Why A Great Musical Idea Is King

| Interview, Mixing, Tips

My goal for this website is to give you great training and techniques to go make killer music in your studio. But as we looked at last week your creativity trumps any technical stuff you know. Great recordings don’t come from great technology or training, they come from great musical taste. And that is why having great musical ideas is paramount to your studio success.

Many Paths To A Killer Record

In a recent interview at the NAMM show, producer Greg Wells said it best:

It doesn’t matter how you get to the finish line. Whether you’ve got a PHD [in music] or whether you’re a 5 year old that got lucky on Garageband, the idea is always going to be king… I’m humbled by how many paths there are to getting to a killer record. - Greg Wells (Adele, Katy Perry, OneRepublic)


In that same interview, Greg shares how his years of classical musical training have not helped him that much in the studio as a producer. What matters most is great taste and solid musical ideas. Without those, no skill or technique in the world is going to deliver a hit song that people will love.

It’s Always About The Song

You see, the recording studio and all of its trappings is simply a tool. The gear (and the training) is a means to an end. A musical end. And that end is a powerful, authentic, resonating song. No matter the genre, tempo, or style, a good song is the end goal. Everything else is secondary. Hopefully you actually have some great musical ideas. If that’t the case and your only limitation is some education and experience, you’re in luck.

If on the other hand you’ve been gobbling up all the training you can get your hands on and have mixed a lot of records, but they still don’t sound good, chances are you might not have really strong songs. I hate to be the one to say it, but a great song will drive a great recording.

Take Stock Of Your Musical Ideas

Here’s something that might help. If you’ve written 10 songs and you’re hoping to record and release them this year, consider only working on your best 4 or 5. Really sit down and sift through your ideas and be brutally honest with yourself. Bring in an outside party and ask him or her for their favorite 4 or 5 songs. It would be better to release a handful of great songs, than a full album that’s a mixed bag.

This is one of the reasons why I’m enjoying releasing shorter EPs. It allows me to release more music sooner and more importantly it forces me to only record and release my best material. No fluff here, thank you very much!

So what about you? Can you pare your music down to only a handful of great ideas? What if you were to only record those? Wouldn’t you have more fun and generate even more ideas in the studio because of how good these songs were? The tracks would almost record and mix themselves because you’d be having so much fun in the process. Now that’s a recording revolution!

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17 Responses to “Why A Great Musical Idea Is King”

  1. Smurf

    It always has been about the music….we always seem to forget that.

    I have always hated it when someone says “That sounds GREAT!” instead of “I dig the tune!”…..one is nothing but fluff while the other is substance…IMHO

    Reply
  2. Bobby

    This has always been true in my home studio work. I have more mediocre and, let’s face it, bad ideas than good, and no amount of recording studio magic can make a bad musical idea into a good one. Sometimes you just have to resolve yourself to the fact that the idea is just not working, and move on. It can be a little deflating at times, but it’s part of the process. The good ideas always shine through when they’re that: good.

    Reply
  3. Kevin

    ONe thing I advise other songwriters on when offering them PR advice, is that I think key is going out and playing songs live first and seeing what a room full of strangers reacts to. But if that isn’t for you, at least post a recording of the acoustic raw demo on facebook and rather than looking just at “likes” (some folks do that out of courtesy) see what folks actually share. If several of them share your song (without you pleading for them to, i.e. “unaided sharing” then you got something.

    Reply
  4. Daniel Booth

    I think what ties most people up in knots is getting bogged down in one idea that may not even be that good. To be a creative person one must be a *creating* person – not all of these created ideas has to be amazing or even good, but just getting lost in the process of generating these ideas is what being creative is all about. Sorting comes later. Eventually you grow and learn what works or doesn’t – Lennon/McCartney wrote some terrible songs before they eventually struck upon some genuinely great ones. It takes time, persistence and lots of listening/analysing of the great works.

    Reply
  5. Sam

    What a refreshing reminder. It’s so inspiring to realize that our job as songwriters is to simply let the music flow, to simply let the expression of our hearts flow out in song. The gear and technology, etc. are really just tools that we use to capture that expression. Who cares if I have this or that tube compressor (as nice as tube compressors can be :)… ultimately, the point is to make great tunes, through whatever means. That really frees up my mind, in that I’m no longer preoccupied with feelings of discontentment and dissatisfaction with my “sub-standard” gear; I’m focused on crafting the music. Of course it’s important to learn how to use the gear I have, and this site is exceedingly brilliant in teaching principles that I believe work, as far as productive and effective mixing goes, but the whole reason I’m learning how to do any of this in the first place is so that I can produce quality and emotionally impacting tracks. If it ever becomes a competition for gear, we’ve missed the point, I think. Anyways, enough of me rambling. Thanks again Graham for your site and for what you do. You’ve impacted me more than any other source on mixing/producing music.

    Reply
  6. Jeff

    I remember when I first started messing around with DAW recording (not all that terribly long ago), I had a riff but not a good one but recorded it anyway and set about mixing it with some bass and simple drums…sounded TERRIBLE! Why…was still a half baked riff I used to experiment…but I learned.

    I recently recorded a very mellow track (still in the works) and it was a pretty solid idea with a nice mix of instrumentation. I still have some arranging to do but the track sounds pretty solid.

    Why? It’s a better track.

    In a way, I try to keep to the basics and not get too fancy. I’d mention to Graham once that I loved the clear and open vibe of 70′s era rock tracks so I keep it as bare as is needed regarding ‘studio magic’. It’s like the Fitz guy from the linked Jan 28th post, I learn what I need to learn. I’m in it to learn for me. I’m not starting a studio. I want to create and when I feel I need to know something, I seek it out.

    ….still, I read everything here….good to keep it in the banks.

    Great post!

    Reply

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