The Rise Of DYI Recording-Why You Should Consider Not Doing It Yourself.
Black Friday has come and gone, and with it, I saw some great deals on microphones, pre-amps, and other home studio started kits that I wish I had available to me when I was a teenager (gasp) 20 years ago. If you have about $500-$1000, a computer, and a quiet place, you can record, edit, and mix your own album on Pro Tools and be ready to sell your music online! Honestly, you can! This is a great thing. The internet has given artists the ability to reach people all over the planet with the click of a mouse. Tools like the Mbox from Avid, and other home recording devices, as enabled anyone to create a professional sounding recording at a fraction of the cost of going to a recording studio. Awesome. Speaking as someone who makes a living running a studio and producing music, you may feel like my argument is out of fear of losing my relevancy in the current state of music making. Fair enough… But, I would like to point out the benefits of using a professional studio and producer for your recordings, especially when you are starting out in this business. In addition, I will suggest that the technology has now allowed for you to take advantage of the best of both worlds, recording at home and the studio to save on studio time and budget while getting highest quality product in the end. This should be the goal when you set out to create music that you intend to sell.
I recently had the pleasure of being on a panel of music reviewers for a company that was looking for new music for film and tv placement. I listened to 200 submissions and something stuck out right away. I could hear the stock loops in Garage Band, the stock setting for “make vocal reverb,” and other things like this across 30 or 40 of the selections I listened too, all by different people. I brought this up to the other people on the panel, and it led to a very cool discussion about the general fatigue listeners are starting to have for low end recordings. About 10-15 years ago, there was a novelty to sitting your bedroom and putting out a successful album. People were willing to overlook the general flaws in the execution of the recording because A) the music was good (which is 90% of the situation with any recording—I don’t care how good the production is, if the song is bad, its bad…) and B) Not everyone was able to get their music on Itunes, and other download sites. People weren’t yet paying for online music, they were sharing it at an unprecedented rate. The problem you have now, is that anyone for $50 can go onto tunecore and put their music, no matter how poorly produced onto itunes, rhapsody, spotify, and a thousand other sites. This has created a diverse marketplace of available music—and while everyone likes something different, one interesting thing has popped up: Listeners can now clearly hear the difference between a poor production and something made professionally because they have been inundated with self-made recordings unlike any other time since recorded music has been sold. Of course there are tons of exceptions, but in general, better produced product sells better.
As you embark on producing your first album of music, you should consider those folks who you will be asking to pay for your music. Whether its before hand with a kickstarter campaign to raise the money to record, or, after when its made and they can hear it, and choose to purchase or not.
I f you are looking to record an album, and sell it, its unreasonable to assume that you can learn the techniques needed to produce a great sounding album as soon as you unwrap your Mbox. Hiring a professional to help arrainge, enhance, record, edit, and mix your music will in most cases greatly improve the final product. A good producer is able to help cover the weak spots and enhance the great parts of everyone’s performance and usually help a band or artist take the music to places that they may not have considered. Now, of course I am not suggesting that you don’t embark on learning these things—you should! There are tons of on-line resources to help learn, and most community colleges have excellent classes. I am suggesting that you don’t try to learn while recording your project!
In general, studios will have better spaces for recording, a better selection of mics designed for different purposes. (Drum mics, amp cab mics, vocal mic etc.) Most important, you will have a professional engineer who knows how to best capture and mix the recording for the best possible outcome. Your vocal will sound a ton better on a $5,000 Neumann mic, through a nice Neve pre amp and a compressor than it can through your Mbox or other home studio device. However, beyond that, when you are trying to “run the board” and coordinate the musicians, hook up cables, deal with levels, watch for mistakes etc, you aren’t focusing on YOUR performance. Having someone else worry about the technical side of things frees up you to be creative and give the best performance you can. I can’t stress this enough. I don’t care how high end a studio is, how expensive the gear is, how famous the producer is, if your guitar is out of tune….game over. Performance is the #1 thing in getting a great sounding recording. Having a professional to listen and coach your performance is worth every penny you spend in the studio. I should point out here that you should make sure you chose a studio and engineer/producer that is experienced and can and will do these things- that’s a topic for another time.
