I’ve mixed and mastered a lot of songs over the last 5 years and the majority of them are good, however, their are some that are just down right terrible. And I’ve always tried to figure out what would be the advice I’d give artists to help them improve and I haven’t quite figured it out until now.
Also I’m not someone who believes the adage “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it”, because I’ve personally worked with many artists who were trash and have become pretty good. Now how did they become good you ask? And more importantly, how can they become great? It seems to me the one thing that separates the good artists from the great artists are these two things. I should also note that this doesn’t apply to just music, but to anything that involves performing.
I recently started hitting open mics and doing comedy as a way to push myself out of my comfort zone and it’s surprisingly going really well. And it seems to me that what hurts most performers is that they aren’t really able to hear themselves. What do I mean by this? I don’t mean “hear” as in the obvious way of actually hearing yourself, but more in the sense of are you aware of the way you sound and more importantly how the audience is perceiving you?
When you record a song, even though you may not think of it it as a performance in the traditional sense of being on stage, it is still a performance and you still have it to convey the emotion you’re going for. For example, Camila Cabello sounds sexy as hell on her hit Havana and that was my impression even before knowing what she looked like.
Up and coming artists have to be aware that not only are their voices powerful in conveying different emotions but also that the listener’s ears are very sensitive to picking up different emotions. In fact, avid listeners have become sophisticated that I bet most people that are hardcore hip hop heads, can tell when a rapper is lying or telling the truth or even joking in a song.
So how do you hear yourself better?
This definitely starts with having self awareness. Take a good look in the mirror and take note of what you look like from multiple perspectives. By multiple perspectives, I mean imagine what people from different races, religions and even ages and economic standings would think when they look at you.
Then listen to your songs and take note of what you sound like from those multiple perspectives. The importance of this exercise is for you to better understand who your core audience is so that you can lean into the characteristics that make you more appealing to this group. For example, if the people that would like your music all have face tattoos and blue hair, it’s probably a good idea that you have face tattoos and blue hair.
One of the good things about getting your song mixed and mastered is that you’ll be able to hear yourself, flaws and all, from the professional mixing and mastering perspective. This is because many new artists can’t even hear the flaws in their performance. Mixing and mastering exposes these flaws and allows artists to get better, since you can finally hear what you’re doing wrong. Remember you can’t fix, what you don’t know is broken. This is also why you should record all your performances so that you can study what you liked about your performance and what you didn’t like and thus can correct for future performances.
Assuming you’ve got the performance part down pat, and I admit, some people can be natural performers, the second thing you need to work on is your material. Everyone, no matter how good of a performer they are has a content problem. Will Smith may be a great actor, but because he hasn’t had many good roles in good movies, his star has faded a little over the last few years. This is no different than the plethora of great singers and great rappers who make terrible songs. You need both a good performance and good material to succeed.
In fact, if you’re familiar with the social media star turned reality TV star turned rap star Cardi B, you’ll know she was able to succeed with great material despite not being that good of a rapper. So how do you improve your material?
The way most successful artists improve their material is by having ghostwriters…just kidding…sort of. Artists whether they be rappers or comedians will bring people they trust on board to help them work on their material. It’s very difficult to solely work on your own material and know if it is good enough, their are certainly cases of artists being able to do it themselves, but for most of us being able to even have another person involved in the creative process is such an advantage than going at it alone.
But if you’re an introvert, like myself, and find it easier to work alone, know that it’s going to take longer to get where you want but on the bright side you’ll be well prepared when you get there. In terms of improving your material, I suggest playing your music for as many people as possible and taking inventory of their reactions. Most people don’t know the inner workings of how music is made, so wont be able to give good advice on how to get better, but most people know a good song when they hear one.
I personally like playing my music for my friends without telling them it’s me and if they have a reaction good or bad than that’s a good sign. But if they have no reaction than that’s a really bad sign cause then that means the music elicits no reaction. As artists we always want a reaction right? We always want to elicit some kind of emotion from the audience. Otherwise, we’re no different than elevator music.