Musicians often talk about keeping a mental edge when it comes to performing live and especially performing inside the recording studio. But what does that really mean? How do you reach that elusive state and how do you maintain it?
Well, if you’re a musician who wants to operate gain and keep a mental edge, you’ve come to the right place.
Psychology Inside The Recording Studio
Psychology plays just as much of a role when it comes to making a great recording as talent and preparation. In fact, great producers hone in on the psychological aspects of working with an artist or band and understand how important it is to bring the best out of them in the recording studio.
Keeping a strong mental edge inside the recording studio will allow you to make better recordings than you ever thought were possible.
Here are some things you can do to bring about and maximize that mental edge inside the recording studio.
Set Goals For Your Recording Project
Being prepared before you go into the recording studio is crucial to having a smooth session and maintaining a mental edge. It is also critical to have clear goals set forth ahead of time.
As engineer Chris Carter explains in a 1997 issue of Sound On Sound, “without some sort of an objective it’s all too easy to run out of steam.” This still rings true almost 20 years later.
If you’re part of a band, there needs to be a group discussion beforehand to be sure everyone is on the same page about what needs to be accomplished. Aimlessly heading into a session without forethought as to what you’re trying to get done is a quick way to spend a lot of time and resources working and have nothing to show for it. If everyone knows the goal, including the engineer and producer, it is much easier to stay on track and keep everyone focused.
Needless to say, having a mental edge requires being in the zone and focused on what you are trying to accomplish. If you don’t know exaclty what it is you are trying to accomplish, or if different people in the recording session have different thoughts on the subject, it will be impossible to get in the zone, and therefore impossible to have a mental edge.
If everyone knows the goal, including the engineer and producer, it is much easier to stay on track and keep everyone focused. This is a large part of the pre-production process which should be mandatory for any recording session.
It is also important to avoid distractions that may derail your session. If you set out to record guitar parts on four songs, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of seeing the synthesizer sitting in the corner and decide it’s time to fiddle with patches for four hours. There can definitely be times when creative spark can come from spontaneity and experimentation, but you must keep it under control if you want to get anything done. Getting sidetracked will often yield very little useable results and mental exhaustion.
There can definitely be times when creative spark can come from spontaneity and experimentation, but you must keep it under control if you want to get anything done. Getting sidetracked will often yield very little useable results and mental exhaustion.
Press the “Reset” Button While Recording
Even when staying on track, you need to take periodic breaks so you don’t get mentally exhausted. If you’re working on a song or someone is working on a take, and it’s just not happening, take a five or ten-minute break to reset and clear your head(s).
Pressing the mental “reset” button can work wonders; it is easy to lose perspective and get bogged down in a situation when spending a lot of time trying to perfect all the details.
Also, know your individual and collective limits when it comes to spending time in the studio. Pretty much every band I’ve ever worked with hits a point of diminishing returns over the course of a day. Sometimes everyone can go strong for 12 hours with no problem, but other times 8-10 is the max before the results end up being unfavorable.
There are also times where a band feels like they need to work a 14 or 16 hour day just to get everything done. This is almost always a bad idea. Creativity is at its highest when energy is at its highest and after 14 hours, it is almost impossible to remain creative, energetic, and ultimately productive.
Your surroundings, including both physical spaces and people, can have a major impact on keeping your mental edge.
When choosing a recording studio or other venue to record you should always try to check it out before committing. Take into consideration how comfortable and organized the spaces are. Is there excess clutter? Are things clean? Do the spaces feel inspiring and conducive to being creative, or are they sterile and boring?
All of these factors make a difference, especially when you’re going to be spending hours locked inside the walls of the space.
In talking about his own studio, Shangri-La, producer Rick Rubin said in an interview with Fader Magazine,
“There’s a very calm vibe here. Most artists don’t want to leave, and they find it a conducive place to get work done. When I say calmness, it’s a lack of outside distraction.”
The people you surround yourself with are also important to take into consideration. Obviously, the relationship you have with your bandmates is going to play a crucial role in the studio, as well as every aspect of building your career. Hopefully, you’ve taken the time to choose the right people.
Beyond the musicians in your band, anyone that will be present for your entire session is going to play a major role in how things go down, namely the engineer and the producer if you’re working with one. It is really important to meet with them beforehand and make sure they have a personality that clicks with you. Again, pre-production is always a good idea.
Rather than just hiring them to do a job, try to establish a connection with them and build a friendship. This will make your time spent with them in the studio more comfortable and it will feel much more natural.
It is also key to be sure they are not going to add stress due to technical inefficiency. Having downtime in the middle of a session due to technical issues that are not quickly resolved can add unnecessary pressure and get in the way of accomplishing the goals you set out to reach.
Expectations and Critique
When you head into the recording studio, check your ego at the door. Everyone is there to reach the same objective, so if you’re not quite nailing your parts, don’t take it personally when you’re asked to do them again. If you’re on the other side of the glass, be respectful of the person performing and stay positive. “That was terrible” is a lot more antagonistic
If you’re on the other side of the glass, be respectful
of the person performing and stay positive. “That was terrible” is a lot more antagonistic than, “I think you can do better.” Positivity is going to get you a lot further than intentionally or unintentionally pressing someone’s buttons.
Mix engineer Chris Lord Alge says, “your job is like 90% people and 10% engineering. It’s 90% your bedside manner. It’s 90% how you deal with the situation,” and although he’s speaking from the perspective of an engineer, there is certainly truth to this sentiment from an artist’s perspective as well. Hopefully, the relationship between the band members is one of mutual respect, and this won’t be an issue. You also want to make sure the engineer understands this and knows how to interact with artists. There’s nothing worse than an engineer that is unable to give constructive feedback.
Hopefully, the relationship between the band members is one of mutual respect, and this won’t be an issue. You also want to make sure the engineer understands this and knows how to interact with artists. There’s nothing worse than an engineer that is unable to give constructive feedback.
Keeping your mental edge is directly connected to how you treat your body. You’re going to have much better concentration and overall attitude if you make sure to get plenty of rest… another reason why 16 hour days inside the recording studio are not usually the best way to work.
You’ll also perform better and get the best takes quicker, ultimately getting more accomplished with proper rest. Making sure to take lunch and dinner breaks is also absolutely paramount. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen things go downhill very quickly because everyone hasn’t eaten in ten hours.
It’s a good idea to have these breaks scheduled every day and be vigilant about taking them. Having healthy snacks easily available inside the recording studio is also a huge help. Staying hydrated is a must, and no, beer doesn’t count. In fact, staying sober is generally going to get you a lot further than indulging in any drugs or alcohol.
If you want to get off track from accomplishing the goals you set, there’s almost no quicker way than to start partaking a few hours in. Before you know it, the day will be gone and you will have very little to show for it.
Mental Edge Wrap Up
When you take your music and your career seriously, going into the recording studio is going to happen more and more.
You naturally want to be well rehearsed and know all your parts, but don’t forget to keep your mental edge; set clear goals for your project, and don’t fall into the trap of working longer and longer days without breaks, thinking you will reach them faster.
Put yourself in a comfortable recording environment, with time built in to clear your mind so you can stay sharp and focused, and you will ultimately get more done and maximize what you’re able to accomplish.
Good luck with your next recording session and let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below!