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The Biggest Problem With DIY-Recording (And What It Has To Do With Movie Directors)

The questions I get on the topic of DIY-Recording are fantastic and I'll absolutely answer them all, but there is one fundamental "problem":

People almost exclusively ask technical questions. And I totally get it. We all wanna know... 

  • ...how the gear works
  • ...how to set everything up 
  • ...the secrets to dialing in a great tone 
  • ...how to avoid technical issues like hum, latency and running out of CPU power

etc...

But the truth is, this is the easy part. This can all be learned quickly and I'll show you how to do it, of course. But please don't start with that. Not before you've read this post.

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I don't want to give you the impression that it's all about the setup and the gear. Instead, I want to start by telling you about the biggest problem most people face when it comes to DIY-recording.

And most of them don't even know they have this problem.

So, what is it all about?

In this day and age everybody can make records that are technically fine. And while this was the biggest issue in the early days of home recording, there's a completely different set of challenges know.

It's about how to make a record that's exciting, resonates with people and stands out from the crowd.

Having a decent sounding record is not enough anymore. It's not enough to record clean signals, avoid hum and noise and make it technically flawless. Not at all. The last thing the world needs are more perfect but boring records. To make something really impactful requires bold moves, committing to stuff early on in the process and most of all:


A clear vision of the thing you want to create.

And this is especially hard to do if you record your own music. Because you have to be aware of the fact that you are the artist, the engineer AND the producer in one person (or as a group of people, your band).

The differences between those roles are the following:

The producer is the one who has the creative vision, who guides everyone involved through the project. He/she never loses sight of the goal and he/she's always looking at the bigger picture, the 10000 foot view on the project. Think of this role as the role a movie director has. He/she doesn't operate the camera, but is in charge of the creative decisions and knows exactly how everything will work together in the end. In a traditional recording studio situation there was this producer and then there was one or more engineers. The engineers are the people who actually turn the knobs and set up the microphones. They know exactly how to bring this vision to life, how to capture the sound that the producer and artist are going for. 

If you have to combine all of this in one person, it's VERY difficult to stay objective and to not get lost in the details, but instead focus on the big picture.
 

Here's what you can do to overcome this:

  1. Make a plan and have a clear vision of what you want to create and achieve. 
    How is this supposed to sound and why?
    What emotions do I want to evoke with this?
    Who is this for?
    Who is my target audience?
    How can I reach them?
    What resonates with them?
    Or do I produce just for myself?
    If so, what is it that's really important to me and my creative self-fulfillment?
    Try to come up with a pretty defined sound in your head.
  2. Get the gear out of the way. Once you know how to set up and operate your equipment, stop worrying about it! It's all just tools and as long as they work, you're fine. The stuff that really matters are your ears and what's in between them. 😉 Listen carefully, focus on your vision and use whatever you have available to get as close to it, as possible! I'll help you do this with confidence, so that you always know exactly what to do in every situation.
  3. Stay objective! Make breaks frequently, while writing and recording. Step back a bit and listen on different speakers, from the room next door, or after you were outside for a walk and come back in with a fresh perspective. Always try and remember the sound you originally had in your head and compare that with what you have.
  4. Get feedback and make the feedback loop as short as possible. That means, let your friends, partner or any people you know and trust, listen to your work and give you feedback. Keeping this feedback loop short means to let those people and their opinions in early in the process, before you get lost and head in the wrong direction. Don't just show it to people when it is perfect, but as soon as possible so you can learn and adjust along the way.
  5. Record demos and make pre-production! This is SO important! Always record all your ideas, because you can never really judge your own work objectively unless you record it and listen back. During playing, you focus on other things and hear everything completely differently. 
  6. If possible, split those roles up between you and your bandmates, so that everybody has a specific thing to focus on. This requires great communication skills and the ability to let go and forget your ego for a bit, but it can make everyone's lives easier and the product SO much better. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of that and use it effectively!
  7. And finally, make bold decisions! If you like how something sounds, commit to it! A lot of people will tell you to always err on the side of caution. They'll say things like "Don't use effects during tracking", "avoid distortion", "record everything flat", "you can't un-EQ later on, so please be careful", etc. I say that's all BS. As long as you follow your vision and keep the desired outcome in mind, you can do whatever the fuck you want! It's art, there are no hard rules! And exciting art never comes from a mindset of safety and avoiding risks. You like how it sounds and it's part of your vision? Cool, record it! Don't leave important decisions for later. Decide now. The more options you have later on, the bigger the chance to get off track and miss the original goal.

I hope this helps you get in the right mindset and serves as a little motivational boost to go and make amazing art. Cause that's what it's all about, right?

I will of course always help you with your technical questions but I will always only view that stuff as the means to an end. As I said, that's the easy part. 😉 

Let me know what you think about this and what you do to stay objective and to successfully combine the musician/producer/engineer roles within your band. I'm always curious to hear your stories!

Now you can move on to the other stuff and please make sure to submit your questions for the Q'n'A sessions! Keep 'em coming, technical or not! 😉

benedikt@theselfrecordingband.com

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