How to get from Point A to Point B: finally, in graphic form for the first time ever! - I encourage you to support your local flutist - A lesson in macro-recordonomics - Take your mix engineer to the mix engineer park. Let them run around without a leash for a bit. - Remember to water your drummer and store them in a cool, dark place - How to audio-recycle your wardrobe
The music creation process is all about getting you from point A to point B
As you can see from this highly technical graphic, there are multiple paths from A to B. Each one requires different amounts of time and money - the two main resources you have.
For example, you can practice flute for 1,000 hours and write an awesome flute solo for the song you have in your head right now (which inexplicably just NEEDS a flute solo), or you can pay someone who's already a good flutist (?) something like $35 to do it for you. If you have no long-term interest in playing the flute, the latter is a better use of your resources ($35 is preferable to 1,000 hours as far as your investment goes)
This week, I want to talk about what I feel is one of the most efficient time/money paths to take a band trying to make high quality recordings from Point A to Point B:
Record yourself in your current rehearsal space and then outsource the mixing and mastering to a pro engineer.
"Ohhhh Okaaayyy", you might say. "Aren't you a mix engineer and isn't this a little convenient?"
Sure, I'm a mix engineer. I also do producing and recording and happily help artists get from A to B by a path of their choosing. However, I'm also a musician who got into recording and mixing through struggling to get my own ideas to sound good. I'm writing this article from the perspective of that musician and the advice I would have given myself 10 years ago.
Here is why this is a technique I recommend considering:
1. You already have a space where you're (somewhat) comfortable
Presumably, you and your band practice. Whether that's in someone's garage, a rehearsal space you rent or in a recording studio, you are probably comfortable with the layout of the place, the setup that is required, the hours that you can be loud during, etc., It's not nothing to say that a comfortable space will lead to a more comfortable (i.e., better) performance.
2. Acoustics of a space can be less important for a hard rock record
Hear me out. If you're playing in an acoustic folk band, the space may matter more. For heavy jams, the most common miking techniques are "close-miking" - wherein the microphones are set up very close to the sound sources (amps, drums, vocals). Acoustics will still play a large role in the quality of the recording but when you're close-miking instruments you can do more to reduce the importance of room acoustics. For example, you can "deaden" the space by putting anything from acoustic panels to blankets, heavy curtains and clothing around to minimize room reflections. You can track instruments one at a time to minimize mic bleed from one instrument to the next. You can select microphones with hyper-focused polar patterns to reject more of the room reflections.
3. The techniques required for close-miking are not difficult to learn
In the grand scheme of things, it will take you significantly less time to get a good miking and recording technique mastered than it will for you to learn the ins and outs of editing, mixing and mastering in a DAW. Again, I'm a big fan of DIY. That's how I got into this whole gig to begin with. But if you're starting from scratch, your time will be better spent focusing and getting good recordings than on learning how to mix.
4. Getting decent quality recordings will unleash the potential of a mix engineer
There is a LOT that a good mix engineer can do in the mix. Having better sounding raw tracks will do a few things. For one thing, it will take the engineer less time to edit and massage the tracks into something workable. This can mean a cost savings for you. When I estimate work required on a track, I'm considering how long the editing process will take me. It also gives the mix engineer more flexibility since better sounding source material can typically be manipulated in more ways and more reliably without sounding like a flock of migrating birds. For example, good dry recordings can be given a sense of space in the mix by using reverb and delay effects. If you want your drums to sound like they were recorded in an opera house, your mix engineer will be able to do that with decent quality source material. With good technique, a mix engineer will also be able to reamp your guitars or reinforce drums with samples. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It's your performance - just beefed up. It's cheating only in the same way that renting a better sounding amplifier would be cheating. In other words, not at all.
5. Renting studio space for recording is expensive. Renting rehearsal space is cheap.
A quick internet search will show you the hourly difference between renting a rehearsal space and renting a studio space. If you're in a genre where tight rhythmic performances matter, or your music is somewhat challenging to perform reliably, or your bass player got too drunk and is having an off day, recording in a studio will cost you big bucks. There's also that comfort level factor. In a rented rehearsal space, rates can be half of what they are in a studio - which means you can work at a more comfortable pace.
6. The gear you need for a quality recording is more affordable than ever
You will need a few things.
- A mobile computer (laptop or tablet)
- Digital Audio Workstation program on your computer (e.g., garage band)
- A few microphones
- An interface with mic preamps
- A few mic cables
- A few mic stands
- A couple of pairs of headphones
This may sound like a lot, but it can be acquired very reasonably these days AND it's gear that you and your band will own and be able to reuse anytime you want to, at any rehearsal space.
I will be writing a lot more about this subject and offering some suggestions for getting affordable gear in the future.
7. Record while you're on the road
Cheap rehearsal spaces are EVERYWHERE. If you have the minimal setup mentioned above, you can pop into one wherever your band happens to be and get some tracking done.
All this said, why not just do the mixing yourself as well? If you have the chops, I say go for it! As I said, I'm huge fan of DIY. However, if you're a musician who's serious about putting high quality songs out there, you're on a bit of a budget, and you don't have much experience with post-production in a DAW, my suggestion is that the best combination of time and money is recording your own band and then outsourcing the mixing/mastering. This will give you a great result, a lot of creative control and keep your costs low for future projects.
I will be writing a LOT more on this topic here because I ultimately feel this will be a very workable model for many artists.