down in the process with half finished sessions that lack that special ‘spark’, but I couldn’t place quite what was wrong, But this article has inspired me to pull out an SM57 and just play the songs that are going to be on the EP totally acoustic. It’s really refreshing to get some new perspective on the songs without thinking “Okay, now what should I play over this part, which vocal lines should I double” and so on.

  • Max

    Thanks Joe, and hello peers! Sometimes you are so knee deep in the production process it is hard to step back and realize the power of influence and inspiration within production. After reading the post, I decided to do random association with my production much how I do my writing and making mind maps. So, if I have a song called “canopy” I’d write down anything that comes to mind related that relates to a vibe, or instrumentation, or whatever. For some reason I keep getting flute and shakers. Probably Zelda inspired. If you are having trouble agreeing with this post, or seeing the relevance, I found the greatest argument ever. A 4 part series called Everything is a remix here
    Everything is a remix
    I encourage everyone to watch it! it’s short, genius, and potent.

  • Tommy Nichols

    I completely agree. Listening to new music helps my recording/engineering/producing skills. I really enjoy listening to arrangements in new music. I love it when I hear something arranged in a way I would had considered wrong or awkward, and in most cases I never thought of. Sometimes those interesting textures are what I had been looking for in a song I’d been struggling with.
    My creativity is limited, but I know what “vibes” I’m looking for or what someone is looking for in a song. Listening to new music gives me a larger repertoire for finding that right vibe.

  • Chawps

    I’ve gotta completely disagree with the previous comment. I think this article is totally applicable to homestudiocorner. I’m going to guess that a lot of us (home studio users) spend a large portion of our time recording music that is either ours personally or that we involved in making (e.g., member of a band). In these situations, Joe’s advice obviously applies. To take another angle at it, think of this advice as advice for a producer in a home studio (instead of an engineer). Offering creative advice is crucial as a producer, so being able to say to a client “try that on an electric instead of an acoustic” or “what if we tried a simpler drum part” are important skills. And while he didn’t mention it in this article, there are literally countless benefits to listening to a variety of music for production value: how prominent are the vocals in pop, what’s the eq like on guitar in indie rock, is the snare gated too hard is punk, what are they doing with panning in ambient electronic music, etc.

    Keep it up, Joe. I thought this article was great and I appreciate all the knowledge you share.

  • Frank Nitsch

    Hi Joe,

    let me rephrase the title of this post:

    It’s So Simple: It’s Kinda Different Thing

    Why? Just take a look at the title of your web page. It is about home studio and home recording. The other topic is song writing, but this is not the kind of content people are searching, when they are landing on your site.
    Actually songwriting is related to recording a song, but it’s a different step in the whole workflow. I agree with you that it might not make too much sense recording, mixing and mastering a crappy song. And somehow it is essential to have a decent song in order to create a proper mix. Otherwise you would always think about the thing missing to make it sound great.

    Ask a good number of visitors of your site, what kind of information they expect to find on a site called like yours. I bet most of them expect recording and mixing tipps. Technology related stuff mostly, not songwriting. So this kind of post is always a nice reminder to check the “quality” of a song before putting much effort into recording and mixing it. That’s it. πŸ˜‰

    Take care

    • Thanks for chiming in, Frank, but I have to say I disagree with you.

      If you think this is all about songwriting, I’m afraid you might be missing a HUGE part of the recording/production process. Songwriting is just about lyrics and melody and chord structure. PRODUCTION is taking that song and fleshing it out in such a way as to make it really shine. A great song can be produced really poorly. That’s why these awesome bands out there hire PRODUCERS. They take their songs and figure out the best way to record them to make the most impact.

      I can’t see how that’s NOT completely applicable to every recording situation.

    • Also, to your other point about people coming to this site not wanting to hear this advice…this advice pertains to better recordings. When I record someone, I don’t just blindly record whatever parts they want me to record. They almost ALWAYS ask me for my creative input on what they should sing/play and how the arrangement should go. Why? Because I’ve recorded more music than they have, and they would like ideas from me.

      Some engineers don’t want to be involved in the creative part. They simply want to set up mics and record and mix. That seems short-sighted to me. If you want to make great recordings, you need to be involved in almost every part of the process if you can. That’s my opinion anyway. Anyone doing home recording needs to be constantly getting new ideas, and a great way to get new ideas is to listen to new music.

  • Hi Joe,

    one of those rare posts on HSC to which I don’t agree.

    In my opinion, the source of creativity is inside every individuals mind. You may trigger movements in your mind by external stimuli, but too much of it will block creativity and lead you more and more into imitation.

    I speak from experience, because I don’t listen to radio, almost no TV, and my musical cost consists of a not too large set of calming ambient and meditative pieces… so this is for sure a real boring guy creating boring soundscapes, you may think… πŸ˜‰

    Sitting down many kinds of music float through me, if you like to think in genres… I did Ragtimes, Rock, World, Classical, and, of course, a lot of ambient and new age.

    Well, I feel, /silence/ is my advice, it will help you to discover your authentic creativity. But it needs time.

    • Valid point, Frank. And maybe that works great for you. I just know these guys I interviewed have both either won Grammy’s or been nominated for them, so I’m gonna take their advice pretty strongly as well, you know?

      • That’s the point, Joe, and it’s about one’s goals and intention. What do you wanna be? A successful and admired hitcreator? Or an authentic musician? About a year ago there was a songwriting workshop here in Karlsruhe/Germany with a prominent lady from Nashville, a successful songwriter and producer. I went there… and it became even clearer to me than it was before that nowadays these are alternatives. Internalizing and serving mainstream patterns to gain success?
        But sorry, won’t get to philosophic… πŸ˜‰

        Best wishes
        Frank