How did you record your very first album? My first one was a doozy. Imagine a clueless, 17-year-old version of Joe, hunched over an old PC in his parent’s living room, playing guitar and singing into the skinny little diction microphone that came with my parent’s computer.

You know the mic I’m talking about, right? It’s the same mic the computer nerd used in Ocean’s 11 to communicate with Brad, George, and the rest of the gang. Here’s a picture to jog your memory.

So you’ve got this mental picture, right? I’m sitting there with some recording software my buddy let me borrow, thinking I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread. After all, I was recording an album!!

You couldn’t pay me enough money to release those recordings to the public now. However, it was that first experience with recording that got me hooked.

Years later, I’ve gone from being a kid with $10 microphone to having a fairly nice home studio. (Click that link to check out the video tour of my studio.)

Do I have the best setup in the world? Not even close, but I do have a nice setup, and I can get some great-sounding recordings out of it.

How Did I Get Here?

Did I simply go out and buy up a bunch of gear? Not at all. In fact, it was several years before I even got an Mbox, Mac Mini, and Pro Tools. I bought the gear as I got better.

As I’ve said before, Gear Acquisition Syndrome won’t solve your problems. Better gear does not a better engineer make. (Does that make sense? I think it does if you say it out loud.)

In fact, buying up a bunch of nice gear could ruin your dreams of having a home studio. I had a particular customer at Sweetwater. Let’s call him Bob. Bob is a classic example of buying too much too early.

Bob had wanted a home studio his entire life. He saved up a huge sum of money to make it a reality. (We’re talking less than an Avalon, but more than a Corolla.) He had never recorded a lick of audio in his life.

We spent hours on the phone putting together this big system. It took a long time to explain how everything worked, and I had to basically build up his recording knowledge from scratch.

I urged him to start small, but he wanted to go all out, so we did.

The result? I called Bob six months later, and he had still not recorded a single note. He had un-boxed everything, put gear in the rack, made sure it all powered on okay, but that was it.

Bob was overwhelmed. He didn’t know where to start. He was paralyzed. He had a room full of gear that would make any of us drool; yet he didn’t know how to use any of it.

Baby Steps

Any “What About Bob?” fans out there? Remember the “baby steps?” I honestly picked the name “Bob” before deciding to talk about baby steps. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you focus too much on the gear and not the process, you’ll end up frustrated and overwhelmed. At that point, you may be tempted to give up music and recording altogether and take up boating or something. I don’t want that to happen.

What did I do? I took things slow. I studied a lot. I learned from people who knew more than me. I then took what I learned and tried to make sense of it on my own. I messed up a lot. I ran into a lot of obstacles, but I slowly learned how to overcome them.

Got a question? Leave a comment.

  • tobybaxley

    Admittedly I am a former G.A.S. sufferer. I have promised my wife that I will buy no gear until December 31 (so I can expense it on my taxes of course).

    I started out with an Alesis Qs 8.1 and Cakewalk Professional 8 (the pre-cursor to Sonar Home Studio, which I still use). I had no idea you could record audio into the thing so I was just using it as a MIDI sequencer. Playing back 8-10 tracks through the Qsynth was awful. The quality of the sounds was dismal, but I just figured it was par for the course so I pressed on. I borrowed a DAT machine from work so I could make a split track recording for my uncle who had written a song. I ran the output of my synth into one side and plugged a borrowed EV N/D767 into the other. I gave him a stereo track as well.

    On a later project, I borrowed a mini-disk 4 track so I could record the track and a vocal without splitting them left and right.

    Once I figured out that I could record audio directly to my computer, it was like a whole new world had opened up…except that I only had the basic SB sound card that came with the computer. I had a real problem with clipping the input levels. I thought I was hot stuff when I upgraded to SB Audigy 2 with the breakout box. I used that for several years until I got my first professional job singing a demo for a songwriter friend. Snap, crackle, pop! I hadn't heard that before. In a panic, I upgraded my software, and interface; dumping the SB for an M-Audio Delta 44 that I use to this day. I've upgraded my mics, too, from borrowing a dynamic mic, to using a MXL990 and an AT-2020. I have a friend who lets me borrow his Neumann TLM103 every now and then. I also upgraded my preamp, just so I could run more than one mic at a time (since the Delta doesn't have phantom or pre-amps). I was using an ART TubeMP Studio (which still works quite well bTW) and now I use the Pre-Sonus BlueTube dual (which I bought because it came with the AT-2020 as a free gift.)

    There you have it. My long, slow crawl to audio greatness. Ha!!!

  • DreamsilentProductions

    I did my first recordings using my laptop's built-in mic, recording drums by putting the laptop at the other end of the room to avoid clipping! The quality was awful, not to mention that once there's 8 or so tracks up, the noise of the laptop fan has been multiplied many times to the sound of a jet plane in the final recording!

    I used Kristal back then, a wonderfully simple and free 16 track DAW. No MIDI but it was perfect for a beginner like me learning.

  • jayrenz

    I started off using a Logitech webcam, with a built-in mic, accompanied by an old version of Cool Edit. I worked over to Adobe Audition 2.0 which is very similar, if not the exact same program with a few extra settings. At the time I was on a PC, and it took about 3 years of doing that until I moved over to getting myself a Macbook Pro as a graduation gift. From there I got myself an Mbox 2 Mini, and grabbed the cheapest condenser I could find. I was recommended to get the Audio Technica 2020 from an engineer buddy of mine. Since then, I learned by experience. I'm still learning & caught onto certain things in Pro Tools thanks to Mr. Gilder ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Logitech webcam. That's awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I used the same microphone for my first recordings! They were awful! Not only did I use that diction mic, but I actually had tracks playing in the background without headphones, because I was embarrassed by the sound of my singing solo! Maybe that's why I'm a stickler for 0-Bleed now.

