It is not uncommon to meet musicians or songwriters that record and produce entire albums on their own. Given the affordability of music technology, recording at home has become a reality that nearly anyone with a computer can afford. I encourage artists to become involved in the recording process at whatever extent is comfortable to them… just how far to go is a balancing act of both time and money. To create a good album there must be certain elements in both the art of production, as well as the performance and songwriting itself. This is a big subject but I’ve tried to highlight a few things to consider while deciding how much of the recording process to do yourself and how much to outsource.
Old School & New School
There are basic components of creating an album. Writing and performing the music, then engineering the recording of the music. Some artists would rather not think about sample rates, phantom power, bit depth, & will be found nowhere near the big red (record) button. For these people the recording studio is a sanctuary. The creation process of every album is a ritual, giving them the mental space to focus solely on musicality and performance. When they are situated in the booth, communication with a professional engineer allows them to achieve the perfect sound in their headphones. They don’t worry about aux sends, or what mics to use for their new Taylor guitar. All the details are taken care of with world class equipment by professionals that know how to use it. For some people this is perfect.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you’ll find thousands of people using their home computers and basic equipment to record and produce albums at home. Doing your own recording gives you the comfort and flexibility of working at your own pace, on your own schedule, and in your own space. You can spend as much or as little on equipment as you deem appropriate, and things like studio fees or unexpected cancellations due to illness are never an issue. Another benefit is the expansive toolset offered by current digital audio workstation software. Anyone recording on a computer has access to top notch editing tools, virtual instruments, samples, loops, and more. Knowing how you are able to digitally manipulate audio can have great influence on the songwriting process.
Bridging the gap
Often times bands will hire a producer to help close the gap between the raw, rehearsed material and the recording process. Producers dissect an artist’s music and alter or enhance it to bring the most out during the recording process. Production decisions can be anything from mixing up the song structure, re-writing lyrics, changing instrumentation to adding harmonies, or choosing how the song begins or ends. When it comes to actual recording, Producers can work with a band on their own equipment, or go into a commercial studio to direct the recording sessions. Often times bands are able to get better studio rates when working with a producer that already has a connection with the desired recording studio. By understanding the world of recording technology a producer can bring the best out of an artist while in the studio.
Pre Production & Demos
Having constant access to functional and affordable technology provides musicians a great set of tools for songwriting and preproduction. By recording “sketches” and demos, musician’s are able to get a preview of what their music will sound like before heading into a big budget commercial recording project. Inexpensive home recordings can be an easy way to save time and money when it comes time to record in a real studio. Home recording also helps build techniques and gives performers a chance to learn how their music translates from a live environment to a studio format.
How this all relates to Cooking
In many ways recording music is like cooking. Anyone can do it, not everyone chooses to do it, and if you’re like most people, you probably do it yourself at home, but let someone else do it for you on special occasions. A good recording (like a good meal) when prepared by a professional with the best gear (or ingredients) can expose you to nuances and flavors in the music that you wouldn’t achieved on your own. But it’s different for everyone, some of my friends are damn good cooks, and I’m not here to tell you how to eat :)