5 Things I've Learned About Taking Musical Chances - KeyboardMag
Advice from the April 2013 issue of KEYBOARD

To this day, I still get excited about chasing really interesting music. I don’t care that much about the music business, or making a lot of money. I really feel that if you follow what you find creatively compelling, exciting and slightly mysterious, those kinds of things will eventually come. Here are some things I’ve learned about taking musical chances that I hope will encourage you to take some of your own.

1. Practice the Power of Belief

I spent three years on the road playing a multitude of musical instruments with K.D. Lang in the early 1990’s. K.D. encouraged me to write songs and get involved in record production, pushing me in a braver direction than just taking session or touring gigs. Having her believe in me gave me the strength to believe in myself. So I’m a huge advocate for the power of belief. If you believe you can do something, you’re right. And if you believe you can’t then you’re right about that too.

2. Change Instruments

Sometimes changing instruments can take a song into an entirely new direction. The piano, for example, is a very heavy flavor and can easily make everything sound like an Elton John track. Try substituting a piano part with another keyboard instrument like synth or organ. Getting out of your musical comfort zone can have surprising sonic results.

3. Be Objective

I’m constantly humbled and inspired by listening to other mix engineers’ work when I’m mixing my own records. The same thing can be said of songwriting. If I’m writing a song and I feel a lyric is boring or not working, I’ll often say, “You can beat that.” Always listen to your own music from the perspective of an outsider, looking for places where it can be improved.

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4. Viva la Vocal!

If you have a singer on your recording, your vocal immediately becomes themost importantinstrument in the entire track. Everything should be built to support it. I’m a huge advocate of getting the best vocal sound possible. It makes everything else on the track sound better. That doesn’t mean you need to buy a $12,000 microphone, but you can rent one for $100 a day. I also always try to get a scratch vocal recorded to a click track with piano or guitar as early as possible. That way I can always hear the vocal and the harmonic structure of the song.

5. Embrace the Lo-Fi Zone

Piano and drums are traditionally mic’d with expensive, pristine-sounding condenser microphones. But some of the best sounds for these instruments are often created with the help of inexpensive gear. One of my favorite miking techniques is to use a mono room mic about seven feet from the piano or drums. I also use a cheap mic that makes everything sound like an old radio. Blending Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi versions of the same instrument can impart personality to a mix.

Los Angeles-based producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Greg Wells has worked with acclaimed artists like Adele, Katy Perry, OneRepublic, Mika and Jamie Cullum. Find out more at www.gregwells.net