Songwriting – Recording
Found in: The Music Business
As songwriters (just as parents of teenagers), we are at once blessed and cursed to live in the current era of technological accessibility. The sheer amount of options available now for recording songs and sending them out into the world can be both exciting and daunting to the first -timer. To give you a feel for the lay of the land, I will start by taking a stroll through the traditional model of recording an album, and work my way to the present moment, hopefully helping orientate you to a musician’s perspective on this burgeoning field of enterprise.
Up until roughly five to ten years ago, there were only really two options for the artist who set about the task of recording an album or EP. The first option was to be scouted out by a record company and “signed”, meaning that the recording was guided and funded by a record company with a product in mind, and that company took on the financial risk. Thus the artist could concentrate on their art and have access to the resources and expertise of professional studios and producers who would take care of the whole recording project. On the down side, an artist would often relinquish a huge part of the creative control and intellectual ownership over their music. As you may have guessed, this model is much more rare now that the way music is bought and sold has shifted to the domain of the internet.
The second category consists of the independent musicians (who I suspect have existed since pre-history in some form!). These fierce individuals refuse to compromise their artistic expression in exchange for the support and resources of a company. Raising money however they can, they fund their own recording process by paying large sums of money per hour for a professional studio and engineer. This is my corner of the spectrum, and I can say from experience that, just as in the other categories, there are very real benefits and costs to do things this way. Raising the funds whilst establishing myself on the music scene were essentially two full-time jobs, so I was already exhausted when I got into the studio. The creative experience was somewhat curbed by the “oh-my-goodness -I’m -paying -$150 -an –hour- for- this- better- get- it- RIGHT!” factor. With no producer to give perspective or guide my arrangements, and under such financial pressure, I was at a clear disadvantage. To do this well, you need to stand up very close to the songs you have written, (not to mention performing them perfectly), and stand far enough back from them to gain the perspective of an outside audience in order to guide the production. You are literally putting a part of yourself under a microscope and at the same time, looking at that same part of you through the window of an airplane. Tricky business.
While these options still exist today, as I’m sure you are all aware, the times they are a-changin’. Firstly, where people used to buy an album as a cohesive piece of art (I wipe tears from my eyes) they now tend to download single songs that take their fancy. Therefore the time and money required to record an entire album may only seem of value to those sentimental and old-fashioned enough to remember what vinyl LPs looked like. The positive in this is that (unless you have an record company knocking at your door) you need considerably less financial outlay to get started.
Secondly, home recording is now a real option. The computer technology we have in our homes is now fast and powerful enough to accommodate professional software programs that can produce quality recordings. Software programs such as Garage Band, Ableton Live and even Pro Tools are affordable and easy to use with many home computers. Of course you’ll need to buy them, learn how to use them (YouTube tutorials are fantastic!), buy a decent microphone and some minimal external gadgets such as an audio interface. This might set you back $1000 or more. Recording at home has the advantage of making the immensely creative process of recording pressure-free, because you are not counting dollars per second. If becoming an amateur sound engineer is not your cup of tea however, there are many musicians out there who have acquired this kind of gear and the knowledge to use it, who would charge considerably less than a professional studio. Ask around in your networks or look online.
I must stress that the professional studios, engineers and producers are expensive for very good reason. While they cost upwards of $150 per hour, paying for top quality equipment, and expertise in the complex science-meets-art of sound engineering can be very worth the expense. To help you decide which way to go, be clear about your short and long term goals. Perhaps you want to record a few songs as a demo, get some gigs and start your career, in which case your best option might be to find a home-studio enthusiast, if not become one yourself! If you are interested in the creative process of arrangement (i.e. adding backing vocals, bass guitar, drums, string sections, etc to your songs) you can start to explore your “sound” from the comfort of your own home, and move to a studio once you know exactly what you want to produce. If you have songs in hand you believe could go viral on YouTube, or be swept up by commercial radio, and you are ready for the ride, then it is worth getting the polish of the professional studio and a producer to guide and shape your recording process. In this case, perhaps choosing only one or two songs to record will keep your costs down.
Just as Gretta pointed out in an earlier article that there are many ways to write a song, so too are there many paths to decide between when you want to embark on the recording journey. Whichever approach you decide on, enjoy the process! Modern technology allows us to bring the music we hear in our heads into reality, which is truly a creative delight to play with. To produce a recording that has finesse, invariably there is some investment of time and money required. However, there are few better ways to achieve a sense of accomplishment than to produce a tangible piece of music you can share with the world, that was once nothing more than a muse inside your mind.