Down and Dirty with G. Love: Preparing for the Studio
Sometime way back when, in the summers of 1991 and 1992, I pieced together my first solo acoustic record, Oh Yeah. I called it Oh Yeah because it seemed like the only thing to call it. Shit, it was a dream to make a record. Oh Yeah!!
Some 20-odd years later I'm sitting in the airport diner in Newark, New Jersey, eating some corned beef hash and eggs over-easy while I wait for my flight to LA. I'm meeting up with my friend Jack Johnson who will produce a solo acoustic record, the first one I've cut since '92. We've got Thursday booked to cut the record and Friday booked to mix it. It's a one-day session. I will record 10 songs total, two old blues tunes and 8 original compositions. I've been playing these songs for years and I've played nothing but those 10 songs night and day for a solid week three to six hours a day. I'm ready.
Over the years, my approach to preparing for the studio has really gone through a lot of changes and phases. I've recorded over 15 records in 20 years. I've made live, in-studio records in a couple days and I've also labored for up to a year piecing together Pro Tools-style recordings. There's a million different ways to record but in the end whether it takes a day or a year we all want the same thing, a perfect record. The studio can be the most magical place or the most frustrating place to make music in.
Being in the studio is kind of like looking at yourself in the mirror for hours. You see everything. Every good thing and every bad thing. It's all magnified in the studio. All of your hopes and dreams, all your songs and stories, lay it all out for the world to see and make a hit. It's simply an amazing opportunity to record your music so when you get the chance be ready!
Looking back at the way I've made records over the years, I see some great successes, and also some mediocre moments that I wish I could revisit. I think that back in the day I was more concerned with the magic than with the work. What I mean is that we would be in the studio blowing lots of weed and even more money waiting for the magic to come. "I think the magic will come after three more joints and this 40 oz. of Crazy horse!" "Yeah the magic is definitely here! Right here in this mushroom tea and 1500-dollar-a-day studio lockout!" Yeah, the good old days and good old budgets were some good old times.
But the times have changed. I mean we would be playing and a lot of times, playing our asses off, but we would be searching for this elusive magical vibe that would come and go. I now realize that the reason the magic would not always be present was because I was, and often as a band, we were unprepared. I think the best recipe for a successful recording session is as much preparation and advance planning as possible. Do the work before you hit the studio so that when that red light goes on you're ready to play and, yes indeed, enter into a world of magic.
"The studio is not the place to practice", these words my first producer Dave "Stiff" Johnson said to me one day still ring in my ears. He was right. When you hit the studio you've got to have your shit together. You've got to know your material and have it down and also be up on your chops for when it's time to improvise something incredible.
Basically it's a simple process which we have finally adopted after many years of trial and error. It's so damn simple and I'm sure a lot of other artists figured it out years ago but I'm pretty hard headed. Here's the process : 1) Write great songs or find great songs to cover that you are emotionally attached to in every way. 2) Give the songs time to grow. Play them live and in practice. 3) Let the cream rise to the top. Only the best songs get recorded. And like most things in life, the cream will rise to the top but you've got to give this process some time. 4) Pick your songs to record. Try to really be honest as to what the strongest material is. Even though you'll want to record everything you've got, it's often a better choice to record less and make it stronger and concise. 5) Practice the material. Once you've got your song list and a scheduled recording date it's time to stop writing (mostly) and really hone in on the performance aspect of your chosen songs. Practice the songs over and over again. In the morning, at night, sober, high, happy, sad, tired, and energetic. I mean really the songs should be explored every way possible before you record them and as many times as possible. There's an expression that's used in the martial arts, "power in repetition". Indeed. I've found this couldn't be more true in music.
Another reason it's important to keep practicing these same songs is that your becoming more deeply engaged in their essence. Yes, the essence of a song is deep magic when you get really inside of it. Instead of relying on the temporary magic that you may feel when you first write or perform a song you're finding a deep, true and emotional connection to these songs. If you can't feel any connection to the songs after continuous repetition then perhaps these are not your best and most poignant songs. 6) Time to hit the Studio! This is it!
Nowadays due to diminishing recording budgets and busier schedules, we have less time to record. We record in shorter periods of time and get better results. No fucking around, we come to get down. When I enter the studio I know I'm ready. I've done the work. It's time to have fun and let it all hang out! It's time to play. It's time to get chills up your spine and a tear in your eye because you're feeling it and it sounds so fucking good. It's time to hear how good you sound on some big ass speakers and just know you put everything you've got into it. You don't need to worry about being ready because you are ready. You won't wait for the magic because you'll bring the magic. Every time you practiced your song is all going to come back to you for the only version that will count. You're making a record. The best record of your career! Are you ready to cut?! The red light shines, the tapes rolling! You're going to kill it. This is it! 1,2,3...
Have a great session,
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.