In this, the third instalment of the Simon Moro Series, we chat to the renowned music producer and engineer about being smart with recording: where you can’t take shortcuts, how to be strategic with your time and helpful tricks to help you progress faster and record quicker.
If your goal is to make a career as a successful artist, it may be worth asking yourself if a recording budget would be beneficial. The answer; only if your music isn’t compromised. Remember that fans can’t imagine the potential in your songs, they’ll just hear them as they are. There’s a few smart ways to cut costs and invest wisely; here’s some tips and tricks to help you navigate the recording minefield.
Three crucial yet commonly overlooked factors in recording your own music are the room, the gear (mic, preamp, outboard) and the convertors. These elements alone can contribute to common issues with budget recording, so they aren’t worth skimping on. If you’re facing any of the following, it’s probably an issue with one of these key recording elements:
- Low-end, difficult to contain or balance
- Lack of focus/sharpness in the image
- Little or no separation (even with sparse arrangements)
- Harsh high frequencies in vocals, cymbals and guitars
- Thinness/lack of body in sounds
- If this is the case, rather than blame yourself and lose enthusiasm, brainstorm ways that you could access better spaces or gear. It’s a hard battle to win, so go easy on yourself, and find ways to be resourceful with what you have.
While recording vocals at home can be more comfortable and cost-effective than hiring a studio, there are some issues that can arise. The most common problem I hear with home recordings is that the high frequencies and sibilance is harsh, the tone is thin, and the background ambience gets recorded, which affects the placement of the vocal. These issues come down to the mic, preamp and converters. Buying high-end gear could cost almost $10k+, so consider hiring something awesome for a weekend.
The great thing about software instruments is that the engineering is already done. If the sound is sample based and high-end convertors, decent mics and outboard were used, they will already sound great. You can really take your time getting the parts right, and experimenting with them. You could also use them to augment other parts of the recording. For example, if you have recorded a distorted electric guitar, but it’s lacking some body, try finding a low, distorted synth sound that you can blend with the guitar. If done well, it just sounds like a full, solid electric guitar.
If you’ve got good convertors and preamps, you can likely record bass, electric guitar and keyboards to a decent standard at home, and use amp emulation. For guitars, you could use your vocal recording setup and put a mic on your amp if you prefer the tone. Amp emulation has come a long way, and can sometimes be more useful than recording amps. For example, if you record your guitars or bass early in the production, as you add other instruments, the frequency response of the production can change a lot. When using amp emulation, you can quickly scroll through different amps in the context of your finished arrangement to find ones that sit better overall in the song.
What I learned from Michael Brauer, is that mixing makes more of a difference to the emotion and energy of a song than I ever thought possible – making this an area worth investing in. You’d be looking at around $1000 per song for someone experienced enough to make a significant difference to what you can do.
If you do explore cheap mixers, the most important thing to assess is their first mix. If it’s underwhelming from an energy and emotion viewpoint, it won’t be fixed by turning a few things up and down and tweaking settings.
If that’s the case, I’d consider ceasing further investment if change requests carry a cost. The first mix from an experienced mixer will sound and feel great – you’ll find that your change requests are purely taste based, such as ‘more/less reverb’, or ‘turn up this part here/ that part there’.
Recording is an exciting process, filled with emotional ups and downs. As songwriters and performers, allocating your time can be challenging, and it’s a good idea to be aware of where it’s going. If you notice that you’re spending 80 per cent of your time on production, and 20 per cent on writing and rehearsing, it’s probably worth correcting the balance. Labels sign songs, so remember to invest time in that too.