As a DIY musician with all kinds of Grown-Up responsibilities like a mortgage and a child and college debt, I find it hard to justify spending large sums of money on recording music. I literally make $0 off of what I do, so I can’t even write it off as an investment (although I do tell myself that whenever it comes time to spend). It’s a labor of love, pure and simple. I often find myself trying to find new (cheaper) ways to get my music out there while still maintaining some quality. I mean yeah, I could plug into my laptop and just drop raw tracks onto SoundCloud like so much DIY rain, but who wants to listen to that? And I want people to listen, so…
I’ve gone through a few iterations of the “home studio” concept: recording everything at home with really shitty programmed drums and totally uninformed, half-assed attempts at mixing; recording all but drums and paying a remote drummer to send me wav files, and then sending those stems to someone else to mix; and bringing just the recorded drum files to a real studio and recording everything there to the drums. My reasoning there was that it took longer to mic and record drums than anything else so if I already had drums I could save a lot of time and get more bang for my studio buck.
I now find myself back in my home, in my “home studio” if you will, with a new combo. I discovered the Loop Loft which has allowed me to get decent-sounding drums that fit most of the types of rhythms I’ve needed to use. I also found a way to hook up my old Rock Band drum set to Ableton, allowing me to do a more realistic drum pattern if I can’t find a match in my samples. It’s not flawless, but in a pinch it’s handy since I really do suck at finger drumming.
I updated my audio interface from an M-Audio something-or-other (like $30 at Borders years ago) to a PreSonus and yes, it does make a difference. I record all string instruments as usual. However I now record vocals in a professional studio.
I know, it seems like none of my solutions are able to leave out paying money and going into a studio at some point. The thing is, living in a condo with thin walls makes it very hard for me to get vocal tracks down. I’m not so much worried about disturbing anyone as I am of embarrassing myself. I’m too self-conscious about it to let it out and belt the way I need to sometimes. I found a studio that would let me record for 4 hours for $50. I signed up for a 4-hour block and got lead and backing vocals down for 3 songs! I was even writing and changing lyrics to like 2 of them in the process! Part of the reason I can save so much is that I bring in all my own stuff: mic, stand, interface, computer. I’m literally just renting a room for 4 hours. I also shelled out for a good condenser mic. Again, the difference between it and SnowBall I was using is impressive.
After everything is recorded comes the mixing. I invested in actual studio monitors so that I could mix with headphones and without. Again, huge difference. The differences I can hear between the two are kind’ve amazing. I’ve moved on from Ableton’s built-in EQ3 plugin and started using the MEqualizer from Melda Productions, which is a treat. I might have to buy the full version once I have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I’m on my way with that; one of my Twitter pals, Olav, was super nice and gave me a little tutorial via FB messaging which I’ve been using as my primary reference.
So what does all of this mean? Well, one of my 2016 goals was to release an EP. I have no illusions that I’m about to release a masterpiece; while I’m sure there are folks out there who could take my setup and make an album indiscernible from a professional release, I don’t have that talent. However, I’ve decided to use what I have to make an EP of demos. I’m going to call it “Hardly Mixed, Never Mastered”. It’ll be free. I have plans in the works to release a professionally tracked/mixed/mastered EP with a local studio that I’ve been in talks with, but until then I’m gonna share my homemade version of these tracks.