Welcome! I’m happy to report Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record will begin to ship by the end of this week. To celebrate, I would like to share with you the Intro to the book. If you like it, there will be links that you might want to click at the end. I’m going to break this up into multiple posts for you all so the entries aren’t too long. I call it:
This Survival Guide is not intended to make you a better recordist. It’s designed to get you thinking about your Art and the creation of it from a musical place–regardless of genre–and to turn technical decisions into practical ones.
Given the title, it should be no surprise that I wrote this guide specifically for musicians. Every explanation and recommendation that I make is based on the realities of the recording musician today. Some of you are relatively new to the process. Others of you have recorded for years, but may be frustrated with the incremental improvements in your records.
This is not the book to learn how to plug in an interface or how to choose a DAW. This is a Survival Guide, it’s not a From-The-Ground-Up Guide. If you don’t know what converters are, or what a mic preamp is, or a compressor, or the difference between a real mic and a USB mic, then this book will be a little advanced for you. If, on the other hand, you want to know how to make all of those tools work for you rather than against you–that I can help you with.
Very few of us operate purely as a musician these days. You’re probably also an Artist, a producer, a recordist and a mixer. Those creative positions were formerly held by a team of people who were ideally experts at their respective jobs. These days, it’s more likely that one person is doing them all.
Which is a little problematic, because there’s an inherent tension that occurs between the recordist, who is tasked with an accurate capture, and the producer, who is more concerned with performance. This sometimes results in making a take before the recordist is ready (which really annoys the recordist I have to say).
Personally, I’d rather have a less than ideal capture of my Artist when she’s itching to perform, than to have her shut down because my recordist spent too much time dicking around with tone. If there’s a usable signal coming through the monitors, and an inspired singer standing in front of the mic, I’m hitting record, regardless of protests from my recordist. I’m not going to allow technical bullshit to prevent me from capturing the performance of a lifetime. Even if there’s a sonic technical issue, if it’s a great performance, we’re good. Sound Schmound.
Unfortunately, if you’re both the performer and the recordist and there’s no producer to crack the whip, it can be difficult to extract yourself from the engineering mindset, mostly because you want your record to sound good, and if you don’t focus on the sound, you could very well ruin your record. In reality it’s an uninspired performance that will ruin your record, and the best way I know to achieve an uninspired performance is to focus on sound.
So does that mean you should just haphazardly throw up a mic, plug it into the nearest preamp and hope for the best? Of course not. But there are strategies that you can implement. In the case of a vocal, you could do some advance work, so that the mic and the preamp are ready to go the moment you’re inspired.
It’s critical that you learn good habits in your quest to make a Killer Record. Oh, and not just one Killer Record, but many. As such, the intent of this book is to provide you with a blueprint—a method, as it were—to bring you along the path of success. Which all starts with the acceptance that if you want a prosperous and successful record career, the music is where you should focus your attention.
This requires discipline. Not in doing the work. Most of you love recording and if you could do it all day and night you would. No, I’m talking about the discipline to make musical decisions rather than sonic ones. That will take some practice. Hey, you’re a musician. You should be used to practice by now.
You don’t need to know anything about how anything works from a technical perspective where it comes to making a Killer Record. Seriously, for many years I couldn’t tell you how any of this shit works beyond the basics myself. I literally learned how to record by rote, and picked up everything else along the way. Here we are five gold records, one platinum, and a multi-platinum record later, so clearly, all that you need to know is how things work from a practical perspective. And if you’d like to dive deeper into the technical aspects of recording, then by all means jump on the Internet and do some research.
It’s not like it’s difficult to find obviously reputable sources who can accurately explain how recording tools work. I just typed “how does ratio work on a compressor,” into my search engine, and on the first page there are several legitimate articles, and a few questionable ones. All of the well-known sources offer an accurate technical explanation of how ratio works. None of them really offers a practical explanation of how to choose your ratio.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of information on how to get started recording, somehow that doesn’t stop people from going on to a professional recording forum and asking what an interface does (bless their hearts). Fortunately, there are many people with far more patience than I who will gladly dispense that sort of information to you. They’re called Gear Pimps. Seriously, why would you ask strangers on the Internet advice on gear when a Gear Pimp will go out of her way to give you the best consultation she can based on your needs and workflow? Because she wants to sell you something? Good! She wants to sell you lots of somethings, and it makes no sense for her to sell you the wrong thing. If you’re asking about the best converter under $1000, then you clearly want to buy something. Go talk to the person who wants to sell you something.
The mantra of this book is you have what you have and what you have is going to change. In fact, I did not mention any audio gear brands or models in the body of this book, nor did I need to. In other words, if all you have is a DAW, an interface, and a mic, that’s probably enough to get you started. But you have to face some reality here. You will be severely limited in what you can do.
There’s nothing wrong with limitations. We deal with them on a daily basis. Music has limitations. Our creativity manifests in how we operate within those limitations. And when you get really good, you learn how to expand your limitations into assets.
I peruse the various recording forums on the Internet a fair bit, and the mythology that is passed around in regards to recording and mixing is rather remarkable. Oftentimes, those who would be educators don’t know much of anything themselves and have never been involved in a record of note. Believe me, a record of note is not a prerequisite for explaining basic signal flow. It is, however, an absolute requirement when it comes to understanding how to make a record of note.
Further problematic, where Internet recording questions are concerned, the situation at hand is rarely considered. For the last 20 years, I’ve advised young mixers to put a compressor on their main stereo outputs (often called the 2-bus). I’m downright adamant about it. But if you ask me if a musician making her own record should put a compressor on the 2-bus? Probably not. It took me several days of internal debate to finally come to that conclusion.
That’s why I decided I had to write this book. It was clear that musicians are getting answers that don’t take into account their reality. Of course, some people don’t seem able to properly set up a question either. And social media all but trains us to post open-ended statements posing as inquiries designed to provoke a reaction. That’s rarely a good way to get information.
Hey fellow recording enthusiasts! Longtime lurker, first time poster. Should I mix with headphones?
300 posts later we find out the original poster is a hobbyist who gets complaints from neighbors when she uses her monitors, and is in danger of being evicted, which will be a real problem since her credit rating is down around 500 and no one else will rent to her.
Should I mix with headphones?
Of course, who is answering the question might influence the response.
Should I mix with headphones?
Absolutely not! Says the major label mix engineer.
Absolutely! Says the home recordist whose wife is fast asleep in the bed behind her.
As you might imagine, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about recording, mixing, and producing. Things have changed dramatically in the past few years. There is no doubt in my mind there are more musicians producing their own records than ever before in history. DAWs are powerful tools that generally don’t cost very much, and often come stocked with massive libraries and impressive manipulation tools. As such, there is a definitive need for practical information based on the current realities.
When it comes to record-making, there are no rules, and we’re going to use that fact to our advantage. But as I pointed out, there are indeed limitations, and you need to understand and accept those limitations in order to operate within them. If you go into your record with a vision that can’t be achieved given the circumstances, then you’re going to be disappointed with the results.
In order to set you up for success, the first thing that we must address is your thinking. So long as your expectations align with reality, you’ll have a good shot at making a record you’ll adore. That is to say, a Killer Record.
To be continued . . .
The Intro will continue in a few days. If you know you’re going to order the book, then go ahead and order it now. The links are below here. And remember, sharing is caring.