Once I was complaining to an older studio veteran about the headaches I was having self-producing a record for my band. He responded with one of the best axioms I’ve ever heard, something that I still think about on a near daily basis.
“Making a great record is a lot like flying a plane. If you have a good approach, you’ll have a good landing. If you take the wrong approach, it’s going to be a disaster.”
I’ve never flown a plane, but you get the idea. I had so much excitement about recording my songs and the mystique of going in “The Studio” that I ignored several crucial phases of planning, and now was in the very common situation of trying to piece together a record through endless edits, overdubs, and mix trickery.
They call that trying to polish a turd.
To help prevent others from ending up in this situation, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 most common bad questions I get from prospective clients, and I’m going to try to answer them with better questions that should lead you to the right approach.
Bad question #1.) Can’t we just do it ourselves?
Now that everyone has a laptop and GarageBand, and with quality recording gear getting cheaper all the time, it’s understandable that many people consider the DIY approach. The truth is, you CAN do it yourselves, but in most cases, you shouldn’t.
I’m being honest because I want to help you: I have never heard a great sounding record from a band that recorded their own debut. Ok there's that Bon Iver thing (which is a specific type of "good"), so one time. In most cases (like with my first band) these records sound really terrible. Yeah, your girlfriend is going to love it, and you and your bandmates are going to be enamored with it because it’s from your heart, but that’s where it stops. Bad records don’t get you better exposure or better shows or grow your fanbase, they can actually really hurt you. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance at a first impression.
It's not that it isn't good to record on your own - it totally is! Documenting song ideas, musical skill development, demoing, and making scratch tracks are great uses for a small recording setup that can be put together pretty inexpensively. But really learning the art of recording takes about as long as learning an instrument. If you’re not looking to dedicate years and thousands of dollars to this pursuit, you should adjust your expectations.
I often tell artists that are intending to go the DIY route to keep track of their hours and pretend they were paying themselves minimum wage for all that time spent at 2am googling "why don't my drums sound good" and getting 19 contradictory "answers". If you do that, you'll find in the end that it would've actually been cheaper to hire a reasonably priced professional, also it would've been way more fun, also you would've ended up with a better record.
Here's a better question: What can we do on our own time/ with our own gear to make sure we are as prepared as possible for this project?