Singers – DIY Your Single with Quality

Jay Rin holding guitar case on street
Jay Rin uses her new single “Keep on Walkin” to share insights with all singers on recording & production.

Independent Nashville Artist Jay Rin has just released a new single. We love the production quality and sonic details she achieved. And we also love it that she achieved this on a tight budget! We asked her to boil down how she accomplished this in 10 crucial steps:

1. Give Yourself the Gift of Time

My original plan was to record and release this song a year ago. Yet come March 2020, the word “plan” became a joking matter in itself. Singer-songwriters who faced the cosmic interruption of the pandemic will understand this issue. Many things took a back seat in my life as live shows ceased and emotional coping took its hold via Netflix and comfort food. Looking back, those experiences shaped what my song would become. Through the recording process, the idea kept running through my mind that at some point or another everyone goes through tough times. At the end of the day the only thing we can control is how we move forward and keep on walking even when we hit rock bottom and maybe feel like we have nothing left to hold onto. The final song ended up with revised lyrics and even a new title – and it’s just right. Had I tried to rush the process, the song wouldn’t likely have evolved in the same way.

Jay Rin’s home set up

2. Engage & Trust Musician Friends on Your Tracks

You’ll often hear stories of how “this band” or “that group” made a memorable EP after a spontaneous jam in the studio. In the climate of the pandemic and being unable to get together with other musicians in person, I reached out to some close friends/music pros to hopefully achieve some spontaneous magic remotely. I sent a guide track of just me and my guitar playing to click, shared my vision verbally, and let them fly with it. I wanted the other musicians to feel free to create in the moment and let inspiration guide their recording. Furthermore, so that they would be inspired by one another, I sent the tracks one at a time to each person, each guide track building upon the previous with newly recorded elements. It was a nerve wracking thing as an artist to scale back on micro-managing the exact riffs, fills, and locations thereof. This process involved a lot of trust, but having worked with everyone before I was confident that they would know what I was going for and see the vision too. – Holy smokes! The final product was beyond what I could have imagined and I was in tears hearing it come together the way it did.

3. Be Open to Change & Collaboration

I think it’s important as creators to be willing to keep an open mind in any creative process. Sometimes the spirit may just lead you in a new direction and sometimes the initial plan just isn’t vibing and you may need to shift a bit and lean on others for help. So if you’re working on something that isn’t coming together, stop. Take a deep breath. Relinquish any pride or stubbornness about your project and try one or more of these:

Arranging tracks on ProTools
  • Play with off-the-wall ideas that may spark inspiration
  • Consider coming back to it later with a refreshed mind
  • Chat about it to a trusted friend/musician 
  • You’ve done all the above and you just might need to reach out for help! 

I did all of these with this single; once I decided to work with others the song started to blossom beyond what I could’ve dreamt. This song’s recording process began with a rough guitar/vocal track that I played to click and recorded in Pro Tools. After listening back, I knew I needed drums and sent it first to a friend of mine (drummer and beat pro) Greg Bruick. Before I knew it, the scratch take was blessed with groove and punch in all the right places. From there I sent it to L.A. based singing guitarist Jimmy Becker (also my dad!) to re-record the acoustic guitar and boy did it beef things up! After having these two things back, I knew I had to have some organ and I asked my husband Jesse Bobick, keys player for alt rock band Stray Nova, to take a shot at recording one night in our little home studio. After two takes, that classic sound was dialed in. The track was starting to take life as each musician brought their own experiences and influences into the song

4. Paint with Your Voice & Pay Close Attention to Detail

I believe we singers have so much to offer with what we decide to do with our vocal inflections, phrasing, expressiveness, etc. In college at Belmont University, often I heard voice teachers refer to the different “colors” of the voice when referencing tone or they would encourage us to “expand our tool kit” when learning new techniques, styles, vocal placements, etc. I once heard  an instructor compare singing a song to painting a canvas. Singing the right notes and rhythms was equivalent to painting the main subject on a canvas. For example, you can have a square with a triangle set atop and know it’s a house. It is recognizable and perhaps the core elements are there, but it is nothing special until the details are added. 

I bring this up because more than ever before in this recording, I paid close attention to each and every detail of my lead vocal and the bgvs. I played with the amount of rasp in my voice while recording, conversational phrasing, melodic improvising, and emotional delivery to achieve a relaxed yet self assured performance. For the bgvs, I had a couple different approaches depending on the style of the bgvs. For the main “oooh”s that come in at the beginning I focused on north/south mouth space for that gospel/choral sound – and also on high energy levels while recording (sometimes jumping up and down right before recording to get the desired effect). For some of the more dazed and lazy bgv’s, I focused on a more east/west mouth shape to achieve a bright brassy sound that would cut through in the mix. With each new musical layer that was recorded, I grew more and more inspired to fine tune the details that would help everything gel together. For the lead vocal in particular I was largely inspired by the other rhythms and melodies that arose from the whole package of instrumentation floating around in my headphones that my performance naturally shifted in spots resulting in a vocal that was genuinely conversational and free.

