So to catch up up a little: I'm in a band, and last year we put out an album called Twelve Ways To Fuck Up Before Breakfast.
I fucking love our album, and so do some other nice people, but the recording of it wasn't perfect, and I want the next one to be even better. With that in mind, here's seven lessons I learned while recording:
1. Have a plan
We had no plan... maybe enough songs together for a (largeish) EP, but then we just kept going and added in more. Some of the songs were a little 'young' and evolved through the process of recording, very common I gather, but still might have been better fodder for a pre-production demoing process. In any case, it took us ages to finish the album, and having at least a vague plan of what we're going to complete when might have helped move the process along quicker.
2. Amp sims are not as good as amps
Making decisions later doesn't necessarily make the outcome better. We recorded most of the guitars DI with the plan to tweak the guitar tone later - and we did so, quite a lot of tweaking actually. We were considering re-amping, but even then, you're skipping a direct feedback loop the guitarist has with their amp.
3. Drum samples are not as good as drums
Parts of the album were recorded with all of us sitting in a room together as a band with headphones on, me sitting behind a Roland TD-3 electronic drum kit triggering samples from BFD or Addictive Drums.
Don't get me wrong, those libraries sound great, but playing electronic drums will always give a different performance to the real thing. Again this was partially in the name of being able to tweak later. .
4. More takes might not help
Playing a song over and over in the one session gets annoying, and playing multiple takes for the sake of it is more so. The take has to be right, sure, but usually that means more rehearsal - not more recording.
5. More takes would probably help though
Erm, slight contradiction... But we should never be afraid to scrap and start over with a song. Where that dividing line is, I'm not sure.
6. Tread lightly
We did this entirely DIY, with no real knowledge of professional audio recording. So the mixes, they're not great, and they were never going to be professionally polished. But I think we're better served just sounding like the sloppy 3 piece band we are than layering on the overdubs. Some of the overdubs are great and really help bring the song across - but there's a couple of bits which probably stepped over the line. Plus, it's no fun opening a session file and it looking like a patchwork quilt.
7. Recording should never get in the way
I'm keen to try to get to the point where recording doesn't feel like recording, and mixing should be almost limited to a vague bit of balancing out. I'm trying to refine a process of unobtrusive recording, and the vague ideas I've got are:
- Simple microphone setups that can be put together and torn down quickly. Shouldn't take much more time than just setting up the drum kit.
- Have everything set up to roll at every rehearsal. If we perform a cracking rendition of a song, that's the time to capture it.
I want to use tools and methods that stay out of our way, even if by doing so it limits sonic options. To that end I've been playing with a nice little Yamaha MT4X:
Yep, cassette. 3 band EQ, and nothing else. Not sure if it's what we'll use longer-term, but it certainly focusses the mind to mic positioning and getting a good performance.