5 ways to make a better record - before you record it.
1. Write enough material!
As an artist, it is very tempting to attempt to write one perfect masterpiece from the outset, but in reality creativity is just a game of numbers. Ask anyone to come up with twenty ideas, then by the law of averages more that half of them will be terrible, one or two will be ok and most likely one will be a brilliant.
The secret that successful musicians and artists all share is that they have the ability to discard most of their output and keep the good bits.
Nobody paints a masterpiece straight away. You sketch, throw away, sketch again, try a new idea, sketch, try again.
Young and unsigned artists are never taught this, and it's a thing that successful artists learn over time. This is why you will often see a young band play a gig with one truly great stand-out song and nine average or bad songs.
At first it can be very hard to throw your precious material away but if you write with a more healthy view of "just trying ideas out" instead of "writing my masterpiece" you will be freed up considerably. Throw away bad songs. Throw away pretty good songs. Work on the excellent ones.
"If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward". Thomas A. Edison
2. Don't fear being you. You're unique and your music should be too.
There is nothing wrong with having influences, but trying to recreate your favourite band down to the exact guitar tones, accent and dance-moves is doing yourself a disservice. As well as being unoriginal (at best), you can guarantee that you aren't the only people copying that band. When a hip act comes along, hundreds of teenage carbon copies are sure to follow. Sure, borrow an element from another act but don't impersonate. The most successful acts have always taken an element and twisted it. Nirvana strived to do Beatles-esque pop songs in the style of ACDC but brought their own personality to the table. The Beatles were hugely influenced by African American artists but brought a whole lot of amped-up scouser into the equation.
Don't fear bringing your own personality into your music. Some of the things that you are currently trying to hide about yourself are the exact things that others will try and emulate in five years time.
3. Don't pigeonhole yourself
I don't know if you've noticed but the record shops have almost all closed down and music magazines are going bust, so there's no great benefit to being easily pigeonholed. In this information-saturated blog-driven age, the main way to be classified is "interesting" or "not interesting". If the people at the one remaining record shop in town don't know whether to file you under "death metal" or "japanese lesbian electro", it really doesn't matter as long as you are pinging up on people's radar as something to share via social media. If you are breaking the mould then GREAT!
4. Don't plan on fixing it in the studio
There are many quantising and tuning tricks you can do in the studio but the old saying "you can't polish a turd" is a truism. You can add a little pixie dust on a great song to make it shine - but all the pixie dust in the world won't help a crap song. If your instrument playing and your songs aren't good enough to make that record just yet, work on it and do it when you are. Don't think that just because - in theory - your bad drumming and out of tune vocals could be fixed, that they should be.
On the other hand, sometimes a song benefits from less than perfect delivery and unpolished production. The Velvet Underground weren't as technical and "well" produced as, say, Dragonforce - but they undeniably made better records.
5. If you're recording your songs yourself, get a pro to mix it.
Hint hint. Did I mention I have an online mixing and mastering service?