Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Should I Record Myself?

This is a question that gets asked - or an assertion of pending action that gets made - quite frequently. The simple answer is, "record yourself if you want to record, but if a recording is all you want, leave that to someone else."

Let me explain.  A lot of people get this great idea that they can get some software and have a great studio in their rec room, and this great studio will have everything you will need to complete your album.  We've all been there.  Trust me.  When I saw a demo of Cubase at my local music store, I almost wet myself.  I got that, Jerry-rigged some adapters that would allow me to plug my SM58 (hey, they're used on stages for great artists all over the world....they must be great, right?   Right?) directly into my computer and get recording.  The end result was...well....not exactly radio ready.  This is what happens to everyone when they first try to record.  We've all been there.  

Why is that?  I mean, I used to make recordings before on my old Fostex X260 four track.  All analogue, baby!  I already had a basic idea of how to mix and record.  I have a degree in music.  I have an ear.  This should be easy, no?  

Quite simply, it comes down to two things:  tools and know-how.  After playing guitar on your $50 pawn shop guitar for two months, you weren't ready to gig.  The person down the street with a microwave oven, Easy-Bake cookbook and a dream of opening a bakery isn't ready for prime time either.  Your studio is your instrument, and like guitar or piano or anything else, it takes years to get really good at it.  Having a software package, an SM58, and a computer is akin to the carpenter who has a circular saw, a screwdriver and a measuring tape.  You're just not equipped enough.  You need a variety of microphones (remember, different tools for different jobs!), and preamps, and cables and stands, and DI boxes, and proper monitors, a proper room, and a host of other bits and pieces.   For even the most basic of full-band recordings, you're going to spend, at the very least, over $2000.  Of course, the sky is the limit.  A single U87 microphone will cost about $3000, and that's just one microphone.  And you can even go up a lot from there!  If that sounds like a lot (and honestly, it is...recording ain't cheap!), consider how much you will spend on tools if you're a dentist, or a carpenter, or a mechanic, or a baker.  If you're a guitarist, it's not unusual for someone to have a few grand tied up in guitars, plus a couple grand tied up in amps and pedals and such.    Your tools are your trade.  There's no way around it.  

Don't forget the time it takes to become good at something too.  It's not unreasonable to expect it to take a couple years or so of practice, just like it would take you that long to become a decent guitarist, or chef, or hairstylist, or hip-hop dancer.   Of course, every hour you spend practicing and learning about recording is an hour away from your guitar, girlfriend/boyfriend, job, school, writing songs, jamming with your friends, etc.  

So, if you want to make your own recording with the whole DIY aesthetic intact, expect it to cost you a few thousand dollars, and it will be done in a couple of years.  Of course, if you had a few grand, you'd just go to a pro studio, and surely, you were hoping for a release date sometime before the beer in your basement takes on a life of its own.  

The most cost-effective solution is to check in to a local project studio (I can recommend an excellent one in the Hamilton area....cough...cough.... ....cough...cough....haha!).  At such a place, you will find someone who has spent some years getting good at it, acquiring decent equipment and learning how to use it, and constructing a space with attention to acoustics, etc.   They'll charge a fraction of the cost of a pro studio.  In fact, you'll probably get your recording done for a couple hundred dollars or so and have it done by next weekend!  Don't expect pro studio quality, but expect radio-ready or even something you could sell and be proud of.  (Listen to some of their samples before you book so you have a guage on how good you can expect your recordings to sound!)

However, if you really are interested in learning to record, expect to spend some money and some time (just like anything else) and enjoy!

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