Now, I realize that studios are expensive. Getting the money together isn’t easy, and, if you do set up a home recording studio you can spend as much time as you want working on the album. I agree. This why I encourage people to look at combining both situations. Use your home studio to record first drafts of all your music. Work out the kinds, practice playing to a click track, see how your harmony vocals are sounding. Identify the areas that are great, and the things that you need help on. Then when you ready, you can go to a studio to record, say, drums and vocals only. You can use the room and specialty mics to get a great drum sound that you couldn’t get at home, and the same for vocals—then you spend your own time at home recording your guitars, keys, etc. When everything is ready, shoot all the tracks back to the studio for mix and master. You can save about half the money recording an album doing it this way, plus, you will learn a lot from your studio experience that you can apply at home.
In the end, for a typical rock, country, pop band expect to pay about $3000-$10,000 depending on where you live and who you work with for an album. If you do some at home, you can cut that in half. If you are a singer/songwriter, ask studios to hire professional drummers, bass players, key players etc and you can get some great performances—and then take those home and work on your guitar parts (or whatever instrument you play) and vocals.
Considering that it realistically costs about $3,000 for a decent home set up with a good mic, pre amp, interface, and computer, its not that much more to do it all in a studio.
In the end, the current state of the music business is this: labels and other end “users” for your music want turnkey product. They days of a band getting signed to a record deal and given a year to hang out in studios and write and record music are long gone. They want product, ready to go, ready to sell. You will see more and more now in calls for music submission for publishing the requirement that the music be recorded professionally. Beyond that, you now have the tools to make money without the need of a record label. You can sell your music at gigs, online, however and wherever you like. The likelihood that you will recover the money you spend on a recording is a lot more realistic now than ever before. I feel you have a responsibility to your fans to provide something worthy of their $15. If you spend $5,000 on a record, you only need to sell 300 CDs to get that money back. Sounds like a lot, but, if you have 4-5 people in band, look at everyone you know- friends, family, fans etc—That should be an easy task to accomplish in a year. Especially if you are playing live once a week or more—it all adds up. I released my first album in 2003. I spent $7,500 on it. Since then, I have sold 8,000 copies- for an average of $7.00 a CD. Over 10 years, I have earned $56,000 on that investment. Now, it took me almost two years before I sold enough CDs to cover the initial $7,500—but, I still have that CD, and I still sell them. I believe that it was the quality of this recording that to this day, still helps to sell it. Remember not to think short term…
Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy your first experience recording. It’s a great feeling to hear all your hard work come into place and its nice to read reviews and hear about other people enjoying what you created.
Really excited to announce the release of my third album! Sababa is a band that performs original Jewish rock music. We were able to raise over $18,000 on kickstarter- this enabled us to hire some really high end studio musicians and spend the time to create something nice!
Hope you enjoy, www.sababamusic.com
This is a great video by our client Richard Shine, a song written for his nephew killed in action in Afghanistan.
Thank you Richard for your kind words about our studio-
An open letter to fellow musicians,
My name is Richard Shine. I’m a songwriter from Colorado, new to the Arizona area. I mostly write songs for children but was inspired to write a song for my nephew who was killed in Afghanistan last August. I got such a tremendous reaction from everyone who heard the song that I decided that I needed to record it to share with a wider audience. I didn’t have a clue where a good studio in the Phoenix area was (and didn’t know anyone to ask), so I began searching on line. I happened upon Scott’s website for Brick Road Studios. It looked very professional and he seemed to have all the latest digital equipment so I scheduled some time (I thought it was a reasonalble rate) and went in cold turkey.
Well, I feel very fortunate to have found Brick Road and Scott! Brick Road has a relaxed, comfortable and professional atmosphere, but is equipped with all the latest digital equipment, mics, and accessories needed to put out a great recording. Scott is extremely proficient with numerous recording programs to enhance and refine your song He was very easy to work with, had great suggestions on where to take my song and even added his superb keyboards to the mix. He went way beyond my expectations of what this song could sound like! The entire experience was a real high (no drugs involved!). Scott was also very professional and timely with making changes to my mix and giving me time to listen and reflect on my song. I never had a problem getting in touch with him to make some mix changes or to send me an updated version of my mix. I would highly recommend Brick Road and Scott for any recording projects you may have on the back burner. From solo acts to bands he can put your best “music” forward! I will be doing all my future projects with Scott and Brick Road!
Richard Shine (mrshinemusic.com)