ShhYou may remember a video I posted here a week or so ago. It was the one where I was showing you how to import session data…at 5:30 in the morning. πŸ™‚

That was with a buddy of mine who drove all the way down from Indiana to record drums at The Walnut House for his upcoming album. We also tracked acoustic guitar and some vocals. I got an email from him yesterday about vocals. He spent the last few days re-recording the vocal tracks in his home studio.

He tried several different microphones and preamps, but he ended up settling on the Blue Woodpecker and the Focusrite Trakmaster Pro (which I own). Here’s the interesting part. When we recorded the vocals at The Walnut House, we used a Neumann U87 and a Universal Audio M610 tube preamp. Why is this interesting? Let’s look at the price difference between the two:

Setup #1 – Woodpecker ($1,000) + Trakmaster Pro ($340) = $1,340

Setup #2 – U87 ($3400) + M610 ($800) = $4,200

Setup #2 costs three times as much as Setup #1, yet he liked the vocal sound from Setup #1.

Why am I telling you all of this? What does it matter? Because it demonstrates perfectly what I’ve been trying to say for the last week or so. The gear is not nearly as important as the person using it.

High-dollar gear?

Chances are you check out some of the audio forums out there. If you do, then you’ll find all sorts of stories like this. Engineers will compare one piece of equipment to something much more expensive, only to prefer the cheaper one.

Am I saying that there’s no place in the world for expensive equipment? Not at all. I’ve used it, and it’s amazing. The problem is that a lot of home studio owners hear people rave about this high-end microphone or that high-dollar preamp, and they freeze. They stop everything and wait around until they can afford one of those high-end pieces of gear. They think, “Well, my gear is sub-par. I can’t possibly make good recordings without upgrading first.” Nonsense. (See Gear Acquisition Syndrome.)

Here’s my take on it. When you’re first starting out, and you’re learning how to record, you don’t deserve the really high-end gear. That’s right, I said it. πŸ™‚ It’s kinda like buying a Lamborghini for a 13-year-old. He can’t even back out of the driveway yet…he certainly can’t appreciate such a sweet vehicle.

Just about any recording equipment you buy today will have a good enough sound quality to make good recordings. You can’t blame the technology anymore. You also can’t expect to be able to make pristine recordings with a Neumann microphone, Manley preamp, and Apogee converters if you can’t get a good sound out of a $100 microphone and an Mbox.

Does one technically have a better sound quality than the other? Yep. Does that mean your stuff is gonna sound better? Nope, not until you learn how to record. Not until you’ve put in the time to learn your craft.

It’s just like any other art form. I can’t expect to grab a chisel and a hunk of marble and come up with anything spectacular. Heck, I’d probably hurt myself.

It’s the same with recording. You have these amazing tools at your disposal, but you need to learn how to use them.

I’m not just talking about microphone technique, either. I’m talking about the entire process, the production process. Getting a good vocal recording is one thing. Learning how to make that vocal sit in the mix is an entirely different thing.

Put in the Hours

I’ve already said this once, but it deserves its own section in this article. You need to put in the time to learn how to make better recordings. That new plug-in bundle isn’t gonna save you. That microphone you’re saving up for won’t fix all the issues you’re facing.

You’ve got to invest time in making recordings. Start this weekend. Throw up some mics and record a song. Work it from start to finish. Make it sound as amazing as you can. Once you’ve finished. Start again.

Just like with anything creative, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be. Instead of guessing around for EQ settings every time, you’ll think, “Well, I almost always have to do a 250 Hz cut on this particular acoustic guitar.”

You’ll start to collect all these little pearls of recording wisdom, and as time goes on, you’ll be making better recordings, and you’ll be making them in much less time than before.

Be Ye Comfortable

There’s more to the production process than the gear and practice.

Here’s what my buddy in Indiana wrote:

What’s weird is that I liked these tracks better than the vocal tracks we did at the Walnut House. I suppose it’s a testament to the fact that feeling comfortable is more important than the gear.

There’s your final take-home point. It doesn’t matter what gear you have in your rack. If the musician is uncomfortable, then you have no hope for an amazing recording. Sure it may sound decent, but a phenomenal recording is out of the question. (For more on this, check out my article called “Make the Singer Comfortable.”)

Whether you’re recording yourself or someone else, you need to get in the habit of creating a comfortable environment. Recording should be relaxing and fun, not stressful. This is getting at the psychological side of running a studio. If you plan to work with musicians, you’re also signing up for the job of making them happy. It’s a big task, but it’s a part of the gig.

Where to go from here?

Obviously, the “secret” to good home recordings is no secret at all.

You may have been nodding your head throughout this entire article. You agree that expensive gear isn’t always the answer. You agree that you need to invest time into your studio. You even agree that the psychological side of recording is important.

