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Capturing First Impressions for Reference Later

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This post is a quicky focusing on ways to develop the habit of documenting your first impressions and gut-instinct while listening to music for production.

There’s only one time in your life when you’ll be able to hear a song or a performance for the first time. This is a unique moment and it should be treated with a whole lot of respect. Fresh ears are a very important ingredient in the production process. People who are particularly talented at production or who have been doing it for some time will automatically hear production ideas and constructive criticism when they listen to a performance of a song. If you will be in a position to produce the song or artist, taking the time to document your thoughts on the essential qualities of the material and the feelings they cause as they arise is a vital step to understanding where you should go with it.

The Basics

I bring my notebook all over the place. If I am scouting a band or otherwise listening to an artist present their work, I will break out the notebook and take notes about the performance.Some things to keep tabs on are:

  • Tempo – Does it speed up or slow down? Is it effective? Might it be more effective at a slower or faster speed?
  • Dynamics – Is there contrast? Are there peaks, swells, and lulls? Or is it the same volume throughout? What sections could be taken back or brought forward?
  • Arrangement – Is it well organized? How long is it? Does it leave you wanting more or wishing it would end?
  • Lyrics – Are the words appropriately chosen? Are some words difficult to understand? Does the verbiage flow?
  • Cohesiveness – Do the musicians seem rehearsed and together? Do they have good chemistry?
  • Tone and pitch – Is there variety in tone and pitch or are there instruments competing for space? Do the instruments fit the music or are they playing folk music on an ESP Flying V with active pickups?
  • Energy – Does the performance have that magic feeling?
  • Production choices – Hey! That would sound cool… [with a delay / phaser / reverb, backwards, pitched down, autotuned, muted]

Basically, document what comes to mind, when it comes to mind. Then, communicate some of those ideas with the artist and see how they react. Use this documented process as a template for organizing your sessions and workflow once you get more hands on. You’ll only hear it for the first time once!