I am continually blown away by the plethora of talent showcased in SoundCloud and the sheer volume of great new music that pours forward! This is truly the golden age for DIY recording artists, independent labels and musicians looking to collaborate with others worldwide. Both the internet and advances in DAW recording have provided anyone who wants to record and distribute their music a path to be heard!
I decided to create this new section of the blog called the Recording Corner to talk about my experiences in the studio. There are so many DAWs, effects plug-ins and recording hardware options — not to mention microphones, guitars, amps and instruments — a musician can easily be overwhelmed with choices to make.
I’ve gone through many phases of recording — from recording on tape to completely in the box, from working with full bands and tracking live to sequencing drums and other tracks behind guitars and vocals, from having nothing but an SM57 and a SansAmp to acquiring a myriad of pedals, guitars, effects and plugins in pursuit of that golden sound. In the end, I’ve settled on the belief that you really don’t need much — all the effects in the world don’t change what happens between your fingers and the strings of a guitar or what comes out of your mouth and goes into the microphone. Ultimately, a song is an expression of you and your band despite the limitations of the technology, the time or the studio. Capture the emotions and energy and you’ve got something real.
I’ve always loved the idea of recording music. I remember sitting in my mom’s office as a kid listening to her blast music from the other room and pretending that the polka dot pattern on the wallpaper in front of me was a giant speaker! I pushed some imaginary sliders on the desk in front of me and made James Taylor a little louder!
Years later in college I purchased a TASCAM Portastudio 488 8-Track Cassette Recorder and spent the next 6 months learning how (and how not) to record, mix and master songs. I played and recorded drums, bass guitar, mic’d guitar amps and acoustic guitars and recorded vocals. My first 6 song demo was definitely lo-fi and not something I was quite ready to share with the world! Honestly, the process was exhausting and I felt like I was my own worst enemy, sucking the life out of my work by doing things over and over. But I learned three valuable lessons recording those demos.
First, while some magic does happen in the recording studio, it’s best to know where you’re going with a song before you commit the time and energy to record. It’s like the old saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” At the very least, make sure you have a great chorus melody. If you also have some verse melodies, even better, but a killer chorus melody (placeholder lyrics are fine) will at least ensure you’re headed in the right direction.
Second, get it right in the recording and don’t try and fix things in the mix. I remember my friend HK Kahng, producer and lead singer of Buddha on the Moon, subtly telling me this one afternoon while I fretted over a mix. It was not exactly what I wanted to hear at the time. No one wants to hear that after spending hours trying to mix a track. But it was what I needed to hear. And it was what I needed to realize on my own. No combination of effects or doubling or fancy mastering is ever going to fix a track that is missing soul and energy, is not the right part or just doesn’t feel right.
And this leads me to the third and final lesson learned — feel. There’s no meter or monitor that can tell you how something feels when you’re listening, and you only get one chance to actually hear something for the first time. So remember how a track feels in those early takes on playback, and recall that feeling later on to know when to stop recording, punching in, mixing and mastering. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s time to take a step back. But if it feels good, it might be time to wrap up and move on to the next song!