    • That's awesome. We should start a support group. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I once saw a Craigslist ad for gear. The guy was selling off two set of monitors from M Audio, two different mixing consuls, Protools and Cubase, a Telefunken and a Neuman, a Focusrite and a Mackie input… he had photos and all of them showed the gear on white tile and broadloom carpet in front of new white drywall. My guess is that I was seeing his rich parents` basement. He bought everything he needed to be a producer and could not do it. So he bought everything again and still could not make music. I tried to lowball him on some of the gear and only received an angry email.

        I would kill to have all that gear, but not all at once, and not ten years ago.

        • Wow. Sadly, that story is far too common. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • danlueders

    Roses are red; violets are blue. I'm a schizophrenic, and so am I.
    -Bob

  • Rick H

    I should have learn to walk before i ran.
    I have jumped around the whole recording process. First I learned how to mix then to track. Never thought about the editing part, wish I did. I'm a drummer and now I have this nice sounding mix except for the timing. I've tried and tried again to punch in to fix the mistakes but jumping from behind the drums to the board and back to stop and listen for the perfect take gets frustrating. I did try loop recording but then you have all these multiple takes, now what! So here I am figuring out how to use the editing to pick out the best take and quantize the parts that are off. No problem if it was one tack, but 10 tracks from the same source. Challenging!
    I haven't seen anything out there regarding editing takes from a drum kit. So it's all trail and error for me.
    Hope to see some suggested technics to edit in Cubase

    Looking forward to this up coming webinar!

    • Hey Rick, I spend THREE WEEKS on editing in the HSC Production Club. I show
      you how to edit everything….it's a lot of fun, and it makes a HUGE
      difference. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • vinayk

    You make a good point Joe. Back when I was in high school I recorded a good few songs into a old version of Cool Edit, using a borrowed SM57 and my guitar plugged in directly to my soundblaster. I couldn't play guitar half as well then, but it was quite fun!

    I'll have to disagree with your G.A.S point in one regard. I work in a very busy day (and often most of my night) job, so in the very little time I get to play with my musical gear, I want everything to work nicely. I don't want to sit worrying about drivers, cpu load, poor D/A converters, and ways to get around inconsistencies in my gear. So i've gone and got a nice setup (though not all super high end – but awesome enough) such that I can just start up and play with no issues what so ever. It's made so much difference to have a great sounding drum plugin that I can trigger with my vdrums, great amp sim/mike for guitars and piano plugin for my keys.

    And I have gone through a number of different DAW programs (fully paid) before settling on one that fit my musical workflow the best (Live). And I have found functionality say in logic that isn't replicated in live, and i've realised that “I” don't like Reason/Record (I find them clunky) – and so they are sitting as pseudo white elephants.

    But on the other hand if I want to record a synth part, I can fire up and do it, or if I want a great guitar part I can do the same (lack of ability being the only limiting factor). Do I know how to use everything well – hell no. But I have a lot of fun playing with it, and the way I see it providing things don't break down this stuff should all last me for ages (and I hope to be playing/recording with it for ages!)

    • Great points! The reason I discuss GAS so much is because so many
      people AREN'T like you. They're more like Bob. Rather than making
      music and getting better, they just keep buying more gear.

      I'm a BIG fan of good, high-end equipment. I'm just not a fan of
      people using their gear as an excuse for why they're not making music.

  • wilbury69

    I got you all beat. My first song not my album LOL was recorded on a battery operated reel to reel tape recorder with 3 or 4 inch reels on 1/4″ tape. The wow and flutter was unbelievable. It had a crystal mike. No plugins and if you wanted reverb you ran your mike through your guitar amp. Having computers is a blessing considering even your worst recording was much better than my best at the time. By the way at the time you could buy a new Telecaster for $189.00 and a Strat for $229.00 MSRP. Enjoy all your high tech computers. Have a great day!!!!! Wayne

  • slightlyoffbeat

    Let it be known that that exact mic is sitting on my desk right now.

  • William Jones

    I'm so over G.A.S. at this point myself. LOL.

    • mackid

      I suffer from G.A.S. I just blame the cabbage …
      he he he

  • Cobiestudios

    I used to think like Bob when I started. Talking with a friend of mine help me to see that GAS wonยดt ride me anywhere. Just to the bankrupt. I stopped thinking that way and use the basic gear I have pushing it to the limit. Now Iยดm glad I listen to him.

  • danielhadaway

    I couldn't agree more with you about Gear Acquisition Syndrome!

    The first album I recorded was done with a Samson C01 (~$80)… I'm talking vocals, guitars, even the drum overhead! (The drums were MIDI)…

    The next album I worked on, I added an SM-57.

    In both cases the artist was totally happy with the end result.

    Now I'm not saying the end result was incredible, but I am saying that I know, without a doubt, that the album wouldn't have sounded any better if I was running through $50,000 of equipment, because my skill hadn't developed to that level.

    Great post, Joe!

    • Huge fan of the C01 as well! Recommend it to many people as a first time mic.

      And you’re absolutely right Joe…there’s no rush to buy gear. Just learn the craft and grow your studio as your needs change.

    • *High five* The C01 was my first mic, too!