A band’s debut single can be make or break and define a whole career, The Motor Museum’s Al Groves lets Getintothis in on a few trade secrets to make sure you get yours right.
With bands and labels looking for more creative ways to market an artist, the role of your single is changing. Now it is less of a product that you can earn money from directly and is more like your band’s business card – a very powerful way to demonstrate what you do and how well you do it.
So here’s the scenario: you have written a collection of tunes that you are confident about, and feel that it’s time to test the waters and put out your first single. Your first step is to find a producer/engineer and go into a studio to craft your masterpiece. Below are ten tips to help make that process as effective as possible.
1) Decide what you are trying to achieve
This is one thing that many artists overlook. What you are trying to achieve with your single will influence the next decisions relating to studio choice, production, and how it is mixed. If you are trying to promote that you are a great live band, your single needs to be produced in a way that reflects this. Maybe you are playing on the strength of your singer, or perhaps you want to get as much radio play as possible (hint – make sure the vocal is good and get to the chorus as quickly as possible). Having a clear goal to work towards will really help you to make the right decisions.
2) Choose the right studio
Whether you are drawn to their amazing live rooms, cupboards full of obscure vintage microphones or the amazing pub around the corner, different studios all offer different things. Do you already have a great sound and just need a neutral sounding studio to capture it, or do you want to go for a specialist studio whose rooms and gear will impart certain sounds onto your track? Try not to let price influence this, as skimping here may really compromise the result.
3) Choose the right producer
Similar to choosing the right studio, making sure you get the right producer on board could make or break the outcome of your single. A producer is there to help you present your track in its most engaging way, and you want to pick somebody who can get the best out of you. They are also your most impartial fan, so make sure you pick somebody who you trust to give you honest feedback.
4) Pick the right song
It’s no good trying to get your brilliantly produced work on the radio if the song you’ve chosen is eight minutes long and has three different key changes. When you’re so attached to your own songs it can be difficult to hear things the way your audience does, so don’t be afraid to seek advice from people that you trust. Your producer should definitely be involved in this, as well as your manager, a friendly promoter that you know, maybe a blogger that is a fan of the band. But beware – your mum is probably (definitely) not the best judge of this.
This is where things start to take shape. Pre-production should be about taking all the decisions above and applying them to your song. Use this time to make broad changes to the arrangement; how many times you play the intro, how long before the first chorus hits, do you repeat your hook through the middle eight or save it for an outro? It’s also the time to get the tempo and feel of the song just right; you want the foot/head moving at all times! Make sure to do a pre-production session with your producer as they will not only gain valuable insight from being in the room with you, but can also suggest changes before you enter the studio and save lots of time.
6) Get the right sound in the room
This is another area that can be a real time-saver. Getting a good sounding record is all about having the right sound to begin with – microphones only capture what they hear. If you want a big thunderous bass sound you will never get it using a tiny practice amp. This is where your mates can come in handy. Beg, borrow and steal (ok, maybe don’t steal) to get gear that fits the sound you’re trying to capture. Spend some time tweaking your pedals/amp/drums to get as close as possible to the sound you want.
7) Be realistic
We cannot preach this enough; be realistic with your time. Skimping here will do nothing but compromise the final result, and will just undervalue your hard work. At the Motor Museum we always say an average single takes three full days of work; one day for the foundation, one day for the overdubbing/textures/production and one day to mix. If budget is a problem you can always break the session up and mix at a later date when you have saved up more money.
8) Dare to be different
The best singles are the ones that are unique as shit, but somehow manage to sound incredibly familiar. Creativity and forward thinking rule here, and you should always be striving to create the most unique piece of art that you can. In the same way that a striking design on a business card will leap out at a customer, having a production that sounds REALLY special will help you cut through the crowd.
9) Making the most of the mix
Mixing is not about making every person in the band as loud as possible, or about getting the biggest snare drum sound since 1986. Mixing is about detaching yourself from what you’re playing and making your whole song sound fantastic. We often tell bands to listen to the mix as if it was somebody else’s band, so they can be more objective. All a listener cares about is if the song makes them feel good, sadly that might mean burying your favourite tambourine part in the background.
10) Don’t forget your instrumentals
If your song is really good you might find somebody wants to license the rights off you to use it on their film/tv program/advert. Payday! If this is the case you will need instrumental versions of your tracks – getting these at the end of your session will save hassle in the future.
There you have it, ten simple steps to your first single success, so what’s holding you back? You know where to go when you’ve got the goods!
* Editor’s note.. The Motor Museum and Miloco have been behind a fair few good records – take a look – it’s fair to say they know what they’re talking about. Here’s one of our favourites – which coincidentally was also a debut single. Not bad for starters…