Five recording tips for entering a songwriting contest
Here are a handful of useful pointers to help you record your song and produce the best possible competition entry
Songwriting competitions are becoming increasingly popular, with new contests cropping up all the time, so there are now countless opportunities for all you budding songwriters out there to show-off your best songs. But to be in with a chance of winning the top prizes, those submissions need to present your songwriting abilities in the best light, and the proliferation of studio-quality home recording gear means that a relatively well-produced track is becoming expected.
There’s so much to read, learn and experience when recording, but how do you get off on the right foot? Hopefully these five pointers will help you get a better take and achieve the best result you can…
1. Practice your performance
Before hitting the big red record button, take some time to think about how you want the finished recording to sound. Do you want the vocal to be punchy and at the front of the mix, or more aloof and melancholy? Make sure you practice and take your time, so you’re hitting the right level of emotion you want to achieve. Once you think you have the right balance, keep practicing so it’s second nature. This way you’ll only need a few takes when recording and you’ll get the best possible performance, which no amount mixdown wizardry can recreate.
2. Choose your microphone wisely
There are myriad of different microphones available, all of which will be suitable to certain applications – some will be best suited to vocals and some best for instruments. There are those that provide an ultra-clean recording, while others can impart a desirable colour that can be great for adding warmth and character to a recording.
To keep things simple, we would recommend a large diaphragm condenser microphone for recording vocals. Look for one with a cardioid polar pattern, which means it will help eliminate unwanted noise and room reflections and will pick up the vocal directly in front of it. A dynamic vocal mic can also be used and will provide a more punchy result, but will be less detailed than a good condenser. Another tip: if you are recording close to the mic and if your microphone has a low-cut filter, switch this on and you should avoid any unpleasant, boomy low frequencies.
When recording an acoustic guitar, the general rule is to use a small diaphragm microphone, although larger diaphragm condensers or dynamics are capable of getting good results. Again a cardioid is good to focus on the source audio, but just make sure you have the mic facing in the direction of the instrument.
3. Think about mic positioning
There are no absolutes with microphone positioning and each recording will require consideration, however here are some simple tips to try and help get the best outcome each time.
Getting the microphone as close to the audio source will eliminate unwanted room reflections. Be careful not to get so close, though, that it affects the quality of the sound. Vocals can be closer than an instrument, as the sound source (your mouth) is smaller than the top of an acoustic guitar, which emits the sound. As a simple rule of thumb, a vocal can be a few inches away from the mic while an acoustic guitar would be best to start from about 12 inches away, then fine tune and experiment.
Use a pop shield on vocals to stop plosives and unwanted breathy sounds. If you don’t have one handy, there is always the famous coat hanger and pair of tights trick. Alternatively, placing a vocal microphone slightly to the side of the singer can help to avoid unnecessary plosives and unwanted noises, although this can feel awkward for the performer.
Finally, take some time to try a few positions and record them, listen back through your monitor speakers and ultimately use your ears to make sure you get the sound as you want.
4. Create the right recording environment
When it’s crunch time and you’re ready to make the all-important recording, you are going to want to make sure you’re not going to get external noises bleeding into the mix. So recording in the quietest room available is going to be a key consideration. Do you have noisy neighbours? If so, try and find a time that you know they will be out, so you can get your clean takes. When you have the time and place to get your perfect recording, make sure you try to kill the reflections in the room – take a duvet of the bed and hang it around you, and if there are hard floors drop down some rugs. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can make a huge difference.
5. Know your equipment – set the levels
Spend a little time getting to know your equipment before recording. There’s nothing more detrimental to the creative process than technical gremlins and excessive time spent with your head stuck in a manual or searching for information online. Make sure you set your inputs to have a little headroom – you don’t want clipping red lights as your recording – so dial things back a bit and make sure you don’t get any distorted takes.
If you feel you’ve already followed these five tips and have recorded a cracking original song, then why not enter the EON One Take singer-songwriter competition before the 19 June deadline at eononetake.uk