Lately I have been spending a lot of time working on my debut album, ‘Reggae Soul Volume 1: M.E. On Love’. I have been producing it myself, and really learning some lessons about the studio the hard way.
Today I will focus on a very important lesson which is TEMPO. In my first session I thought I had the tempo (otherwise referred to as the BPM - Beats Per Minute) right, but on going back home and listening to it again, the tempo was not just off, but off by a few bpms. I was appalled. How could I make such a mistake? Musicians were paid, work for hire contracts signed and studio time used. With live music this is not a fixable thing, aka a lot of money just went down the drain if I’m not able to use the music I recorded.
The important lessons I learned from encountering the tempo monster are:
1. Spend some time alone singing through the song with a metronome and find that place where the lyrics come through clearly, the emotion is still conveyed and where people can still groove and rock comfortably to the beat. That may be your sweet spot.
2. Have a rehearsal before going into the studio. It seems like such an obvious bit of advice, but many session musicians meet for the first time in the studio. They are such experienced players that if they are well directed they can do anything really quickly. That means if you are producing you better have that tempo locked in your head, or facilitate a rehearsal if you are unsure and lock it then.
3. Don’t be afraid to change the tempo in the studio. If your gut tells you the tempo feels wrong while in the studio, then try it a little faster, then a little slower, and again at the tempo you thought the song should be at. Do a room poll. Do a dance test. Do a lyric test. One of them will feel wrong or one may feel very right, or it will be a close toss up between two of them, and that is ok, as along as you aren’t way off.
4. Once you are in the studio you have the power to rerecord something when all the musicians are there, so if your gut is kicking you again, then rerecord quickly, aka don’t let some of the musicians leave before others do, cuz you may listen again and still need them to be around. It is after the session is over that you are screwed if you make a mistake.
Take home lesson: Spend time with your music. Be sure about the tempo. It is probably one of the most important decisions to the feel of the song. Don’t be afraid to change it up until the end of that studio session.