5. Don’t Shy Away from Harmonies

Jay Rin recording vocals

I’ve always loved harmonies. Can’t say I’ve always had a natural ear for them, but overtime I’ve grown more comfortable with harmonizing and recording harmonies on my solo stuff and projects for other artists as well. If you don’t have much experience with harmonizing, start by trying to sing along with the ones on recordings you love, more often than not harmonies are all over pop music even if they are placed way back in the mix. Train your ear to find them and then sing along or  just take a listen to my new song Keep On Walkin’ and you’ll have your harmony work cut out for you, because I certainly didn’t shy away from adding them all over the place! 

For most of the bgv’s in this track, I wanted as full of a sound as I could achieve with just me. I would start by recording a few takes of the main bgv line to set a nice strong layer and then I pretty much just stacked up and down by thirds and fifths harmonically to create a big effect! At playback, I almost jumped outta my seat when I first heard the “oooh”s all together. You too can experience this great joy! Just play around with recording yourself singing harmonies on your songs and if it doesn’t work, try tweaking it a bit so that it fits in the chord. If you’re still getting the hang of finding the right ones, try using an instrument to help. You may discover that harmonies are what you’ve been missing in your original songs and productions all along!

6. Fine Tune Your BVGs

Background vocals are a love and hate relationship for me. You hear them all together accompanied by instrumentation and it sounds good but then you listen with the tracks solo’d and you may discover potential intonation or rhythm issues, inconsistent expression or vowels, or just different energy levels. This attention to detail can be tedious but it is so worth it. I noticed a big difference once I re-recorded some of the weaker bgvs and/or the ones that didn’t quite match the vibe of the others. Honestly, this willingness to re-record is good practice for every part of your recording – solo the track after recording so you can hear everything that’s going on (including the birds that might be chirping in the background).

7. Record Some Test Vocals

I have a very DIY setup with a two channel Focusrite interface, a nice condenser Blue microphone, an SE reflection filter, pop filter, and some Sennheiser  headphones. When recording vocals, I try to first eliminate any background noise. I first turn off the thermostat and I close the curtains (which thankfully are very thick and semi noise cancelling)! Something I’m additionally trying to get into the habit of is recording a test vocal that I immediately listen back to while solo’d (which basically mutes the other tracks). This enables me to hear if any background hums or buzzes are present or in some cases if the instrumental track is bleeding through the headphones and getting recorded with the new vocal. From there, I try to ensure that I am recording my voice at a good level and not red-lining or peaking a bunch. Occasionally if I have a song with a wide range of dynamics I may add a bit of compression to my vocal track on the front end. I try not to do this very much though because generally I think it’s much better to record without effects.

Jay Rin’s Scarlett Focusrite with Mogami Gold XLR cable

8. Play with Panning

When I was working on this production, as it came closer and closer to having all the elements there, it was eye opening (scratch that!) *ear opening* to play with panning. Panning one of the electric guitars all the way to the right (or the bass just slightly left of center, or the organ to the left) enabled me to hear everything completely differently. I noticed certain instruments would shine a little bit more depending on where they were panned and that things didn’t get buried as much when all panned to center. Panning can really open up a mix. I’d definitely encourage every artist to play with this whenever they record something whether it be in GarageBand or logic or protools or another DAW. 

 9. Invest in Pro Mixing and Mastering

A few years back I connected with John Burke at Vibes Studios which at the time was based in Ohio. He had plans to move to Nashville and was looking to boost his clientele in the area and reached out to me via Instagram. After hearing his work and, more importantly, hearing the before/after tracks of some of his productions, mixes, and masters, I was very excited at the potential of working with him. I soon discovered he was a top notch musician and producer as well which was only the cherry on top. I was confident with his background that he would be able to understand my sound and mix and master with care which he did with flying colors on my first single “Dance in the River” and later “Gotta Be Magic”. When I started working on “Keep on Walkin”  I knew John would be the guy to knock it outta the park while staying true to the sound I have been building as a newer artist. Long story short, if you are going to work with a producer or engineer on your songs, make sure they understand you and your sound and that they have the audio skills to help you achieve it in the final track.

10. Allow Yourself to Make Final Touches

Once I had guitars, bass, organ, drums, vocals and bgvs all loaded in the session, I knew I was close to the final product. Even so, there was still work to be done to make the final touches. This involved extra deep listening to how all of the instrumental layers worked together. In this part of the process I played with hearing things back at different volumes, muting tracks here and there to hone in on specific instruments. After taking a deep dive into this process, I discovered elements like riffs and bgvs that I no longer needed in certain sections and/or were more effective in another part of the session. This is a whole ‘nother layer to the creative process. Taking the time helped ensure that I was wholeheartedly happy with the outcome of the song down to the very breaths and reverberating cymbal. Deep listening is so important in the recording process especially towards the home stretch. You don’t want to rush through without listening intently to all the elements, only to release it and come back with a long laundry list of “wish I would’ve”s.

So if you’re wondering where you can hear this song, it’s on Spotify, Apple Music, and on Jay Rin’s YouTube Channel

Connect with Jay Rin on Instagram, Facebook, or her website where she posts about her life and music in Music City! 

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