Equip thyself: Part One

I get asked this a lot. Enough that I will remark here in this forum.
What do I need to record?
In the words of Tom Waits “well we will have to go all the way back to the Civil War.” Well, actually not that far back but close, when Edison invented the ability for humans to record themselves doing whatever.
This technology, which seems so paltry in our digital age, was so revolutionary it probably appeared like magic to those first exposed to it.
The question is a simple one, what do I need to record? whose answer is simple and again vast.
The first thing I tell anyone, as always, is to empower yourself with as much information as possible. It is really easy to go overblown and be several thousands of dollars in the hole with all the options out there. It is also fair to assume many of us do not have a few thousand dollars lying around at our disposal.
The easy answer, with all the economic concerns aside, is this. Buy a computer based input/output device, the software that is compatible with it,a dedicated computer (one that never gets online except to update software and operating systems), and some decent microphones. There you have it. This can be had for anywhere from $1000 to $3000. Set it all up and get in there and do it. There will be some serious learning curve issues which will need to be overcome and depending on your comfort level with technology these can be tedious or as simple as a good set of ears and a few mouse clicks.
This set up can also increase financially however far you want to take it. Be aware though that even the most basic digital recording suite that can be had today is about 200 times, if not more, cleaner and versatile than anything the Beatles, Hendrix, Zeppelin, and anyone else on the classic album list you can think of. The technology before you, when applied with taste and care, is very powerful as a recording medium. But many people overdo it and this we will explore in other installments and will just leave it for now with this: Just because you have 50 tracks or more at your disposal does not mean that you have to use them all. The same goes for every effects plug-in available now.

Another option that many folks, especially the “young un” with a guitar, three chords, and the truth, might consider is a stand alone model which is a simple four track recorder. These can be had cheaply and with some acceptable microphones can produce some very good results. Besides there is a great deal to be learned from this “primitive” approach. I encourage many to start in this way because you truly learn the basics and get them down and it transfers so well when you decide to make the leap up another level.

I learned on a very basic 4 track machine which had, aghast, a cassette tape as its capture device. I learned over many hours of mess ups and sometimes my mess ups ended up not so much a mess up as a discovery which I still apply today in the digital world. Always remember that the classic hits from years gone by are classic for a reason. They involve some intangibles that can never be reproduced with any device, whether it be a vintage analog microphone or a state of the art studio. You cannot polish a turd.

Which takes me back to the original question: what do I need to record? which I always answer with: something to record. If you just want to record for the fun of it or to learn with the hopes of working as an audio engineer or a producer by all means jump right in there and the same can be said for anyone. But, but, but if you are the aspiring artist my answer is directed right at you. Have some dang songs you have worked through and are prepared to try to capture as a song. There is nothing more frustrating for me as a producer to have someone want to record, have them show up, many times with a support staff in tow, and then realize this aspiring artist has no material other than the oft covered version of “Me and Bobbie McGee” with them on acoustic guitar, and not that good either.

An artist, the recording kind, has this thing called material,which they have a good idea about how they want it to sound in the end because they have spent thousands of hours working on it and performing it in front of people. So to simply answer the question you need to have material as an artist before you ever think about recording it. This is the first step. Get some songs together, play them in front of everyone you can, record them on your phone, or some other way you can listen back, then when you think you are ready, you will probably know because this feeling will come over you and a little voice will say “I think we need to record these” then you should start saving your money for a recording apparatus of some sort.

More to come later on.

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