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As a ‘recording artist’, making an album is an all-consuming experience. The way you’re gonna record (location, timespan, which producer or mixer etc.) is going to shape the recording in a big way, and these days it seems like there are a thousand different ways of doing so. So what makes a recording process work?

Every recording process is different

How do different artists shape their songwriting and recording process? Let’s take a look at some examples.

In the next clip, Real Estate explains how they recorded their album ‘Atlas’ (spotify, great album by the way) in the studio of their friends Wilco. In ten days they recorded the entire album live:

Why did this type of recording work so well for Real Estate? They say it themselves in the video: the band is focused around playing live with a band, and the live feel of their songs must stay intact when recording.

Recording quickly, with a relatively short recording session, forces them to keep things simple and record it live. It’s the right fit for their music.

Experimenting

An other example. In the next clip you see Björk recording (from about 30:25 onwards) her 1997 album ‘Homogenic’ (Spotify) in Málaga, Spain. A very experimental, electronic, ‘playful’ album. NME called it her best album and wrote: “her most emotional, highly charged and groovy record, as well as stinging triumph for the spirit of adventure”.

You can see Björk in the studio working with her synthesizers and drum machines, everything laid out so she can easily experiment. The resemblance between her recording process and her music is an easy one to see: freedom to experiment, playfulness, and unhindered creativitity come to mind. The freedom she has created for herself fits her music.

Experimenting is a mindset, which you have to create an atmosphere for. It can mean working with someone that challenges you, or choosing a location that inspires you and connects with your music. Thomas Azier shows us how he created his first record in Berlin with producer Robin Hunt, and used the sounds and reverb of an abandoned factory in his first album:

There are of course many more examples but these fit the point that I’m trying to make: make sure your recording process fits your music, and the way you like to create and play music. Some music is well suited to layering and building sound upon sound, other music is better when it’s just played right and recorded simply. Find out which one is yours.

“It’s the process, not the processing”

Let me end on this note.

Recording can get overwhelming, and that makes it hard to see things in perspective. When you lose sight of what is important in the music, it can be hard to see if you’re going down the right path. When you feel something is bothering you, you can’t make something work in the music, or something is just not working for you: let it rest for a while. Try to zoom out. And come back after a while to try a few different approaches. Don’t be afraid to throw it out if it just doesn’t cut it.

In the words of Larry Crane (Death Cab for Cutie, among others): “It’s the process, not the processing”. In an article in Tape Op he wrote about it some more:

“I used to get a lot of bands coming to record with me that were afraid of the recording studio. “Don’t make us sound like Deff Leppard or Mötley Crüe,” they’d say. I’d reply, “Do you know how hard it is to make a record like that? I can’t just turn a knob and make something sound like those bands! It takes months of hard work to do that!”

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