Today I want you to listen to acclaimed songwriter and artist Jack White (of the White Stripes) share his insights on what it means to be an artist and the process of creating music in this interview with Conan O’Brien. His perspective on the process is fascinating and (if you let it) will motivate you to get back to work on song creation in your studio. It’s over an hour long, but it’s worth it.
Take the band Porcupine Tree for example. These guys record and mix all of their albums in the lead singer’s parents basement and they sell well over 250,000 copies on their own.
It’s Not How Luxurious Your Room Is
Listen to what singer and Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson has to say in this article from Sound On Sound:
It’s not how luxurious your room is, how good your speakers are or the quality of the acoustic space. It’s how well you know what you’re hearing, because if you know what you’re hearing, you can make good-sounding records! - Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree
If you had told me back in 2009 that I’d still be writing posts on The Recording Revolution four years later, I would have laughed in your face. Mostly because I didn’t think this site would amount to much, and partly because I figured I’d run out of things to talk about 3 months in.
And yet, here we are, exactly four years to the day that I sat down to write my first post for the world. That’s 600+ posts, 250+ videos, and just about 2 million visitors each year.
What You Have Learned
So to celebrate I thought it would be great to hear from YOU, my “students” from afar. I asked a couple of weeks ago on Facebook what was the biggest thing you had learned from your time so far with The Recording Revolution. Here are some of my favorite responses.
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I think many home studio owners get caught up in the fact that they have to record and mix in a non ideal space. They believe that it is a huge limitation, whether they admit it or not. I can understand the thinking. When compared to a million dollar commercial facility your spare bedroom isn’t designed for the same purpose.
But take it from someone who has recorded in a wide range of random places both in and out of studios, you’re not as limited as you think.
The Awkward Capitol Studios
One of my TRR readers recently reminded me of a great article in Sound On Sound magazine last December featuring the behind the scenes look at the tracking of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ with engineer John Palladino. One section in the middle of the article is particularly relevant to many of us. Listen to the words Palladino uses and see if it doesn’t sound like what we deal with on a daily basis.
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If you will permit me, I’d like to get on a soapbox for a moment and say something very important. To all of you home and project studio owners out there using cracked plugins (aka stolen plugins), grow up and stop destroying your own industry!
This post might sound harsh, but it’s time to put on your big boy or big girl pants and start paying for what you use people.
Downloading Cracked Plugins Is Theft
To this day I have never downloaded or used a cracked or stolen plugin. Why? Because I have integrity. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not boasting about myself as if I’m some great person. I make many selfish mistakes, just ask my wife. But to me, stealing is wrong, whether it’s a car, someone’s wallet, or a plugin. Just because you can download something in the secret doesn’t diminish the crime.
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What if I told you that one TRR reader landed an original song in a major TV commercial (along with a big fat paycheck), all from a recording he did in his bedroom and his car? That’s right people. Check out TRR fan Todd Roache’s work in this Mobil 1 advertisement. Can you tell that he tracked the vocals in his car on an SM58 and his laptop?
It’s inevitable: if you care about making great music in your studio, you will have moments of self doubt. One moment you’ll feel like you’re creating award winning tracks, the next moment you want to delete it all. It can almost be a Jekyll and Hyde experience of extremes, like you have two very different people inside of you. In fact, that’s not too far from the truth.
The Two Mixers Inside Of You
It seems almost “romantic” to think of your progress as an audio mixer or producer as a straight line from newbie to confident professional. But in reality the trajectory looks all over the map. Why is that? Well, part of you: the “real” you is always making progress. You’re learning, growing, and trying things. It may not always be pretty, but you’re getting better. The “fake” you is always there, however, whispering doubts in your ear and pulling you off track.
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One of the most challenging aspects of mixing is knowing how to start. Do you begin with the vocal? Do you begin with guitars or drums? What about starting your mix with all of the faders up? The beautiful news is: there is no one right way to start a mix. Find what works for you!
Today however, I want to make the case for starting your mix with the drums (assuming you have them). More specifically, Grammy winning mixer Andrew Scheps is making that case, and for a very good reason.
Make The Drums One Instrument
Andrew Scheps is a master mixer with credits such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Linkin Park, Adele, U2, Jay-Z and more. Here’s what he had to say on Pensado’s Place about starting a mix:
I usually start on the drums first, so I won’t have to work on them anymore. I want to get them to my group fader so I can stop thinking of them as 12 microphones or 30 microphones, and instead think of them as one thing. – Andrew Scheps (Mixer)
Dave Pensado is potentially the most humble and generous guy in the music industry today. A Grammy award winning mixing engineer whose credits include Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Elton John, Pink, Mary J Blige, and The Black Eyed Peas, this guy is the real deal. Dave is also well known for his incredibly insightful website Pensado’s Place where he interviews top engineers in the industry and gets them to share their secrets.
I recently had the honor of interviewing him for TRR and I think you will find his thoughts and advice encouraging, helpful, and honest. Enjoy!
Nate Mendel has been the bass player for rock icons the Foo Fighters for almost 20 years now. He’s written, recorded, and toured on rock hit after rock hit with Dave Grohl and the gang. With that wealth of experience and knowledge you would expect him to impart some wisdom on how to get great recordings.
Don’t Simply Record Everything
In a recent interview with Musicians Friend, Nate gave this advice to up and coming artists and home studio folk:
Every time somebody has just the germ of a [musical] idea, it’s like “Let’s record that.” And then what you have is this huge backlog of recordings. I think that can turn into a real mess pretty quickly. [Instead] write the song. Remember what it is. Have it sorted out so it sounds good, and then record it. - Nate Mendel, Bassist (Foo Fighters)