You know what they say, just because you CAN do something doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD.

There’s a common thread I see in the home studio world. A lot of home studio owners are musicians themselves. They record their own music. Sound familiar?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a bunch of different hats in your home studio. That’s what I do on a daily basis. One second I’m belting out a lead vocal track, the next I’m comping, editing, and mixing the song.

And I’ll admit, I’ve got this idea in my head that people will be REALLY impressed with my music if I perform every single part. All the guitars, all the vocals, bass, drums, etc.

Is it impressive to be the “one-man band”? I suppose it is to a degree. But is it best for the music? Probably not.

The reason? I’m not a bass player. I’m not a drummer. I’m not a female vocalist. I’m not a lead guitarist.

I’m capable of playing a bass part. I can program a drum beat. I can try to sing falsetto. I can fake my way through a lead guitar part.

And I’m sure it would sound okay.

However, if a REAL bass player, drummer, female vocalist, and lead guitarist were to play on the song, they would produce much better performances because they are operating within their strengths. A bass player thinks like a bass player. I don’t.

Now, of course there are exceptions. If you’re as talented as Dave Grohl, then yes, you can play every instrument on the album, and it will be amazing.

The rest of us, though, need to realize that we have both strengths AND weaknesses. You should certainly focus on getting better in your areas of weakness, but know when to pick up an instrument and when to hand it off to a better candidate.

Comment Time

So, what are you going to do differently on your next project? How are you going to “outsource” your areas of weakness to make your project sound MUCH better? Leave a comment and let us know.

I’ll go first. On my current album, I used all programmed/MIDI drums. They sound pretty good, but on my next record I’m going to book a studio and hire a real drummer.

Okay, your turn. I’ll need 15 comments before I post again.

[Photo by lizjones]

  • Another few thoughts that came to mind:

    – Programming drums may not be as desirable as a well-played, well-recorded drum track, but it is much better than a sloppily-played, sloppily-recorded one. EZdrummer and Addictive Drums sound pretty realistic. 1st choice: real drummer. 2nd: one of these programs.

    – if you can do everything yourself, it’s much faster and less frustrating to try to teach people the parts, have them keep messing them up, or changing them to something you don’t want. If you have a song that you want collaboration on, this is fine. Or, if you have musicians that work well with you and are quick to pick up on what you’re looking for, then great. But if you have a set vision for how you want the song to be, then it might be easier to do it yourself.

    • Perhaps. My experience has been the more I collaborate with people the better my music sounds. That’s all.

  • You do the best with what you have. I am singer/songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and i can play the bass and the drums. I have played with great musicians, and where I used to live I had the privilege of these musicians often playing with me for free. Now I’ve relocated, my funds are very limited (as I’m in school), but I want to release some music to promote myself at shows.

    What it boils down to is that you need a product to promote yourself. This is art, therefore, there is no “right” way to do anything.

    The ceiling for “better” will always be expanding. There is always going to be some new plug-in, microphone, preamp or piece of gear that will sweeten your recordings. But just because you don’t have high-end gear doesn’t mean you can’t release records that people will love.

    Examples I can think of:

    – Daniel Johnston, influential Seattle songwriter. Recorded songs he wrote and sang on the piano with a tape deck and sold them at concerts. That’s about as lo-fi as you can get.

    – Bruce Springsteen released “Nebraska”, one of his most influential albums. He recorded it on a 4-track, which he engineered himself. The production budget of this versus his other huge studio albums was quite significant, but the impact of the music was equal.

    – Bon Iver’s first LP “For Emma, For Ever Ago’, self-produced by Justin Vernon. This was the album that launched him to stardom.

    – Lenny Kravitz frequently plays everything, even though he easily has the resources not to.

    Regarding programming drums with EZdrummer / Addictive Drums – If that’s all you can do, then do it! People have been programming drum beats for decades, so where’s the shame in it? Hip-hop albums, rap albums… do you think rappers worry about a drummer, or it sounding real? Nope. Also, often times real drums are replaced by samples from these programs anyway when engineers mix them. If you have the money for a real drummer and the means to record them (i.e. house, gear), then go for it. If you don’t use what you have, and don’t let it impede you from releasing something.

