Before you enter the recording studio, you should do a quality control check of sorts on many aspects of the songs you are recording. Today, we'll explore how to do such a QC check on your lyrics.
Lyrics are often written hastily. Whatever comes to you in a stream of consciousness is what goes down on paper.
Because lyrics often have the least repetition of any of the parts of the song, lyrics are often the last component to be completed. This can put pressure on the lyricist as you can't have a complete song without complete lyrics. As such, sometimes the first draft of lyrics are less than perfect.
And that's OK. However, before you cast your song into proverbial stone in the recording studio, you should carefully review your lyrics and, if necessary, rewrite them to make them perfect. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help reveal ways to improve your lyrics.
1. Does every line make perfect sense?
Obviously, when we write our first draft of lyrics, they make sense...in our own heads. We know what we are thinking. We have an idea of the context. We are assuming certain things. But, without what is in our heads, a different person may not have a clear idea of the story.
Look at every line. Would each line make sense to someone reading or hearing it for the first time? Are you missing details that would help you tell the story better? Does anything sound lazy, like you just picked that line because it fit and not because it is the greatest line possible for that part of the song?
Asking yourself these questions - and answering them honestly - can help you infuse your song with better lyrics. Even if you only improve one line from your original version, it can make a big difference to listeners and help your song be positioned for greater success.
2. Is your listener expecting a rhyme and you disappoint them?
Music styles changes throughout the years and decades. The most popular songs today sound nothing like the most popular songs from the early 1960's.
However, one thing that hasn't changed is the fact that the most popular songs all have rhyming lines. It's expected.
Sometimes, an amateur song will set up the listener to expect a rhyme and fail to deliver that line. Imagine something like "Roses are red/Violets are blue/I am in love/In love with her."
You were expecting "In love with you," right? So, when the lyric said "her" instead of "you," you had an unmet expectation that felt upsetting. Don't give your listeners this feeling!
Spend the time, find a rhyme.
3. Are your rhymes too predictable?
There's something called a "perfect" rhyme, where the entire ends of two words rhyme and the only thing that's different is the beginning sound of the two rhyming words. From our last example, that would be "blue" and "you." That's a perfect rhyme.
But, in modern music, over-reliance on perfect rhymes is frowned upon. It is regarded as more creative to use "imperfect" rhymes as perfect rhymes can be too predictable. This is where the two rhyming words share a vowel sound, but may have other sounds that keep them from being perfect rhymes.
Examples of imperfect rhymes would be rhyming "me" with "beat," or "slay" with "tame," or "beach" with "treat." Hopefully, you get the idea.
As an example, let's say that you've written the line "Twinkle, twinkle, little star/How I wonder what you are." You are using a perfect rhyme scheme and it sounds a bit predictable. You want to convey the same message, but wish you had an imperfect rhyme. You could rewrite it as "Twinkle, twinkle, little star/You have me so in the dark."
Not exactly a Grammy-worthy lyric there, but it's just to illustrate how using imperfect rhymes can open creative doors and make your songs less predictable. Embracing imperfect rhymes can help you avoid being boxed in and unable to tell your story well because you feel you have to be obedient to the perfect rhyme scheme.
4. Are your rhyming rhythms too predictable?
Rhyming rhythms can be predictable, too. When you have rhyming words on the same beat of their measures, your lyrics can sound dated. Modern music often has rhymes on different beats. Using the "Twinkle, Twinkle" example, here's how you can change things up a bit.
If you want your second part to be longer than your first part, you can subtract syllables from your first part. Like, instead of singing "twinkle" twice, sing it once, keeping the same rhythm thus moving "star" from beat four to beat three and having a quarter rest on beat four, such as:
Twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
"Star" will be on beat three of its measure and "are" will be on beat four of its measure.
You could also leave the first line alone and modify the second line similarly by subtracting two syllables and, thus, having "are" fall on beat three with a quarter rest to follow:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
Wonder what you are
Another idea is to add one syllable/one eighth note to the second line, thus placing the rhyming word on the "and" of beat four, as in:
Twinkle, twinkle, little stars
How I wonder what you dudes are
So, there are three very quick examples of how a very small tweak can make your lyrics (as well as your melodies) sound less predictable and more modern.
5. Can you convert something simple sounding into something more creative?
Plain words are fine in speech when you are trying to convey a message. But, lyrics should be more creative. They should express an idea in a way that no one has heard before.
For example, you could write "You've ended relationships with a lot of people." And your audience may relate to that sentiment. But, it's kind of boring. Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts" is a great example of how to take a boring sentiment and make it exciting, new sounding, and very visually-oriented: "Collecting your jar of hearts/And tearing love apart."
Another example is "Black Vultures" by Halestorm. The song expresses the theme of "I will prove my critics wrong." But, that would be a bit pedantic if the band sung those exact words. Instead, they sang:
Black vultures, circling the sky
Pick at the pieces
Scavengers wait for me to die
But I'm not defeated
Again, way more interesting and very visual.
