Of all the things I see happening in worshiping communities around the world, few things encourage me more than the mass move of churches around the world towards songwriting for their communities. There is something unique and beautiful and good in a group of people honestly and creatively expressing what God is doing through and among them, and it’s nothing short of thrilling to see communities catch that vision.
Many, however, struggle with taking the next steps into a studio project. The wheels often come off when they start to ask the question of where do I begin? Artists and bands struggle with much of the same: many a band has entered a studio having paid hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars for a day’s time and leave with very little because of a simple fact: pre-production is often overlooked—and it matters. A producer can’t and shouldn’t write your songs for you the day you enter a studio. As an artist (and if your church team is entering the studio together, you are the artist), it’s your responsibility to be the creative energy behind a project: that is much more about the way you communicate your ideas than the volume of those ideas. If you think a project is just going to happen as a result of you being in the studio, it likely will happen in some form, but it will be much more costly and much less worthwhile than had you taken the time to plan out things ahead of time.
And so we arrive at pre-production :)
When we are talking about pre-production for a song, we are talking about the foundational elements that make that song unique. But we’re also talking about the elements that make that song a song—BPMs, chord structures, builds, crashes, breakdowns, should all be included here. When you do pre-production well, you have a map of a song that (a) you can record to in the studio with a similar vibe and energy to the finished song, (b) will allow your team and musicians to practice to before everyone hits the studio, and a song that (c) will allow your engineer to hit the ground running and maximize your precious studio time. Choose to make pre-production a priority and you’ll have much more time to creatively explore the songs in a studio space; fail to make pre-production a priority and you’ll be paying $1000 a day for songwriting.
As an artist going into the studio, there are many ways you can best utilize your pre-production time and energy so that you can hit the ground running. Here are a couple things to consider adding into your creative flow:
1) Create a creative flow. Find a method that works for you to bring your song ideas consistently to recorded works. Put parameters in place to gauge the value of a song to you as an artist and filters to sift through finished songs before they go into the studio. This is foundational, and if you don’t have it, you’ll be in that time and energy wasting space.
2) Build a demo. For me, I make a demo of every song I write in a co-write as a reference in terms of meter, structure, strum patterns, and general energy. You can make a rough demo with the voice recorder on your smartphone—and you should. If you have access to a studio or recording facilities, add in that drum beat or that synth lead that makes the song. Many times the demos are actually what you use to build the track when you go into the studio. We’ve used demos as the foundation for studio tracks built the first day in a co-write.
3) Cast the vision. Pre-production should cast a vision for what you’d like the song to be. Is there a breakdown in the song where everything drops out except for the vocals? Is there a building section that empties in to a full chorus? Build these into your pre-productions of the songs and then build the instruments around them. Your artistic vision can be shown in post-production choices, but it’s the pre-production choices that give them the parameters to work from. Spending the time doing this first step well gives you so much more time for the often more enjoyable parts of song creating.
4) Get a producer. Producers don’t just sit back and “watch the magic happen.” These are guys who are experienced in creating projects and will help you through the process flow in a way where you best utilize your time, energy, and resources. A good producer is worth much more than what they ask because they’re the one championing your project and helping you navigate the details in the studio you simply cannot do well as the artist.
In either case, pre-production will dramatically improve your studio experience. You’ll find the studio being much more of what you’ve always dreamed it could be.