Authored by Andrew Kitchen.
With developments in technology, it is becoming more and more accessible and inexpensive to do your own recordings. Hence the explosion of band’s with Facebook pages boasting heaps of songs … but is the quality there? As artists – should we record and release ourselves? Where is the objectivity to the art that a producer would bring? Or is the freedom’s associated with releasing your own recordings, helping people who may not be able to afford the costs of a professionally recorded product.
I’m not going to sit on some perch and tell you that you have to go to a professional studio – because all you have to say is one word – Gotye. If you haven’t heard of this guy – then you need to. All of his stuff is self-produced and sounds fantastic. He’s the sort of guy that makes the larger studios quiver. He is making incredible progress in the Australian music industry all with music that he has produced in his own home. He (and others like him) are the exception. People who really can write music and produce it themselves (to a professional standard) are very few and far between – though they do exist.
If you are one of these people – stop reading article and get back to it.
For the rest of us humans – read on.
Let’s get a few things laid out:
The artist ‘hat’ and the engineer ‘hat’ are two very, very different hats indeed.
In recording studios, there are people who are called ‘recording engineers.’ They call them ‘engineers’, because that’s what they do – they build. They think in terms of foundations, structure, space and construction. Artists think in terms of flamboyance, grandiosity, over-production and artistry. When the two worlds collide, 90% of the time it works and a middle ground is met with (hopefully) great results. One works off the other. When you are self-producing your own work, you may (I can’t assume here) lack the objectivity to the work that enables you to make decisions to simplify the song from too many layers or from a cluttered arrangement.
Don’t get me wrong, dabbling in home studio equipment is only going to teach you skills – but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are an artist – ABOVE ALL.
A hazard that you don’t often hear about is this …
I know of a guy whose dream was to be Bono mk2. He had dreams galore and was always on about ‘getting the band together’ and ‘getting famous.’ He showed great potential and was on his way to becoming a great singer / songwriter. He thought the best way he could do that would be to get a loan, buy up heaps of expensive recording equipment and build a professional level recording studio under his house. And therefore, be able to spend the time he wanted and have the artistic control that he wanted as well. Great on paper.
Literally 10 years on, he is in massive debt for the gear and is no closer to actually forming a band and ‘getting famous.’ The recording equipment bug bit and he hid behind the excuse of wanting to have the ‘best gear around’ before he started writing and recording his own songs. He’s got great gear, there’s no doubts there, but let’s face it – I could spend $50,000 on a professional kitchen and still burn the bread in the toaster.
I remember a driving instructor telling me that you will head in the direction that you are looking.
No truer words have been spoken when it comes to this issue.
If you are a sginer/songwriter and that is what you want to do … and you also decide that you want to purchase some recording gear – make sure it doesn’t draw your focus away from what you should be doing.
Some studio roles that you may not have heard of:
- the person who oversees and guides the recording project to completion
- assists artist choose and edit songs
- suggests and rejects artists production ideas based on years of producing experience
- a good producer will find a happy medium between the artists vision for the recording and the realities of label ‘input’, budget and time
- maximizes the artists strengths and minimizes their weaknesses
- chooses and places microphones as per the direction of the Producer
- fault-finds if signal chain is crackling or not working
- breaks down the artistic vision of the Producer and Artist into nuts and bolts
- they can alter and colour the sound of a recording by using their knowledge of equipment
- commonly an assistant engineer is a ‘regular feature’ of the studio and knows the equipment log and what is available for the use in the recording session
- assists the engineer with intimate knowledge of the studios hardware and software
- number one studio-related trouble shooter
- making coffee (!) and being up to date about the good food places locally
- a person who blends all recorded tracks cohesively to create the final sonic painting
- they usually liaise with the producer about the larger vision for the project and are readily chosen for the backlog of artists they have worked with
Pro Tools Engineer
- this is a person who edits inconsistencies in the artists performance, cleans (or fudges) any distorted signals or edit points that may have gone unnoticed by others
- they have to be very clued up on the tricks and traps of the latest version of Pro Tools that the studio is running
- their most common tasks would be:
- using beat detective (quantizing plug-in for loose drummers)
- vocal align (pitch correction plug-in for matching doubled vocals)
- auto-tune (most commonly used to correct vocals)
- session routing (ensuring all recorded tracks are routed correctly within Pro Tools and will play)
- ‘comping’ tracks (meaning to listen to 10 performances of 1 part, and picking the best bits out of each take to create one perfect track)
- takes the finished mixes and equalizes all of the individual songs with consistent audio values (treble, middle and bass)
- ensures the audio is as loud on the disc as possible without creating any distortion
- aims to give an album continuity and flow
- sets the track order for the album
- creates 2 master audio cd’s – 1 for referencing and 1 for manufacturing
Now if you think you can wear all these hats … as well as the artist hat … then good luck to you!!
Other people can only treat your music as seriously as you treat it yourself.
Engineers are a special breed. While as kids, we (song writers/musicians) were jumping around our bedrooms holding tennis rackets as guitars dreaming of being Richie Sambora, there were other kids sitting down with headphones studying, analyzing, learning and having just as much fun. The former are musicians and the later are engineers. Now – both are equal. Both are obsessed with getting the best result out of any given song. Both have ideas (sometimes opposing) but both are, or should be, intent on bring the best out of the song and making it into all it can be.
As a songwriter with a budget Pro Tools rig I can say – be careful not to get caught up on the sound quality and stop spending thousands of dollars when you intend to go to a ‘proper’ studio and record it all again anyway!!
Ask yourself a simple question – what does a band do?
Bands exists to: perform in front of full houses, sell heaps of cd’s, tour the world, fulfill life-long dreams, become internationally renowned, record significant top-ten albums, perform with childhood heroes, sell heaps of merchandise and sign publishing and recording contracts.
A lot of people somehow forget one very important thing – A BAND WRITES MUSIC
… it all starts with the music!!
I can’t understand why after:
- years of learning how to play instruments
- finding the right band members
- forging a new sound over countless band practices
- hours and hours in song writing / refining material
- spending heaps of time on developing a sold web presence
- spending weeks, days and hours in cars and planes on tour
- playing as many gig as possible
… bands so quickly and readily cut corners on recording!!
You must understand that people are expecting big things when they listen to your cd – at the very least – a professional level of sound engineering and mixing. They will more than likely expect your recording to stand up against the latest albums that was recorded over 4 months in LA with a much larger budget. You must do all that you can to not sound like you need to make excuses or rely on the ‘underdog’ sympathy from the listener. The recording must stand up to professional standards.
- Don’t go to a studio that you know nothing about
- Decide on what you want out of your recording before commencing
- Ask around other bands and see if any of them have recommendations for you
If there are costs incurred that the band (as a separate financial entity from its members) cannot cover, the band members must dip into their own pockets to get the recording over the line. I know of bands who are waiting and waiting for the band to be able to cover the whole cost of the recording through live performance. Why wait? If you’re committed to the band – chipping in $500 each isn’t going to kill you. Plan ahead – save your money, go and get a casual job (I’m sounding like a parent here), because this band thing is going to cost money to get off the ground properly. Also remember that your first recording as a band is your most important – I would refer to it as your ‘establishing record’ … not just a demo. When you look at it like that, you realize the stakes are a lot higher. I believe that the ‘demo days’ are over and your first recording should be up to the quality of a commercial release.
‘Demos’ and ‘pre-production’ are for internal purposes only. You use these recordings to gauge where the songs are at and to play them to (not give them to) trusted friends who are going to give you a genuine and honest opinion.