Mistake Nr.1: Realize that recording is an art form
Students often ask me in a disappointed tone of voice, why their first recording at home does not sound like the sound of their favorite band.
Leaving out the reasons that pertain to playing skill – we nowadays seem to think that everything can be accomplished by simply downloading an app for our phone and BAM – we get a professional, instant miracle result to be posted in Facebook alongside our pics of salami sandwiches. Drives me nuts.
Would you borrow a few old clothes from your mum, gather some friends, record video on your iPhone and seriously wonder why it does not look like Game Of Thrones? You (hopefully) wouldn´t, because you somehow realize that creating great looking movies is an art form and that a lot goes into it. Same with making recordings – It´s an art form!
To get good at recording, you need to take courses, read books, get the basics down and constantly work on getting better at it. It needs a certain dedication, just like all art forms do.
Realize that the best records have been made by masters in the field of audio engineering – people who relentlessly worked to make better records. Just because recording gear has become affordable for everyone, that does not mean anyone can just record their first tracks and instantly sound like the latest Metallica record.
Ain´t gonna happen, so the first step is to get your perspective right.
Mistake Nr.2: Giving up before you´ve even begun
At some point after learning about recording many students start to get a glimpse of the enormity of the task and skill it takes to make good recordings. They learn what they need to get a basic recording setup and think: “Man all this money just to get a basic setup and get started? I might as well don´t do it at all, because I don´t have the money to buy all that…”
Seriously, is this how easy you give up when you want something?
No money? Are there really no possibilities out there to earn money? Get a job on the side and save money – stop waiting for someone to hand you stuff and get to work. You want something, you find a way to get it.
I once read a story how Bruce Swedien, a famous recording engineer, had to decide between buying a house or buying two Neumann microphones – guess what he bought? Yup, the mics.
And you want to give up before you start? Start with a small setup and learn the ropes from there. Learn the basics of recording, learn to use a simple audio program to record and mix, learn the workflow of things. Get books, take courses, watch videos. I saved on food to buy my first gear, I read 1000 page manuals of which I didn´t understand a word and had to re-read them a couple of times. Stop whining and get to work! Find solutions and stop focusing on why you cannot do things! Jeez.
Mistake Nr.3: Procrastinating and making your first recordings
Recording can be overwhelming and it´s easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of technical details by endlessly comparing the specs of audio programs and looking for THE best one, reading book after book after book, because you want to be as well prepared as possible, right? Wrong! Endlessly preparing is a form of procrastination. We unconsciously fear doing it wrong and so we don´t start and keep preparing.
The first thing you should be focusing on is quantity. Pump stuff out. Get a simple setup running and record as much as you can. Get your feet wet and make mistakes. It´s helpful to keep a recording journal and quickly jot down notes for each project, so you can go back later and learn from mistakes you made and develop a system of your recording workflow. Be bold and get over being afraid. Record shit songs and keep recording more of them. In time, you will get bolder and better and this is exactly the mindset you need in the beginning.
Mistake Nr.4: Wanting to avoid adversity
I´ve witnessed that many people think that someone can give them tailor made solutions for their exact recording setup, because they want to avoid facing the technical problems that come with the territory. It´s not gonna happen.
When you get into recording, be prepared for weekends in the studio trying to solve a driver problem, software problem, hardware problem, incompatibility issue, whatever…
Recording is a sea of problems, because your setup consists of many moving parts (and they move really fast nowadays) and there are no cookie cutter solutions to avoid them.
You have to invest the time, bleed, grind, suffer the pain and learn. If you need somebody every time a technical problem crops up, you´d be broke pretty soon and that person would have to move into your house, read your manuals and study each part of your setup to understand what might be causing the problem (this can of course repeat after any update of your audio software, operating system, drivers for your hardware…you get the idea). If you don´t want to pay a person for that, you will have to do it yourself. If all that sounds horrible to you – simply don´t get into recording and get a Playstation – you will be happier.
However, if adversity does not scare you, you will be highly rewarded by learning more about the wonderful art of how music is created and you will be able to record your own killer tracks at some point! It´s worth it.
About the author:
Derk Stiepelmann offers guitar lessons in Dortmund, Germany at his own guitar school “Songwriter´s Shed” and helps students to write and record their own music.