In this edition, our focus is on the editing room floor
As many readers know, I come from a more formal creative writing background than I do musical training. There’s an expression in writing I’ve heard time and again over the years, and come to embrace as my own—that sometimes you need to kill your darlings.
In writing, killing your darlings means letting go of your favorite material—an especially ornate phrasing, a stand-out scene, even a whole character that you love—in service to the larger manuscript. These moments the writer feels most attached to may also be the ones that call attention to themselves—the ones in which its clear the author is trying too hard, or being too precious with her work; or it might be that they resonate so well, so personally for the author that he’s blinded to how poorly they fit with all of the surrounding prose.
The same can be true in a cappella recording. Whether it’s your personal favorite song, a rare opportunity for a graduating senior to have had a solo, or a piece that is legitimately great but stands apart from the rest of your new album’s sound or themes, it may simply not be a track that should go on that album.
It’s hard to leave behind this sort of material that you or your groupmates may feel an emotional connection to, have worked hard on, or spent expensive studio hours recording. But in the end, you need to look out for the good of the larger project—is this track, this solo, even this aspect of an arrangement working in service of or at odds with your larger vision for the project? Killing your darlings can be a matter of objective quality, as well as a matter of <i>fit</i> for the recording at hand.
The material left on the editing room floor does not have to be erased forever, though. On the contrary, one of the benefits of the contemporary recording and social media landscape is that you can and should look for opportunities to take advantage of material you can’t otherwise use. Maybe it’s releasing the track as a free video or download in advance of your album release to stir up attention, or maybe it’s a matter of saving the track for a down period when your group is between projects but still wants to stay in your community’s collective consciousness. Maybe it’s a track you submit to very specific compilations for which it will be a better fit. Or maybe you even save it for your next album, when it will have a more natural place in the aesthetic of that project.
When it comes to recording, groups need to be ruthless about considering what is in the best interests of the album at hand. They can always find other ways to use unreleased material, and shouldn’t feel compelled to put it out in an unflattering light just because they already recorded it.