Given that a songwriter’s primary skill has always been and will always be writing great songs, I’ve decided to focus on a secondary set of skills – recording – which can add value at all levels of the songwriting process. Whether your goal is simply to get your ideas across so that studio professionals can help you realize your vision for your song or to become a full-fledged engineer and producer in your own right, there is real value in having the ability to record at home. In this article, I’m going to address the benefits of home recording from the earliest stages to, ultimately, making professional quality demos.
No matter how little you know about recording, it’s well worth your while to be able make a clear, rough recording to capture your song’s melody, lyric and – if you play an instrument – chord changes. A few thoughtful decisions can help this process tremendously. These include finding a quiet space in your home or office without too many reflective/hard surfaces, practicing a few times before you record and investing money in an add-on microphone to connect to your smart phone that can give you the ability to record in stereo and significantly higher fidelity than your internal phone mic. The mic I use and would highly recommend is the Shure MV-88.
Learning the basics of the free multi-track recording software (Garage Band on your Mac or an equivalent in Windows) you can begin to flesh out arrangement ideas for your songs as well. Software that allows you to record an instrumental part and then listen back to it while layering an additional instrument or vocal part on top gives you tremendous control over the arrangement process. Even if your instrumental and vocal skills aren’t at professional level, you can flesh out harmony ideas and multi-instrumental approaches to illustrate what you’ve got in mind.
The more you record at home, the more you’ll develop your understanding of the recording process in general. This way when you arrive at a professional studio, you won’t be at a total loss when it comes to what’s going on during your session. This will be useful in terms of your knowing what to ask for during the tracking and mixing stages. Not only that, but the more interest you take in recording, the more questions you’ll have for the pros. In this way, every professional demo session you attend does double duty as a recording of your song and a tutorial in the recording process that you’ll be able to apply at home.
If you find that you’re as passionate about learning to record at home as you are about your songwriting, then the sky’s the limit. There has never been a better time to purchase affordable high quality, versatile recording software and hardware. There is absolutely no substitute for practice and over time you’ll improve your studio chops to the point where you’re able to make recordings of your songs that measure up to what the pros are doing. It might help to remember that even professional engineers and producers were beginners at some point so be patient with yourself. That being said, the rewards are great if you’re willing to dig in and really learn your stuff.
No matter how you choose to prioritize learning to record, there are benefits at every level. Whether it’s simply being able to capture a rough recording of your finished song or, ultimately, being able to do a fully-produced, professional demo in your own studio, it all begins at home. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other enthusiasts for help, your best resource will be each other.