But you may not know where to start. You might have an Mbox and a mic, but you don’t really know how to go about producing an entire recording from song idea to finished master.

This is where I want to help. One of the biggest ways that I was able to go from knowing nothing about recording to knowing all the steps of the production process was by learning from someone else who had done it. For me, this happened in a college setting. I had professors in the industry showing me the ropes.

Do you have to go to college to learn this stuff? Not at all. That’s why I’ve developed an online training course for my readers. It’s called the HSC Production Club. As a member of the club, you’ll be a part of a group of home studio owners, learning the production process from start to finish. I’ll be teaching you through tons of videos, eBooks, and webinars, and you’ll have a place to interact with me and the other students and ask questions.

Membership won’t be free, but it won’t cost thousands like a lot of recording programs out there. We’ll jump right into the meat and potatoes of recording.

I’ll be posting more details later this week. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to receive the latest updates!

[Photo by Shyald]

  • Jeremy

    I’m a little bummed out because I spent like $2,500 on setting up my home studio, and I don’t know what the heck I’m doing! Maybe it was a quarter-life crisis…But reading this (and also RecordingRevolution) is going to help me put that gear to good use. Good article (convicting, in a way).

  • Tim Young

    HI it seems like 99.5% of what I read in books about recording is useless to me. I have protools express, but using garage band or protools or garage band will make no difference to me if it does not improve the sound quality I am getting.I play a number of different instruments, with my primary instrument being the guitar, and I also primarily play acoustic instruments and sing, and I have a mc mini that I got with the studio in a box. I need to get professional sounding recordings that I could send anywhere, and possibly to radio stations, and right now I am not getting this. What should I consider doing?

    • Hey Tim,

      Obviously there are a lot of variables here, but I liken your question to someone saying, “I want to be a professional guitarist, what should I do?”
      I think the answer is simple: get better at your craft. If your recordings don’t sound professional, keep at it. It’s unrealistic to expect pro results the first few times, if that makes sense.

      • Tim Young

        I have been doing this for around 6 months and the sound is not chsngeing. I do not have the intetest for reading about other then what I need to do. Much of it is just vocal and guitar, while there are several songs where I want to mix in other acoustic instruments.I Want to get the selections to the point where I can sell some music online or send them to radio stations.

        • It could be any number of things. It could be the gear you’re using, the room your in. It could also be your technique for recording, or perhaps the quality of the actual performance itself.

          I wouldn’t beat yourself up, though. 6 months is a short amount of time.

          • Tim Young

            I am kind of at the point where I want to get things done, and sell some music online, and send some stuff out.

            • I understand that. And no one’s stopping you from going for it. Just know that these things take time and patience.

            • keith stares

              You are basically saying ” I bought some professional oil paints and some nice canvases. 6 months on I’m still no closer to painting the Mona Lisa. What am I doing wrong?” Also your focus is all wrong. You are trying to hack the recording process just so you can quickly and easily get a product that sells. Well sorry to break it to you dude but there are home recordists out there who never sell anything, ever, even though they have recordings that could easily pass for professional. There’s no easy shortcut. You have to learn and learn and experiment and repeat and, yes, read. As much as it takes. On the other hand if you truly believe your material is the next big thing that the world is just waiting to hear, why not book a studio and let the pros get the best recording you can get. If your forte is songwriting focus on that and bring in people who know how to get the sound you want. I would seriously only embark on this recording stuff if you enjoy the nuts and bolts of the craft. If you are only doing it as a means to an end and you take issue with learning as much as you need (and there is SO much) I would honestly not even bother I’d sell that equipment and book a few sessions in a pro studio. You’ll end up with a product far far more quickly and then if you really are the next John Lennon you will soon have more time and money on your hands, not to mention studio time, and you can then worry about your next move.

  • tenkeys

    I felt like u were talking to me great post Joe

    • tetenkeys

      Count me in

  • Brent Brace

    if you can’t afford gear the major leagues use, buy what you’re able to, for less money. There’s some really good inexpensive equipment available. That said, keep in mind. If you want to play in the majors, you may need major league equipment to compete and your competitors have it. My advice is to work your way up until you can afford the gear you see and hear them use. Neumann, AKG, Manley, Sennheiser, EV, Shure. Definately.. Blue? Hmm. Cheers

    • You’re right. Great gear has its purpose, as long as we’re working on making our skills better.

  • Reid Howland

    I’m glad when I got started back in high school that I had nothing more than a four-track and a 57–I had to work hard to get what I wanted out of those, and learned a lot in the process. Limitations like that forced me to work on the sound at the source, forced me to really concentrate on mic placement and they taught me patience: there was a lot of trial-and-error.

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  • lucy52

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lucy

    http://businesseshome.net

  • Jimmy C

    Another great article Joe. I really enjoy your site.

