Nate Mendel has been the bass player for rock icons the Foo Fighters for almost 20 years now. He’s written, recorded, and toured on rock hit after rock hit with Dave Grohl and the gang. With that wealth of experience and knowledge you would expect him to impart some wisdom on how to get great recordings.
Don’t Simply Record Everything
In a recent interview with Musicians Friend, Nate gave this advice to up and coming artists and home studio folk:
Every time somebody has just the germ of a [musical] idea, it’s like “Let’s record that.” And then what you have is this huge backlog of recordings. I think that can turn into a real mess pretty quickly. [Instead] write the song. Remember what it is. Have it sorted out so it sounds good, and then record it. - Nate Mendel, Bassist (Foo Fighters)
Coming from a band that has released at least 100 songs that’s some interesting advice: To not record everything. I can only imagine how many songs Nate and the Foo Fighters have written over the past two decades that have never seen the light of day. All I do know, is that what has been captured in the studio is pretty awesome.
Be Disciplined In The Studio
I think the studio should be a very creative space. I believe there ought to be room for the writing process to take over even in a tracking session. But think great freedom in the studio is actually born out of great discipline both in and before entering the studio. The discipline to write down ideas, demo them, work out solid arrangements, play them for friends, and sit on them for a bit: all of this is critical to releasing a great product.
I think this is what Nate is getting at. The willingness to slow down and actually put some “work” in on the front end of the writing process will only serve you better when it comes time to capture a great recording.
If that means you record fewer (but better sounding) tracks, great. If that means your first arrangement isn’t the final arrangement, good. Whatever it takes to slow you down and think through what you’re writing, because that filter will help you produce the best version of that song possible.
The Assumption Of Recording Advice Sites Like Mine
There tends to be a huge assumption made by recording magazines, videos, and websites like mine: that you already have great songs just waiting to be recorded. It’s as if our role is only to help train you to get a sonically professional recording and mix of your music. I think this is only half of the battle because it’s built on a faulty assumption.
Why assume that you have good songs? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you need more time to develop your writing skills. Maybe you need more on your songs’ arrangements. Maybe you need some feedback from a friend on whether or not the song has potential.
All of this type of “work”, while seemingly unrelated to the sonics of recording, is actually propelling you one major step forward in getting a great recording in your home or project studio. It’s helping you shed the fat of your bad songwriting, leaving only the leanest, and best tasting parts.
Now you’re ready to record!