    I write a lot of music in the Tom Petty / Roy Orbison / Springsteen vein, i.e. follksy roots rock. it would be great to have a slew of vintage amps, guitars, session pros and Glyn Johns or someone else to record my stuff. I don’t have any of that. I have EZ drummer, some good guitars, and a few decent yet humble amplifiers. Will it be quite as cherry as the production of these stars? No. Can I still make good music and release quality recordings? You bet!

    Too often I have waited over the years for the opportunity to do something in what I considered the “right’ way… big studio, lots of auxiliary musicians, etc. And maybe down the road, I can save thousands of dollars and do it this way. But the years go by quickly, and if you wait too long, you may miss opportunities for fans to hear some of your best songs.

    In short: make music. Do your best, put it out there, and play shows. Get it out there. If you’re worried that you are “overthinking things”, then you probably are.

  • SUNIL

    Awesome Joe…Its like you just stepped into my mind.
    thank you for unlocking yet another mystery in home recording πŸ™‚

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  • Travis

    Agree 100% here – well said Joe.

  • Joe R.

    I have asked musicians to come in and lay down some tracks in the past, even gave them copies to practice/figure out the parts, They come in to lay down the tracks and they dont know the song… I have even had to say what chord is comming up! These were all awesome musicians…. I would rather do all the parts myself than deal with that.

    On the other hand, I sent a song to a Bass PLayer, he recorded the Bass part within his own DAW and it was perfection, and I did not have to baby sit. I prefer having others play, and this provides the best results for me. This method takes good comunication.. The Musicians needs to know what you are looking for, I gave him guidlines and it was good for both of us.

    • Yeah, I think the key is communication.

  • Carl Simons

    I wrote Joe a request a couple of weeks ago asking for his professional advise on my music. I too play all instruments, guitar mainly, bass ok, keys not as much and vocals I am not. The point is I do it all for several reasons and it is NOT for the glory of it all. 1) Time – aside from my 8 hour a day job, my wife and kids demand my time when it’s home time until 10. after 10 – I work in the studio. 2) I don’t know any musicians at all. I could put an add in the paper for a vocalist, or keyboard or bassist, and more importantly a drummer. The problem is – See reason #1. My studio does not have drums nor can I fit one in my studio and 10pm not a good time to pound on drums. 3) Finance – I have to make due with the stuido instruments I have – I spend what limited funds I have on equipment and education. I get free learning where I can, others I gotta pay for. Long reason short – Time, money and resources are few, I make the best with what I have. That is why I am part of this club, to learn from all of you. there is tremendous talent in the club of Joe’s I am pleased to be part of it.

  • mark b

    omg i am such a crappy guitarist. everything i do songwriting-wise is half-ass learned short term then purged fro muscle memory so the next thing cn take it’s place. i’m primarily a drummer. i like to write songs on the guitar, come up with what i think are nifty little things worth recording, but can’t play the guitar worth a dollar. so i suppose i could get a guitar playing friend to play the stuff i try to do better, and in one solid take, as opposed to the massive comping i have to do to get things sounding ok. i think a little practice would be a better solution, though…

  • Good post Joe. I want to add another option: NOT doing the project at all. I have more than once started working with someone and very quickly figured out I was not the right engineer for the job. I just didn’t “get” what they were doing and I told them so. The success of the project was more important than the money or the initial disappointment (assuming they were). Sometimes you just gotta graciously walk away from the whole thing.

  • I do it all, mainly because it’s easier. On my first album I tried so hard to get someone to do the drums for me, and met with either indifference or cautious enthusiasm that went nowhere from my drummer mates that I ended up shelving the whole project and just doing a load of music that didn’t need drums. In the end I got a MIDI keyboard and Addictive Drums and did it myself.

    I give my music out for free, so I can’t hire anyone, and my skills at getting people to do things for me are, well, lacking.

    • Hey Colin, I had the same problem with my latest project (which I”m also giving away for free). Drums are a tough one because it’s the biggest time investment to record drums. People aren’t always super anxious to donate their time, when they know it will be a long endeavor. I would offer alternative compensation. Offer them all of the food and drink they can consume while they’re working on the project with you. Maybe swap services. Tell them you’d be happy to record their next project for them, if they play drums on yours.

