You 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. 🙂
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.
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. 🙂 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]