That time of year has come and gone again – the dreary month of January, when you’re suffering from frozen fingers and the post-holiday blues, and all the while facing three more months of winter. Luckily for us musicians, this is also when we get to partake in our most beloved pastime: recording for summer festivals! Nothing cheers you up quite like the agonizing hours spent in front of that mean, little recorder and the joy of picking your least horrible take to submit.
Even though we’re all nearly done with our summer recordings, I think we’re still fresh from the trauma. So here is a list of recording tips from yours truly, to think about for next time!
EAT – but not just anything! We’ve all heard about how important it is to eat a balanced breakfast before taking the SAT. The same goes for recording: we need our bodies and brains to be fueled to work properly! Duh – but the tricky part is figuring out what exactly to eat. Before a recording session last year, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of gazpacho, my favorite cold soup (I really like cold soups…) But although it was refreshing and veggielicious, I believe the lack of carbs and protein were a hindrance to my recording session. I felt a lot slower than usual. Now I’m sure to scarf down something more substantial, not too mention SUGARY, for that extra oomph! (I recommend Trader Joe’s Molasses cookies.)
Book a space well ahead of time. Usually I am able to snag an empty dance studio at Juilliard to record (these make for good recording spaces because of their high ceilings and acceptable acoustics). This year, I casually waltzed into a room that I hadn’t booked – and was promptly interrupted right before my first note, by someone who actually had a reason to use the room (oddly, it was a drama student who needed to practice the trumpet!) I was lucky enough to be able to record in a church without previously reserving it. But book ahead, or you’ll end up dropping your recorder in the toilet while recording in your bathroom.
Perform, don’t just record. One of the worst parts of recording for me is the fact that there aren’t any real people to play for, just a little blinking red dot, taunting you, daring you to mess up. The recorder isn’t such a great audience. If you can, grab a friend and ask them to listen. It adds a more human element to the session. I asked the kindly security guard who opened the chapel for me if he’d listen to my Bach – “It’s so much easier to play for a real person!” He indulged me, and even though he was a complete stranger, having someone in the room to play for made all the difference.
Don’t set unrealistic standards. This is why I always prefer live auditions to recording – you play, you leave. But when you record, you theoretically have an unlimited amount of chances to get it just right, which puts the pressure on like nothing else. Give everything at least three takes. If it’s not perfect, don’t worry about it. In three takes, you’ll have captured your best playing that day, which is all you can ask for.
Stretch it out. On that note, give yourself plenty of time to be happy with your product. If you have lots of different rep to record, consider spreading your recording session over a few days, so you can focus on each piece more intensely on that given day.
Happy recording (if such a thing is possible!)