      The key is to find musicians who just love to make music. Those are the people that will chomp at the bit to be a part of any project.

      • “The key is to find musicians who just love to make music. Those are the people that will chomp at the bit to be a part of any project.”

        Yep, and their performance will show that they love what they’re doing.

        Also, just because you’re not making money from your music doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t spend money on it. I mean, we’ve all spent money on GEAR. It makes sense that we might spend money on musicians from time to time. And also take into account the number of hours it takes you to personally program a drum part. Yes, it’s free, but at some point shelling out a few bucks is more productive than spending three entire weekends programming drums.

        • Good point! Sometimes spending a little makes a huge difference. Bringing in a talented drummer can sound so much better than programmed drums and even take less time to do.

          I’ve also found local drummers willing to play for pizza and a copy of the CD. πŸ™‚

          • Never underestimate the power of pizza.

  • Bobby Owsinski has been posting a lot of Behind the Sounds Youtube videos that show some really cool Beach Boys recording sessions.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/BehindTheSounds#p/u

    Those small insights into the process really point out how many professionals it (can) take to make a great record.

    Easy access to gear and unlimited recording time doesn’t make a bad song/arrangement good or an unskilled musician a pro.

    As for the “multiple hats”, that’s what’s making studios (even home studios) die financially these days. If you wear several hats for a client, do yourself a favor and charge accordingly. I’ve struggled with charging for simultaneous services, engineering and performing at the same time is a good example, but in the end we’re all specialized people with several valuable skillsets and we should be compensated accordingly.

    My $0.02 at least. πŸ™‚

  • David S.

    I’m a bass player. I’m a guy who can play drums. I can play rythmn guitar. I can sing decently.
    So, lucky me, I have a very talented lead guitarist who is my brother, and a wife who is an exceptional singer.
    my drum playing is not horrible, i can do more than keep time and quite frankly i’m picky about my rythmn section (bass AND drums). so, i like doing the bass, drums, rythmn guitars, background vocals myself and feel quite competent in those roles. The lead guitar, lead vocal I am happy to “hire out”.
    Oh, and I do happen to play very mean washboard.

    • David S.

      forgot to add:
      since I’m an average drum player, I am fortunate to be very skilled at bass. So, my bass tends to glue my rythmn section and hides any ineptitude in my drum playing.

  • Alex

    I am more than guilty of trying to do it all. I often don’t have as much time as I would like to dedicate to recording, so working out a schedule with other musicians can be hard. But after an attempt to set up mic’s on a drum set, and be the only person their to play them, I am definitely going to put in the time and effort to get a real drummer in to play them. While it is true that no one can play my songs quite like me, that doesn’t mean that in order to create something spectacular I don’t need the help of other people.

  • Morockin

    Good article. I guess the reason why a lot of musicians go for wearing all the hats in the studio is because they want to take all the credit. You’re right though it’s better to get someone that thinks like his instrument. What messes the art of collaboration up is Musician Ego. Let go of that and the project will be 80 percent better πŸ™‚

  • Al

    Scenario 1: It really depends on the area you are living; if you can’t find a person to hire (either as a permanent member of the band or as a session musician), then you will end up doing that part on your own.
    Scenario 2: You have found the person to do the job, but you don’t get the convincing result. So you have to forget about that guy and do it your way.

    In my opinion both scenarios apply to both musician and mixing/recording parts.
    And I truely believe that Joe’s previous post about pre-production includes this very important matter; “who will play this and that part etc…”

    • Agreed on both points. If you live in a secluded area it can be hard to find good players, but that’s why using sights like dropbox and indaba are so important. It allows you to interact and network with musicians like never before. For example, the bass player I mentioned above is a few states away from me, and I’ve only met him once in person for about 2 minutes. But he plays great, and is a good personality match, so bingo. We send sessions back and forth.

      On the second scenario, you want to be sure that you’re not too attached to your project. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. You may think that the bass line, or lead part you’ve come up with is great, but getting some extra creative minds on a project can never hurt. Just make sure they’re not awful players. πŸ˜‰

      • Think about the best concert you ever attended. Was it a solo show with one guy and one instrument? Perhaps, but I bet it was a group of several amazing musicians, each contributing his/her unique creativity to the songs. I bet nobody told each person what part to play. I bet they came up with it on their own.

