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July 6, 2005

Filed under: music»recording»production

"It's me ma's. She thinks I'm having it cleaned."*

While we're on the topic of music, I saw this note on MusicThing the other day about building a home studio for less than $50. The Thing notes that, assuming you already own a decent computer (one that can see this web site), you probably already have most of what's necessary to record good music. Personally, I find that to be incredibly empowering.

I'll admit right up front that I'm a terrible amateur producer. I don't know the tools very well, I never balance the vocals correctly against the instruments, and I overcompress like crazy. My recording attempts sound like a guy who tossed something together as fast as he could, and there's a good reason for that. But that doesn't mean that it's not possible to put together something really incredible with the equipment I've got--namely, myself, a bass, some pedals, a cheap vocal mic, and an eight-year-old laptop with a buggy sound card. The software I use (Audacity) is free, and I understand there's even better stuff (Krystal) out there for a tiny amount of money (assuming that you're using it for commercial purposes).

There are an awful lot of classic rock albums we now regard as timeless that were done on a four-track tape recorder, where finished portions would have to be "bounced" onto other tracks to make room for more vocals or instruments. The Beatles and the Boss both made great music this way, but you don't have to--Audacity lets you record as many tracks as you want, move bits around, take out parts you don't like... It's more than enough to put together a demo, at least. I'll tell you a secret: only the snobs care if you did it with great technique and expensive equipment, and they won't like your music anyway. My old band got a pretty good CD recorded in my drummer's basement using an old ADAT machine, cheap mics, and a shower for reverb. One of the best albums I've ever heard, the Black Keys' Rubber Factory was, in fact, recorded in a rubber factory using whatever they could get their hands on. It is dirty and imperfect and it rocks like nobody's business.

The only real barriers are time and ambition. It takes time to learn, and it takes ambition to stick with it. It's become much harder to find excuses for my own lack of productivity since I realized that.

* A classic line from The Committments, when the band's manager pawns an old stuffed bird in exchange for a drum kit.

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