15 November, 2007

Dawson is Keynote Speaker at Dallas Songwriters Association December 2007 Meeting

Preparations For A Great Studio Session

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I was asked by the Dallas Songwriters Association to speak to the membership about getting prepared for a professional studio session. I was also a judge for the monthly song critique session. I heard some great music and really was impressed by the quality and quantity of the songs written by some wonderful musicians.

I created a handout for the membership as well. I have posted the document again for the members of the DSA that were unable to attend.

Thanks goes out to the entire DSA board and membership for making me feel welcomed and part of the Texas songwriting community. Peace and Love....

Preparations For A Great Recording Session

Mike Dawson’s reflections about his journey from
classical pianist to virtuoso keyboardist, singer/songwriter,
producer, educator, and business owner.

November 13, 2007

“Songs are not released, they escape!” – Dawson

“Ready to bust out” - Dallas Morning News

Questions And Issues To Consider In Advance Of Any Recording Project

• What is the goal of the recording session or project?

o Song demo for established artist or label?
o Album production for performance artist for public release?
o Film/TV composition for established client or music supervisor?
o Composition for advertising or other corporate media requirement?

• Have you considered hiring a producer?

• Have you considered hiring a music director to conduct the session?

• Have you visited a variety of studios and asked for references?

• Have you interviewed the engineer, asked for references, and listened to examples of their work?

• Have you asked the engineer to serve as co-producer?

• Have you provided examples of music to the engineer for concept awareness?

• Do you have the skills to create demos in advance of the session to provide a reference to musicians, engineer, and producer?

The Musicians

• Are they experienced session players? Do they have reliable and professional gear?

• Are the musicians members of a band that performs primarily live shows and have limited recording experience? Can they play to a click track/metronome?

• Will the musicians need to learn the tunes in advance or sightread charts?

• Will the musicians participate in the arrangement of the composition?

• Is there a comprehensive rehearsal schedule established?

The Music

• Regarding original music that is intended for public release or Film/TV, has the music been performed live? Audience reaction is an important piece of feedback. You’ll get immediate impressions before you commit the song to the studio recording process.

Recording Approaches

• Is the recording to be essentially “live” with few overdubs?

• If not, are basic tracks to be recorded “live” and overdub sessions to be comprehensive and complex?

Mixing Sessions

• Schedule meetings with the mixing engineer about the approach to the project.

• Have “A/B” examples been given as reference to the mixing engineer?

• Create alternative versions of the songs while mixing.


• Budget for rehearsals

• Budget for tracking sessions

• Budget for mixing sessions

• Budget for mastering sessions

• Budget for food and drink

Stuff We Never Think About

• Do you have a back up plan and schedule? (Remember Murphy’s Law)

• If you are one of the session musicians, will you have an assistant or sound engineer direct the session? Or will you take responsibility for the supervisory tasks? Remember that multi-tasking doesn’t always work.

• Do you know where the best take out restaurant is? Bring water, juices, fruits, and vegetables. Brain food! Massage therapy? Candles? Lava lamp? Meditation? Yes!!

• Drugs and Alcohol – Not a good idea. All those so-called great ideas under the influence just don’t sound that great the next day.

• Visitors during the session – be sure they will not disrupt you with the surprise party.

• Back up all session data – if you don’t back it up, you don’t have it!

Final Thoughts and Observations

Create a calm and professional vibe during the production. The impact of personal example.

Be flexible! Collaboration is essential. Often a great idea will be offered if creative input is allowed. You don’t have to accept the advice or idea, but keep an open mind.

Stick to your original convictions and vision. Sometimes people want to bring the monster named EGO into a session. Be aware when unproductive input starts to poison the session.

Always have others listen to rough mixes and allow time to listen to those rough mixes. The potential list of people you should have listening would include producers, fellow songwriters, non-musicians, members of professional organizations, sound engineers, and other artists.

Join and be a part of professional organizations. NARAS, ASCAP, BMI, AFM, and the DSA support songwriters and performance artists. Much of what is offered by these organizations in terms of education, networking events, legal advice, and business support is free of charge.

Learn the basics of recording and music theory. Take classes or create your own education program. Invest in a recording system! Start experimenting! Don’t be intimidated by technology – embrace it! ProTools LE Pro and LOGIC 8 are now under $1,000.00. Cubasis is a PC based program within reach financially.

Take courses to become an effective communicator and listener. The better that you can express your ideas and listen to feedback will allow you to create a great song, outstanding musical performances, and superior recordings.

Books, Magazines, and Internet Resources

• CD Baby
Derek Sivers is the musician/founder of this international on-line record store. His company’s websites have a great deal of valuable information.


• Future Of Music Coalition
This non-profit organization based in Washington DC hosts an annual conference that brings industry professionals and intellectual property experts together to debate and explore the historic realignment of music content distribution and worldwide markets.


All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald S. Passman
Published by Simon and Schuster

How To Get Somewhere In The Music Business by Mary Dawson
Published by CQK Books

The Recording Industry Sourcebook
Published by Artist Pro

Creative Music Production: Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques by Barry Cleveland

How To Run A Recording Session by Jayce De Santis

Making The Ultimate Demo by Gino Robair

The Indie Bible by David Wimble
Published by Discmakers

Tori Amos – Piece by Piece by Tori Amos and Ann Powers
Published by Broadway Books

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner
Published by Jamey Aebersold Publishing

Electronic Musician
Published by Penton Media

Recording – The Magazine for the Recording Musician
Published by Music Maker Publications

Performing Songwriter
Published by Lydia Hutchinson

Artistpro – Information Resources for Music Professionals


Producers & Engineers Wing of The Recording Academy (NARAS)


This blog posting is not intended to be comprehensive or complete. I recommend that you dive into the process and make music with love and joy. Don’t limit yourself to a specific style of music or work with the same musicians. Variety is the spice of life and the making of music is a lifelong journey. Take chances even when you are not completely ready or prepared. Work hard to be as prepared as possible, but getting experience working in the studio at any time is priceless.

Good luck!
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