Resurrecting and Remodeling Recording Projects

August 7, 2014
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Remodeling existing tracks requires a solid foundation and good “bones.”
AS A MUSIC PRODUCER,
it is most common for me to begin at the beginning by helping the artist develop songs, choosing the best material, and going through the entire pre-production phase to get the project ready for prime time: the recording sessions. With great recording opportunities being as near as one’s laptop, there are more and more occurrences of projects ending up on a producer’s doorstep in the form of some “keeper” tracks already laid down. This phenomenon is not exactly new. In 1995, the Beatles recorded new tracks on top of two John Lennon songwriting demos— “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”—from the 1970s.

Each individual situation will be different than the next, of course. Some tracks have been recorded—perhaps vocals have been sung—but ultimately, at some stage of development, the project was put to rest and shelved. There are seemingly as many reasons for postponing a project as there are to begin in the first place, and I have been on both sides of that coin. For me, it’s a much better scenario to pick up the pieces, rather than toss them aside. It feels great to steer abandoned projects across the finish line—even though at times the revival methods can seem interminable. I had one major-label experience that came with the sordid history of four other producers (great ones) previous to me, and a budget north of $500,000 already spent.

I look at remodeling records similar to a general contractor remodeling homes. Does this track need to be stripped down to its bare bones and built up again? Or perhaps the bones are what are out of place, and we need to build a new foundation? Sometimes it’s simply recorded in a way you might want to repair. In that case, you need to experiment to find if the tracks are actually fixable from a sonic standpoint, or if the project would be better served using those tracks as a guide to be scrapped and re-recorded.

Today, I have two production projects going on, and both are remodels. My basic process when approaching most remodels is to listen independently, make my notes, and then compare my findings with the artist. This turns out to be very revealing, as I may be hearing what stays, what goes, and where it should aim in the exact same way as the artist’s—or not. We all have fresh ears to some extent, but the new producer’s perspective may be the freshest, having never heard the material or (just as important) not having been through the experience of the sessions. In some cases, an artist is very sure of what direction they wish to take, but more often than not, fresh input from a person with great vision for true value is just what it takes to breathe new life into the music.

No matter what needs to be done, remodels can provide a very cool way for artists and producers to work together and develop “before and after inspiration” to make the ultimate “new” record.

Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi–instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues, and dance genres.

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