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Should I invest in my own Recording Setup?

I was going to include something about this in the previous article where I discussed why you would use a professional voice recording service. However rather than risk bringing in too many concepts there I thought perhaps a complimentary article would offer more clarity, mostly because it has some particularly unique pitfalls and I want to offer some anecdotal evidence, this is perhaps more of a personal view but I think it will serve as informative.

It is highly likely you already own a computer of some sort, be it a laptop, a tower, macbook or even an ipad that can conceivably record high quality audio. With some software tools and applications, a microphone and an interface, it could provide you with a way to record for 'free' as much as you like, whenever you like. Not only this but having total control over any number of ideas you have, without the arguments that might go with them is not un-attractive. You say to yourself; I just need a notepad, something I can use to get a half decent recording, something I can use to send out to management or possibly sell at gigs. Its begins innocently enough.

This sounds a bit like my story, I am in essence a singer-songwriter who accidentally became a sound engineer while testing this exact theory.

A note pad, a small, inexpensive, preferably portable recording device is a good idea. A quick, relatively unsophisticated capture of your ideas, so you can listen back and use it to improve your performance or develop the arrangement, is a great way to fast track your ability and hone in on your vision. Provided you are disciplined enough that you won't get distracted by the soon to be apparent short comings of your recordings, this will be very useful indeed. However, not getting sucked into examining why your song doesn't sound as good as something you heard on the radio, is extremely difficult. It is natural enough to wonder how you could improve them...that is the rabbit hole I would be cautious of heading down.

I have had clients I worked with over several years and whose work improved project after project, only to watch them slip away into the void of music technology. Much as I have already outlined, it began with a healthy enough premise, but as the frustration that the music did not sound professional set in, their progression slowed to a halt and their output confused and lost.

Rather than accept they were making rough demos, they either become embroiled in audio production experiments, drifted down various dead ends or started finding more and more ways of spending lots of microphones, new monitors, more powerful music computer, better software, expensive pre-amps, different sound cards, zippier digital converters...a journey that never ends.

Now, if in your heart you really want to be a sound engineer, all this is fine and part of the course, good luck! However, if you are a singer, a songwriter or a performer who has wanted their whole life to be on a stage, reaching people with your talent, this is one distraction you honestly don't need.

Recording is fun, the idea that you could make your own album is fun, but so many people I know who are excited by this end up focusing on the sound quality and not the quality of what they are putting into it. The project is derailed, frustration sets in, confidence dips, time passes...some very talented people just give up because somehow they associate their mediocre recording efforts with their actual natural ability.

I would be very careful about confusing these two exercises and rather predictably I would suggest that if you know your ready for the next level, you develop a relationship with a good producer/engineer and a studio.

Yes, it does cost money to do this, but there are good reasons for hiring professionals, a not insignificant reason and one that is slightly tricky to describe exactly, is the removal of complete accountability for your project.

Not having to obsess about the mechanical aspect of the recording process free's you up to be an artist and this is an important step on the pathway to success. For you to be an artist, you have to wear that hat as often as possible, you have to explore your instinct and respond honestly to the creative process.

Without being too much of a diva, at least not so much no-one wants to work with you, allowing yourself to feel indulged, to feel special and the centre of attention, is a very useful way to develop confidence and openness. A good producer recognises the benefits this yields and exploits them for your gain, so this is a guilt free invitation to enjoy yourself.

In contrast it is difficult to feel like an artist when you are listening out for audio issues, adjusting microphone stands, trying to operate a console or set the right compression levels. It is also very difficult to be objective about your progress and know when you have done the best you can.

Working with a professional you should find that many of your doubts and concerns are dealt with constructively and progressively. A producer is there to cheer you on, encourage you over the finish line and share the burden of any issues.

If you are pondering such an investment right now, my advice overall is don't let it distract you from your original mission, a small studio setup is supposed to help you do better work, not tie you up in knots, frustrate your progress or empty your bank account. While good professional studios and producers are not cheap, they also can fast track you to the next level while your still young enough or at least still passionate enough about what you are doing.

I will write a further article suggesting how you might go about finding a producer, what you should think about spending and some pitfalls to be aware of there. In the meantime if this has raised any questions, you are welcome to drop me a line here and I will be happy to attempt to answer them for you.

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