  • I don’t play well with others unfortunately so outsourcing parts is tough. It’s tough to find people that I want to work with, and more importantly who want to work on my songs. I’ve yet to find a lead guitarist that I mesh well with, but was fortunate enough to find a great bass player for my current project. If I had to choose two instruments that I would want a dedicated trained player for, it would be bass and drums. They are the foundation of the tune.

  • Ricky

    First off, I find that there is a certain synergy that happens when you put multiple musicians in a room to create. In my band, I write most of the music and lyrics and, have tried the “playing everything myself” route. It was a very satisfying experience until I started letting people hear my stuff.

    I would get comments like, “it sounds stiff”, “it sounds over produced”, “something is missing”, “it’s great but there is just something that is bothering me”. I think you get the jist. Vague comments regarding that something that no one can pinpoint!

    It’s true, when the keyboard player, bass player, and drummer all come up with their parts to my song, I am not always pleased with the direction it takes. That said, after it’s recorded, mixed and mastered, they sound like totally new songs. Whether I like the direction they take or not, there is something really great about hearing a song I wrote after everyone (musicians, mixing engineer, mastering engineer) contributes their own individual ideas to the song.

    I guess it’s probably the reason the greatest hitmakers as a rule, don’t play all the instruments, record, mix and master their own stuff. It’s certainly why the major labels never allow it.

    The next issue is expertise. could I engineer my own sessions as well as an engineer who does it day in, day out for a living can? no way! Can I mix my stuff as well as a dedicated mixing engineer who has a successful track record? No way!, and, let’s not even go to mastering.

    For me, my home studio is a place where I can get my songs, arrangements, ideas out without feeling stress or pressure. However, I would never give up that synergy that happens when other musicians and talent contribute.

    The one last comment I have is that I do use my home studio to do overdubs. Often, at $175.00 per hour, the top flight recording studio is not the ideal place to work out parts. I do record Keys and direct guitars in my home studio. I prefer to do it in the recording studio but, I don’t have a problem saving some hours and doing some non-live keyboard (with midi) parts and guitar parts where I am using a guitar rig plug in…

    • Great points, Ricky. I think there’s a big difference between hiring out an engineer to record, mix, and master and hiring out musicians to play on the recording. (I have a loose definition of “hiring out.” I really just mean having someone else do it.)

      I think we would all agree that we’d rather listen to an AWESOME performance that was recorded poorly than a bad/mediocre performance that was recorded really well. Obviously, achieving both good performances and good recordings is ideal, but while I CAN overdub everything myself and get all the parts laid down, I might be shooting myself in the foot if I just end up with a whole hard drive full of so-so performances.

  • If I had the capacity to use other people, and the time to give them the tunes to learn, and the space to record them (especially drums) then I probably would.

    Doesn’t help that I like to do a lot of writing-as-i-record in the studio, so after doing lots of scratch tracks, arranging and pre-prod myself I’m pretty good in all areas. Except vocals. Its annoying because I’m not quite there yet with my voice, but since I’m a baritone if I get someone else to sing on a song I’ve written I’d have to find a strong baritone, otherwise the part will be too low for them.

    I’ll admit I’m not there with bass yet either, but I am a capable drummer and I can program drums in pretty well. I love doing it myself, less people to deal with and less people wanting a slice of the pie later!

  • On my bands album I produce and record. I play lead and rythm guitars. The singer does vocals and some guitars, and the drummer does his thing.
    I play a little bass, and we don`t have a bass player, so I have to do that myself (unless we find someone we like), and a friend is doing keyboards.
    Hopefully that will be all the outsourcing we need.
    Creative control is important, but then again, optimum sound quality is also important.

  • Sam K

    I *know* this is a problem for me, I *know* my stuff would be better if I involved more people, but I still have trouble letting go of creative control.

    • It’s a hard thing to do for sure. But if you turn to a good musician who knows his instrument, you’ll be so relieved after the first couple of takes.