    I guess another way to look at things is that it’s a great challenge to try and extract as much as you can from cheaper gear. I have a Studio Projects B1 LDC and an SM58. Looking at some cheaper pencil condensors next.

    I’m relatively new to recording, but I find it fun and challenging to see what works well in terms of mic type and placement with my different instruments.

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  • goes right in line with a quote I posted on my own site by Daniel Lanois: “Remember, energy and ideas override technology. If you have the technology, use it. But if you haven’t got the cash, don’t worry.”

  • Im all in πŸ˜‰

  • David S

    looking forward to the course, joe. give us a ballpark on membership if you can.

  • Great post, Joe, and I’m really happy to hear that you are making the HSC Production Club happen! From what I’ve seen of your free videos and blog posts, it will be well worth the money.

  • Martin

    Great article, Joe!

    I’m really excited ’bout your new idea and I’m pretty sure I will join the club when it’s available.

    You wrote that you learned producing and mixing in a special college. I’m doing the same at the moment, visiting SAE (School of Audio Engineering) Institute in Berlin, Germany. It’s my second year now and I’m working for my Bachelor of Audio Production.

    I’d really like to know which school/university you visited! How long did you went there?

    Regards,
    Martin

    • Hi Martin – I attended Middle Tennessee State University, or MTSU. It’s just outside of Nashville. It’s a 4-year bachelor’s degree program. Loved it. How are you liking SAE?

      • Martin

        Hey Joe!

        Normaly, it’s a 4-year bachelor degree program, too, but I’m doing a 2 year fulltime course. SAE’s got multiple Institutes all over the world, mostly in capital cities and if everything works well, i’d like to do the master degree course in America or Australia.
        I love the way of education at SAE because it’s really nuts-and-bolts combined with theory which is closely related to the momentary situation in music business.

        Since last year, I’m assembling my own little basement-homestudio and now I’m working on a name, online-presence and so on.
        Maybe, when it’s all done, we could collaborate a bit πŸ˜‰

        Cheers,
        Martin

  • carlisle

    this is a great ideal…. I’m there.

  • Matt

    sweet! keep us posted. I def. need to be “shown the ropes”

  • Darrin

    There are plenty of really bad mics and pres down in the cheap range that you will never get decent results with…But I can note that you can get decent stuff used in this soft buyers market that is happening right now…Ive bought AT40 series for the same price used as some new Behringer stuff goes for new…that is a point that needs to be made.

    As far as Im concerned you can pay for a u47…but get a similer sound out of an AT4047…Ill go for the Audio Technica every time…that allows me to have this hobby and eat too.

    • Hey Darrin,

      You’re right. There are folks making REALLY cheap equipment that doesn’t sound very good. That being said, I’ve heard all sorts of recordings done on some of this cheap gear that still sound decent.

      Your mileage may vary, and I certainly see where you’re coming from. My definition of “decent” might be a bit generous, too. πŸ˜‰

  • David

    I have no money at the moment, but your course sounds like it would be extremely helpful. Hopefully i’ll come into some cash soon so i can sign up. I feel like the only way for me to get past knowing nothing is to actually discuss these topics w/someone. Sounds like an awesome idea!

    • Thanks David. You’ll have an opportunity to join in the future. No worries. In the meantime, feel free to dive deep into the HSC archives. πŸ™‚

  • WILLIAM JONES

    Agreed, You don’t have to spend 6K to get a great recording. But you have to keep doing it to get better at it.

  • Congrats on announcing this, Joe, I’ve been looking for something like this for awhile. Count me in on HSC Prod Club when you launch!
    And you’re absolutely right, it ain’t about the gear…it’s about the ear…and the person between those ears working to get a good recording. Something can sound really good regardless of the gear combo, if the person doing it has taken the time to work on learning to use said gear, plug-ins, etc.
    In my foray into home-recording this past summer, I ended up way over-geared for my engineering skill level. I ended up taking a step back and just doing one-track-at-a-time simple demos, and make mistakes without falling into that “this sounds bad because I have bad gear” G.A.S. trap. I look forward to continuing to learn more from you and keeping this rhythm going. EP here I come…

  • B.C. Fortenberry

    I’ve always been amazed that people really do believe that GEAR is the limiting factor in the quality of their recordings. It certain doesn’t hurt, but most people would derive greater benefits by focusing on the fundamentals of microphone placement, proper gain staging, song arrangement, and rhythmic cohesiveness.
    Of course, I’m saying that having just spent about 6K on new gear…. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Billy. How IS the new gear?

      • B.C. Fortenberry

        It’s nice. New MBP with Logic 9 and a RME Fireface 800. Added some new mics to my collection. Tonight I’m mixing show I recorded Saturday night for these guys: http://bishopblack.com/

        • Nice! I’m glad you’re getting some business already!

  • great idea. congrats on getting ‘er off the ground.

    • Thanks dude. I’ve been putting it off long enough.