The One Thing That May Be Holding You Back

Don't Skip This StepI just started working on a two-song demo for a local songwriter. She is fifteen years old and has a great (albeit young) soulful pop voice and has written a couple of nice tunes. Her dad sent me the “work tapes” via email yesterday. It’s time to record. I’ll just plug in my microphone, ready the track, and hit the red button. Right?


Don’t get me wrong, you certainly could do that. I know I have. However, I want to present to you a better way.


Pre-production is just what its name implies. It is production-related activities performed prior to laying down any tracks. Skip this step and you may be setting yourself up for a frustrating time. Let’s look at some key steps to pre-production and break them down a bit. Shall we?


Before you record a single track, you better know where the arrangement is going. What is the roadmap? It would be a shame to get through tracking your instruments and figure out that you should have shortened the second chorus or played a different chord progression going into the bridge. Basically, you should have the arrangement finalized and have every chord change charted.


How embarrassing and frustrating would it be if I had tracked all the instruments at 80 bpm only to bring in the artist for a vocal session and find that she cannot sing the song that fast? In pre-production, you should spend some time with the trusty metronome to lock in a tempo that is neither too fast nor too slow, but juuuust riiiight.

Sounds Like

Just as you might use a guide track when mixing a song, you can also use a guide track on the front side to help determine what your final song should sound like. For example, when I first heard one of the songs on this project, I thought, “That sounds just like _____.” So, in addition to listening to my client’s work tape, I am spending some time with _____’s recording to determine the style, feel, and…


The “sounds like” will help determine what instruments are used in the production. After listening to _____, I have determined that one of these songs will have a high-strung acoustic guitar, a clean electric sound, acoustic piano, upright bass, and some train brush patterns on a knock-down drum kit (kick, snare, hat, and possibly a crash cymbal).


If I had just heard the work tape and started recording, I would waste several hours fixing the arrangement and playing around with different sounds. Instead, I have spent some time planning so that when the time comes to hit record, I’ll know when to stop.

Question: Do you pre-produce? If so, what is your process? If not, why not?


About Toby Baxley

I am a songwriter, artist, home studio owner, and BBQ chef. Hang out a while and let's have some fun and make some music and food.
This entry was posted in Audio, home studio, Recording and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The One Thing That May Be Holding You Back

  1. Helpful and important tips here, great post!

  2. Rog Sombe says:

    Very helpful insight you got there Travis. For myself I love pre-production because it saves a lot of time and then again, I love working spontaneously because sometimes the planning phase can make a session too robotic. I love the magic of drifting into the unknown and fishing out that magical idea or process which will put a stamp on a record. So for me, I balance the two. I like being flexible. Thanks again!

    • Toby Baxley says:

      I’m Toby, but thanks for your comment anyways. I know what you mean about letting the “tape roll” and seeing what happens. My pre-production is usually the longest process in my production method, but by the time I’m done, I feel like I totally own the song and the rest of the process much more efficient. In my line of work, efficiency is the name of the game because time is money. I charge a fixed price for ky demos so the longer it takes, the less I makes. ha!

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review | Song Demo Tips

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