  • hmmmm… i plead guilty to the charge of “one-man-band-itis”. i know LOTS of musicians, yet i sit home alone and get busy with things that are out of my turf.

    on my current project, i’m only dealing with songwriting, singing and rhythm guitar. i could program drums and bass, and have an EP released by myself, but wearing all those hats has led me nowhere.

    it’s time to do something different, like picking up the phone and calling someone for help in the rockin’ department…

    thanks for this post, joe! it’s like a call to arms for me. πŸ™‚

    • I’m almost done with my 10-song album, and I already wish I had hired out a real drummer rather than programming them. At the time I didn’t have the money to do it. Next time, Gadget…next time… πŸ˜‰

  • Greg Speier

    There are two sides to this coin for me…on the one hand, what you said about not thinking like a bass player (for example) is quite true. Guitar is my main thing, and I’m quite sure that I don’t think like a bass player or drummer or whatever else. If I did, I would probably play those parts much better. However, the more I play bass and program drums for my songs, the more I am LEARNING to think like a bass player/drummer. So, I feel like I’m growing as a musician and my ears are getting “bigger” when I do play with a band because I’m slightly more aware of what the other musician’s are doing. So, that’s the plus-side.

    The other side, as you mentioned, is that in the meantime, my songs aren’t as good as they might be with more skilled musicians joining me for the parts I’m not as good at. Sometimes, cost can be a factor, but I do have some great musician friends that I’m sure would come over and record parts for free. So, that’s what I’m going to try to do more of. Farming out a female vocal part or keyboards or bass or drums, etc. I’ve done a little bit of this, but perhaps I ought to do it a bit more.

    • And you can hopefully get together several songs that need bass or female vocals, and have them knock ’em all out in a single session.

  • Excellent point Joe. I think it’s important to know your weaknesses and bring someone else in who might record a better part than you could. Remember to do what serves the song best. I also believe when it comes time to mix a song you’ve written and recorded yourself, it’s important to let someone else mix it. It’s easier for another engineer to make the decisions when you might second guess every move you make, being so close to the project.

    • Great points…but mixing is so much fun… πŸ™‚

  • When my wife said my electric guitar tracks were “safe” I started hiring out an eg player. I am still programming drums, keys, and bass and I am recording acoustic guitar. I’ve also been using a female vocalist instead of straining my falsetto to sing alto. Great post, Joe.

  • I agree that’s why I like recording other people. I record myself for fun and to learn how to mix and EQ. I don’t think like a drummer, my bass parts are “OK” certainly nothing spectacular. I continue to learn to mix. I wanted to do your mix with me but I needed sound treatment more. A tough decision at best. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

  • Kevin

    I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none” musically speaking. I can play several instruments but none of them particularly well. While I know other players who have a lot more talent then me I’ve found in the past that many of my musician friends are rather flakey and aren’t often available to rehearse or perform. I think that’s what drove me to try to learn other instruments and record on my own.
    The one instrument I hire out is the drums. My brother-in-law, Craig Sowby is a pro drummer and sells professional, custom drum tracks at his website myonlinedrummer.com. Any of you needing real drums on your next project might want to check it out.
    His playing is a great addition to my tunes.

  • I guess I’d start out my response as being “it depends”…

    On the songwriting front, I pretty well perform everything myself because I’m doing most of the stuff for my own pleasure. I’m not looking to “sell” my stuff (at least not yet), but if I did, I MIGHT consider getting someone else to play it.

    I guess it also comes down to the level of control one person is ready to relinquish too huh? I, personally, love getting others’ perspectives on tunes I’ve written – it really fills things out to have another’s interpretation come through in unexpected ways. I like being pleasantly surprised – others may not.

    As for my scoring work, there is a bit of the control issue, but there are other factors that come into play that influence the “I’ll do it myself” mentality – namely time and budget. It’s kind of rare that I have the luxury of both or even one of those elements. My work usually comes at the end of the process where everyone else has come in late and the final due date hasn’t moved, so time is quite compressed. Preparing written scores and directing musicians is not an option. On top of that, budgets usually don’t allow for enough margin to hire appropriate musicians to play those parts…

    Very cool thoughts Joe!