Choosing the right key for your song

Choosing a key for your song doesn’t just affect how high or low you will sing it. Different musical keys mean different moods and vibes for your song. You may notice one minor key sounds darker than another (Nigel Tufnel famously dubbed D minor to be the “saddest of all keys” in This Is Spinal Tap), or you might find a particular key sounds happier than the one a step below. Additionally, for instruments like guitar, the key can make the difference when it comes to chord structures and available open strings.

Much in the process of choosing the perfect key for your song boils down to personal preference… If you think the song sounds best in this key or your voice really reaches its full potential in that key, it’s probably the right choice for your song. But the most important part about choosing they key is not what you choose so much as when you choose it… You should always pick the key BEFORE you record your song.

Having the key beforehand is surely a part of being generally well-prepared with your music, but it also serves a functional purpose: it can be exceedingly difficult to change the key after the production process has started. Sure, it wouldn’t matter too much if you decide to change the key after the drum track is laid down; obviously there aren’t any notes to change there. But once you get to the bass, there’s pretty much no turning back without having to completely re-record new parts. There is some software that has the ability to do some pitch-shifting, but it usually sounds unnatural, particularly if it is more than just a half step or so off the original key. Keyboards and synthesizers can be a little easier to transpose, but since they’re usually one of the last instruments to be recorded, it’s pretty much too late by the time you’ve changed your mind.

Luckily, choosing a key signature for your song doesn’t have to be a difficult process. With Studio Pros, all it takes is a quick phone call with your dedicated producer, who will help you decide which key is right for your song. Here’s an example of a Studio Pros artist getting a little song key advice:

When Sound on Sound magazine editor Sam Inglis gave Studio Pros a test run for a review of the service, he recorded a holiday tune he wrote called “Nothing for Christmas.” When he talked to the Studio Pros producer who was working on his project, Inglis was advised to lower the key of his tune, then add a transposition to raise the key towards the end. This gave the song a calm, tranquil feel at the beginning which made it much easier for for Inglis to sing it (and stay in a jolly holiday spirit). Plus, by the time the key modulated at the end of the song, it gave the tune a whole new burst of energy and an interesting twist that instantly captures the listener’s attention.

Take a listen for yourself.  Here is Inglis’ scratch recording:

After Studio Pros’ full music production:

So you can see from this example that choosing the right key really does make a big difference for your song. But all of the musicians and producers at Studio Pros know that big decisions don’t always come easily, so they’re always available to listen, help and give advice to make sure your song is the best it can possibly be.

Start thinking about that tune you’ve had lying around but never got around to recording–is it in the key that it was meant to be in? If you’re not sure, take it to Studio Pros and breathe new professional life into your demo!

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