Raw Talent: Alan Smyth and Denzil Watson
Alan Smyth's top 10 demo tips
by Denzil Watson
Alan Smyth has worked with Sheffield's most successful bands and he gave us his top 10 tips for recording demos - so if you're a band with dreams of becoming the next Arctic Monkeys, this page is for you!
Alan Smyth is an ex-Seafruit guitarist and the man credited with first recognising the promise of a certain young band called Arctic Monkeys. He now works from his own studio in Sheffield, 2Fly Studios.
Over the years Alan has worked with the likes of Pulp, Richard Hawley, Little Man Tate, Reverend and The Makers, Milburn, the aforementioned Arctic Monkeys and The Long Blondes to name but a few - and he offered his wealth of knowledge about recording and music production with Raw Talent listeners.
Raw Talent's Denzil Watson put together this list of 10 do's and don'ts for bands recording demos and he put them to Alan. Here's what he had to say:
1. Make sure you've practiced the songs you're going to record so you can play them in your sleep.
Alan Smyth: "But don't over practice them though! It can kill the vibe. Don't play the songs so much that you get sick of playing them. You just need to know when to leave it."
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2. Choose your studio wisely. Speak to fellow bands and listen to what others have recorded. Cheap studios normally mean cheap sounding recordings.
Alan Smyth: "Not always true, but in general, yes - I'd have to agree with that. If a studio is charging £50-a-day the chances are either the gear isn't that good or they might not be that good themselves.
"You do tend to get what you pay for most of the time. I think the advice about listening to what other bands have done and what they felt about a studio is good advice.
There are a lot of studios about in Sheffield and all have slightly different sounds and some suit certain types of music more than others might do."
3. In the studio, always budget for more time than less; there's no point in coming out of the studio with songs half finished.
Alan Smyth: "Very true - recording does take a lot more time than people think. There's still people who think that if a song if three minutes, that's how long it takes to record it!
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A lot of the extra time is spent making sure that the playing is acceptable. A lot of people can play but many can't play that well.
And in a studio it's like being put under a microscope. All these little anomalies come out. The way I work is that I try and put people at ease and say 'If you make a mistake, don't worry, I'll repair it'."
4. Don't try to record too many songs - it's better to get two songs done well with overdubs than come out with five or six poorly recorded songs.
Alan Smyth: "I'd agree with that totally, but I'd put in the proviso that it depends on what you want from your session.
"If you just want to hear your new songs and think about them then you just need a basic recording to hear how they sound, then of course you can do six or seven. But if you are trying to impress the folk in the wider world then it's better to concentrate your efforts."
5. Remember that you normally give your best performance(s) in the first few takes. Diminishing returns very quickly set in.
Alan Smyth: "It is true that the feel is best in the first few takes with some bands, but with others especially if the band's only just written the song and they're really excited and they come in to record it and they really don't know it that well, you just have to keep going."
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6. Don't be afraid to use studio gadgetry like auto-tune; it's not cheating and if it makes the song sound good, then all the better.
Alan Smyth: "I'd say it was cheating but that's what we do in studios. Even Elvis did it! Half way through one of his songs they 'cut tape' (where they attach one recording of it to another) and you can actually hear the pitching of the guitars change.
"You can't tell any difference in his voice but they actually cut the tape and stuck them together. Now how long ago's that!"
7. Where you can, try to record the main instruments live i.e. drums, bass and guitar. The songs will have a much better 'feel' to them if you do.
Alan Smyth: "They do, but I suppose it depends what you want. For some bands this way works best, especially when they all rehearse together and play live together. Then asking them to perform separately is asking a bit much, plus then there's the time factor.
"I try and record as much as I can in one hit to try and get the groove as they say."
8. Make sure you use good gear - shoddy sounding gear can't be fixed in the mix.
Alan Smyth: "That is very true. Good amps and good guitars invariably sound better than poor quality gear.
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"But again there is a proviso. Really rubbishy equipment and instruments can have a unique sound and it's worth persevering with that rubbish instrument even if you have to tune one string differently from the rest just to make it sound in tune with the rest of the guitar."
9. Make sure that everything you record is in time and in tune, otherwise when you get your recordings home, it'll stand out like a sore thumb and really bug you.
Alan Smyth: "That is very true. It's the studio's job to make sure that happens - some studios will, and some studios won't. Some studios will take you in, recorded you and send you out. Some studios will take you in, record you and correct everything and basically help you.
10. Never mix on the same day. Come back another time when your ears are fresh.
Alan Smyth: "Very true and a very good point, but it's out of some bands' budgets. It is more expensive as you have to pay for another day or half day.
"I think with today's technology you can get a pretty good result straight off. Although I would agree with the point."
:: Listen to Raw Talent with Denzil Watson every Thursday from 7-9pm on BBC Radio Sheffield. And if you miss it, you can Listen Again via the BBC iPlayer - follow the link on the right of the page.
last updated: 04/06/2008 at 09:40