After 16 albums Gary Williams shares an invaluable lesson he learned the hard way.
For many singers, recording an album or single track is the culmination of years of planning and hard work. It’s fun to make music and shape your sound in the studio.
You work hard and produce something you’re excited about, you want to share it with the world and feel the love.
There’s no time to loose! You order 1000 CDs, throw a party and everyone tells you how awesome you are. Maybe you even get some nice reviews and a spin on the radio. Nice.
The rule of thirds
Then the dust settles and finally, for the first time, you listen to your new album objectively, with fresh ears. It’s amazing what you notice in the cold light of day.
For years this was my album making process. Get it out as quickly as possible and then wonder why I’d been in such a hurry.
Listening back to each album I’d find that a third would be good, a third passable, and the rest…what was I thinking?! This rules of thirds proved pretty consistent.
Bum notes and bad mixes would jump out and slap me in the face. Why didn’t I hear these before? Why didn’t anyone else hear these before? Was nobody honest with me?
Vanity and impatience are dangerous things for an artiste and of course it’s almost impossible to be objective when you’re so close to your own project.
How to get it right
In 2008, I recorded Swingin’ On Broadway, my third album at Abbey Road. I was determined to learn from my mistakes. Once we’d finished, I put it away for six months.
Listening back to the glaring errors was horrifying but at least I could fix them. I ended up with an album I still feel happy with today, and as a result, changed the way I work forever.
My latest album, At The Movies, was actually finished in March, but learning from my mistakes, I put it away. Months later I listened with fresh ears, made a few tweaks and finally felt happy to commit.
Most of the changes were fixing the odd sharp or flat note and sometimes I’d sang a wrong lyric.
We recorded the Elvis song, Pocket Full of Rainbows on the first day with the rhythm section. I’d never sung it before and when I listened back decided to make quite a few changes.
As you can see from the scribbled notes, I thought it would benefit from adding a big band, so I had those arranged to make the opening more punchy. This meant I could cut some whistling at the top that I was never sure about.
We’d originally planned to add a short sax solo, but I decided to sing through this instead. I sang a wrong word that needed to be fixed, I wanted to organ louder for one section and thought it would be better if I repeated the last line of the song at the end.
You can compare the difference between the first attempt and the finished version below:
All of this applies to recording a full album or just a single track. Once it’s done you can’t go back.
Whatever you record will represent you and your sound forever so why rush it?
I know this isn’t the way many people work, but if you’ve got the time and a bit of patience, I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
Singer, broadcaster and author Gary Williams has been described as “a true song stylist” by London What’s On and “the UK’s leading standard bearer for the supercool era” by the London Evening Standard. The star of the West End’s “Rat Pack” is a favourite with big bands and concert orchestras throughout the world, from the BBC Concert Orchestra to the Melbourne Symphony. As a broadcaster he’s presented and written shows for BBC Radio 2, Jazz FM and The Wireless where he hosts a weekly show. His book on stagecraft has been described as “an invaluable guide” by Playbill. Gary Williams’ latest album, At The Movies is released 14th September.