Work with the best people you can afford

Mark Fenichel

Not long ago I received a promotional email from one of my musical acquaintances, Sandra Marlowe, who is locally known and a very accomplished singer-songwriter and vocal teacher. As I have spent many hours in a wide variety of recording studios, I really felt her insight into the recording process was dead on. She calls this Vocal tip #59: Recording with Confidence:

A recent trip into the Acoustic Sound Shop in San Jose, to work on a recording project was exciting and affirming, but also grueling and revealing. Since I don’t record often enough, I am not completely comfortable. Recording puts music and your voice under the “microscope” with intense focus, listening and scrutinizing. It can be daunting to get the right combination of elements that create a high-end product and convey who you are and what you want to say. With technology, almost everything is possible and perfectionism kicks into high gear. Some tips to consider when getting ready to record.

PERSONNEL: Work with the best people — from start to finish — you can afford. Quality turns out quality. From the recording engineer to arranger/musicians, the producer to mixing and mastering engineers, work with qualified and reliable people. Choose those with whom you feel comfortable or have a rapport with, but who also give valuable input and speak the truth.

STUDIO: Ask around, do your research. Check out reputation, experience, genre, price, comparable facilities. Talk to people who’ve recorded at a given facility and listen to recordings that are similar to your style and sound. Arrange for a tour, even a test run on a tune or two, to get familiar with setups, rooms, personnel, the vibe.

REHEARSAL: If hiring musicians, get material to them in advance. Work arrangements, intros, outros, solos; mark cues, set tempos, explore dynamics, talk moods and subtext. Convey to musicians what you want which saves time and money in the studio. Most pros want you to be happy with their work and like being collaborative and creative. If their name is on the project, they want it to shine.

VOCALS: Recording can feel brutal. Many good singers come away deflated, losing perspective on the beauty of creation while focusing on the minutiae of process. Know your material, be in vocal shape, get clear on interpretation. If possible, go into the studio a few hours to play, get familiar with the setup, the sound, the mix possibilities and the focus. Work with the engineer to find “sweet spots” for your voice, where you sing without strain, over- or under-singing. It is worthwhile to record vocals on a day when you can be singly focused, not managing other processes. Schedule vocals at a time of day you are at your best.

SESSIONS: Don’t expect to get it done in a day or two. Be open to what can happen spontaneously in recording. Record first takes or run-throughs, when things are fresh out the gate. Listen to the tracks you put down on headset and over speakers. Get roughs to take home and make notes on fixes, overdubs and edits. Often vocalists do a “scratch” track while instrumental portions are recorded; listen to those takes for what is usable. Make the booth or space your own. Turn down lights, bring your good luck totem, envision an audience, sip tea with honey, put away music and sing from your heart. Determine what works for you.

FINALS: Record, listen, fix, mix — then step away and live with the tunes for a time. Initial reactions can be misleading and hypercritical, with a tendency to overproduce and overdo. Some breathing room from the process brings perspective. Your ears will catch new things. Know what to fine tune and when to quit. You want the end product to retain an organic and authentic feel. Yet don’t refrain from using auto-tune when it’s best, or leave obvious blunders (although some give a mark of distinction to iconic projects). Share your mixes with trusted ears to listen and critique — from individual tracks to cohesion of the overall project.

Sandra Marlowe

Ted Sanchez

Sandra Marlowe along with local vocalist Ted Sanchez will appear with the symphony under acclaimed Maestro Anthony Quartuccio in a special holiday show with the South Valley Symphony at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 14, at the Gavilan College Theater.  The show Spirit of Music 2: Holiday will feature an evening of beautiful classics and holiday favorites including big band sounds, duets, and a carol sing.  Her new CD “The Heart Always Remembers” will be available at the show.

For tickets go to, First Street Coffee or Porcella’s Music in Gilroy. In Morgan Hill at BookSmart or the Chamber of Commerce office at First Avenue and Monterey Road downtown Morgan Hill.

On another note, some of the local wineries are already putting out their 2020 music schedules, like Seeker Vineyard with the first of their 2020 Concert Series April 18 and continuing every first and third Saturday through October with bands including  The Country Cougars, Rock The Heat, The Cook’n Fenny Combo, Steel Horse, JJ Hawg, Moondance, Lavendar Fields, Undercover, and Trainwreck. All music takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. Visit or their Facebook page for all dates.

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Mark Fenichel

Mark Fenichel is the Advertising/Marketing Director for Morgan Hill Life with more than 40 years of marketing experience. If you're interested in learning more about building your business brand, contact Mark at (408) 410-4782 or email him at
Mark Fenichel