Plus, did you notice the imperfect rhyme scheme? Halestorm rhymed "pieces" with "defeated." Cool!
I hope that these tips helped you to discover ways to improve your lyrics and make them the best they can be by the time you put them down in the studio.
As you plan your recording and release strategy, you'll eventually need mastering between the time that you finish mixing in the recording studio and the time that you submit your music for digital distribution.
Before and After Music Group is a professional mastering studio that would love to help your music reach its sonic potential. It's never too early to decide who will master your recording.
Whether it's just to ask questions or to take the final step in securing mastering services for yourself, we welcome you to contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone/text at 412-600-8241.
Best of luck getting your music prepared for the world!
Musicians recording their first song or album have a certain expectation. They expect to walk into a recording studio with nothing and leave with everything they need to distribute their music.
The one process that they are often surprised to need is mastering.
They didn't know that they needed it. And their mix sounds good being played through the studio's ultra-high quality speakers.
So, what can mastering really do?
These musicians often don't know. And, they'll say to their recording/mixing engineer: "Ain't that something you can do for us?"
Some recording/mixing engineers will do the "mastering" for these clients, even though they don't have true mastering software and tools, aren't specialists in the mastering process, and - having spent eight to 10 or more hours per song on recording and mixing - don't really have any additional sonic ideas to bring to the table.
Other recording/mixing engineers know that their work will actually sound even better if the music was professionally mastered, and will refer their clients to a mastering studio, like Before and After Music Group.
Still, every recording artist should know what to expect from music mastering. After all, it costs a little bit of money and has the potentially to really improve the sound of the recording. So, here is a little bit about what you can expect from pro music mastering.
Is Mastering Just About Getting Technically-Required Files?
A conversation may go like this...
Musician: "Is this what I submit to get my music on Spotify and Apple Music?"
Mixing Engineer: "No, you'll need to submit your mastered files."
Musician: "Crap. I didn't know that. Is that something you can do for us?"
Mixing Engineer: "Well, I don't really have mastering software or much experience. But, I can try to do it with Pro Tools."
Musician: "Yeah, do that. I don't want to have to go to another studio."
Mixing Engineer: "Well, you don't have to be there for mastering. Most places just accept mixed files online and have you download the final files."
Musician: "Eh, do it anyway."
This conversation clearly illustrates that the musician thinks that all mastering is about is getting technically-required files as if it was like converting a WAV file into an MP3 file.
While mastering does culminate is you getting your music in certain file formats, it's about way more than simply encoding data. Mastering is about making improvements to the sound of your recorded music!
Is Mastering Just About Making My Mix Louder?
Some musicians know that mastering can make a difference to their mix. But, a common misconception is that mastering merely makes mixes louder. Like getting music into a technically-required format, some musicians think that mastering is just about getting mixes to a technically-required or "competitive" volume.
That's not true either.
Yes, mastering does bring up the volume of recorded music. But that, too, is just one part of mastering.
I'll say it again: "Mastering is about making improvements to the sound of your recorded music!"
How Does Pro Mastering Make My Music Sound Better?
Notice the use of the word "pro" in this heading. It's there for a reason.
Mastering done by an inexperienced person in software not designed specifically for mastering (like Pro Tools) probably will not make your music sound better. But "pro" mastering - mastering done by a mastering specialist who uses tools designed specifically for mastering - will make your music sound better.
These are the improvements you should expect:
What Does It Mean to Have My Tonal Balance Optimized?
Optimizing the tonal balance of a mix is perhaps where mastering makes its biggest contribution.
On an average recording, a pro mastering studio will be able to expand the frequencies you can hear in your music. The highs (like cymbals) will be cleaner, crisper and more audible. The low end will be bigger. The muddy frequencies will be cut, making the entire recording sound closer and clearer. And any harsh frequencies will be attenuated, keeping your music from sounding noisy, even at higher volumes.
Now, sometimes, a mix comes in with too big of a low end, making it sound ridiculous in comparison with national releases. Other times, a mix comes in with too much emphasis on the high frequencies, making the recording sound thin. Obviously, a mastering engineer isn't going to boost anything that's already excessive, so s/he will adjust those frequency ranges so they are just the right proportions, perfectly balanced.
Every project is different. And a mastering professional will treat every project that way, closely listening for the opportunities to improve the sound of the music. When I master a mix, I commit myself to finding at least one improvement opportunity. And I usually find more than one.
Now That You Know...
I hope that this post has helped you better understand what to expect when you need to get your music mastered. And, I hope that you'll consider having us at Before and After Music Group master your music. We'd be so delighted to be your source for mastering services and to help your music reach its potential!
Contact us at 412-600-8241 (text or phone are fine) or email@example.com.
Chip Dominick is the CEO and head mastering engineer for Before and After Music Group