As we’re entering into this journey that is 2021, this is traditionally the time of undertaking new skills and stretching out of the comfort zone that prevents true growth.
Lately, the word on my mind has been a simple yet daunting one — recording. With staying physically distant from other humans, the need for recording music at home has become a necessity for so many. To those who have never tried it, it seems like a simple task.
Most folks have a veritable super computer in their pocket — at minimum, a phone of average intelligence that can get you from point A to B. These devices come with a stock recording app that allows an idea to be captured in the moment. However, for releasing music into the wild, a phone usually doesn’t cut it.
So where to begin? For those who have never done it, it can seem overwhelming. For the majority of creatives and hobbyists, it’s a necessary tool, but not where the passion lies. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Here are some basic guidelines to get you pointed in the right direction.
Starting off, a key factor to recognize is that recording music is where art meets science. That’s where the term recording engineer comes from. It’s the crossroads where the study of electronics, acoustics, psychoacoustics (the study of how human beings perceive sound) collide with the need for capturing and reproducing sound.
In fact, photos can be found online of audio engineers from the BBC, in the 1950s, wearing lab coats.
Thankfully, as with most modern advancements, owning a lab coat is no longer a prerequisite. The root of the question remains the same. “What is the best way to capture this sound with the resources available?” This is where creativity shines. There are some universal principles to be aware of. Beyond that, there is always room for experimentation and imagination.
There is a path from which music flows as it’s being performed, to being captured on a computer or recording device. This is called the signal chain. Much like any mechanical device or recipe, there’s a list of components or ingredients that allow recording to happen, even on a basic level. This is usually where the anxiety can come in.
Recording is as much a discipline as musicianship is. However, with the right information, necessary headaches can be avoided and true fun can begin. Before recording, the proper tools and equipment are required. This, alone, could be a whole, separate article. Instead, I’ve assembled a list of resources for knowledge to eliminate stress.
Buying equipment: This is the first layer of anxiety and deterrent for most people. Where is the starting point? How much equipment do I need? How much will this cost? This is determined by each person’s instrumentation. Are you a solo singer/songwriter? A drummer? Multi-instrumentalist? This will determine specifically what you need. YouTube channel “Recording Revolution” has a comprehensive video called, “How to Build a Home Studio for $350.” Another trusted channel called “Riffs, Beards and Gear” has a tutorial called “Home Recording On A Budget” which is also a useful guide. For the actual purchase of equipment, Monoprice has always been my trusted website in buying quality cables and decent microphone stands on a budget. Reverb is another great place to purchase new or used recording gear, often from mom and pop music stores around the country. For recording software, Audacity and Reaper are two free, open source recording programs available online.
Acquiring information: Once all the equipment is set up, how do you go about using it? American songwriter and producer Rick Beato has become more well-known for his successful YouTube channel these days. There’s a wide variety of information on a variety of topics here — everything from songwriting, how to start recording as a beginner and in-depth recording knowledge. If you’re looking to study pointers from some of the greatest engineers alive today, Pensado’s Place is one of the biggest interview/chat shows for professionals in the recording industry.
Most importantly, keep your mind open to the endless possibilities that may not be easily seen. A limited environment and equipment doesn’t limit creativity with the right imagination. Can you tape a microphone to a garden hose and lay it around a drum kit? Yes. It mimics the sound of large room. Can I capture a great song recording an acoustic guitar and vocal in the kitchen? According to producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan), yes you can. Maybe you have access to a long hallway. Put a guitar amplifier on one end and microphone at the other and see what happens. Take advantage of the freedom that comes with excess time to learn and experiment. It couldn’t hurt.