In the Studio: Five Tips to Bring Live Energy Into Your Studio Recordings

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As the guitarist for Kalen & The Sky Thieves, I had a great time recording our album, Bluebird, at the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn.

I'm proud of the band's ability to bring our "in the moment" live energy into the studio.

When it comes to music, I am most passionate about “feel,” “energy,” “mood” and “vibe.” The band used to laugh at how often I said “the moment” when discussing music, so much so that they turned it into a drinking game. Whether it was coffee, water in the car on the road or a whiskey later at night, if anyone said “the moment,” we’d drink something.

Feel free to join!

01. Prepare.

Getting the mechanical aspects of a track down is of the utmost importance when it comes to effectively expressing the feel and vibe you want. My father is a professional guitarist and teacher, and I owe a lot to him (including all the times I stole copies of Guitar World from him as a kid!).

He is always making sure to get his students actually excited about practicing. Aside from sheer energy, the other crucial part of preparation is making sure to know the tunes you’ll be playing inside and out. Once everything is second nature, real mood is conveyed by the piece and "the moment" is created (you know what to do).

That confidence gives a feeling of freedom, not a feeling of, “Oh crap, I might mess this up.” Be ready to bring it 100 percent when the red light goes on. Check out our single, "Somedays," to hear the value in solid preparation:

02. Don't worry about “perfection.”

While technical aspects might be dubbed “perfect,” one cannot say whether or not an emotion has achieved "perfection."

If a guitarist is too busy worrying about playing/placing the notes perfectly, it's like the major league baseball player who starts aiming his pitches too carefully instead of trusting his talent. Obviously, the pitcher is talented, but by trying to be too perfect, it yields walks or hits, instead of a well-placed strike.

Again, the mechanical knowledge should all be there, but when it is time to start playing, it’s time to "feel." Some might call it a "Zen thing." Allow the flow. It’s nice to get things on the first take, for sure, but remember, if you screw up this take, you will get another one—so just let go. That attitude can really free you and actually let you have less takes. Don't over-think, just allow it and be it. Listen to perfect imperfections on our debut single to see what I mean:

03. Trust your engineer.

This was pretty easy for us, because John Davis at the Bunker is a stellar engineer.

Choosing the right engineer is important. You want someone with a good ear, who you can communicate easily with. In the end, for the player to be truly in "the moment" (DRINK!), the player cannot be worried about anything but playing. A good engineer will help you decide if you need another take and will sometimes have interesting ideas about achieving sounds that can lead to new inspirations.

A great example of this is the echoing/rumbling sound he got for my rhythm guitars in this track:

04. Be in (and bring attention to) the moment.

So, here we are. Our concern is focused on how the notes make us feel right now. That is it. The now is the only important moment to be in. If you are true to yourself and your emotions in the song, you can’t go wrong. It yields authenticity and real feeling.

A trick I use is to consider any take as a live performance—as in, not to have a pre-conceived notion of what I'm about to hear in my headphones, but to actually listen and play with it as if it were the first time I ever heard this take. This is especially true in solo sections. I came into these parts with a basic idea—a framework for where the solo would go.

However, I feel they were particularly successful because I let the moment take over. Here's an example where it seems especially appropriate, as it deals with time:

05. Always have solid band camaraderie and listening.

This is a bit more spacious (but not specious!) to talk about. It goes beyond playing the guitar more than any of the previously mentioned points. We are but one member in this team we call a “band.”

Forget showing off. Instead, complement and raise everything (and everyone) up. Always listen to everyone else, as “the moment” is shared. Being a good listener is related to band camaraderie. It can be rare to have a band that truly cares about each other, trusts each other, gives each other space, etc.

That is something very valuable and the chemistry comes through in the music. From hours on the road to hours of rehearsal and shows, we built up a great trust, respect and a sense for helping each other. It's invaluable. We all help making everything take flight. That notion really comes off in our title track:

Will Hanza plays guitar in Kalen & The Sky Thieves. Their latest album, Bluebird, is available now.