"Can't I Just Record It Myself At Home?" - Anonymous
We've all been there, channeling our thoughts, feelings, artistry, flair, sweat, tears and other vital bodily fluids into our new creation, our new song. You make a demo of it or sing it to the rest of your band and they think it's great too. And rightly so after everything you put into it. You spend hours playing it as a band, perfecting it and getting it absolutely right until it sounds exactly how you want it to for the next show which goes great.
And then what?
You think to yourself “I need to record this to get it out there”
So, as quite often happens, you go back to the demo you made when you first wrote it to try to turn it into the finished record you had in your head when you played it live. And then you realise quite quickly that it's not going to be that simple. It's not going to be that easy to turn your demo into the fully formed amazing record you heard in your head when you finished writing your new song. If anything your attempts to capture it in Garage Band are now making you fall out of love with it.
Or at least that's how it was for me when I was writing for my band. I've lost count of the hundreds of hours I spent trying to learn how to turn my demos in records that would stand up next to the other bands that were making it at the time.
It came clear to me the first time I recorded in a real studio that I'd kind of been wasting my time by trying to do it all. I was writing the songs, performing them and at the same time taking on the challenge of making the final record without any experience or a single clue what I was doing.
Now it's not unheard of for people to come up with great original sounding ideas that way and I'm not trying to say that I know it all. But there's no way I could have made that approach work for me when I first started say, learning the guitar. For example I couldn't have stepped out on stage on day 1 with my brand new guitar and my tab pages in front of me to play my version of Smells Like Teen Spirit and expected it to go well. There's a good chance that if anyone had stayed to listen I'd have been booed off!
To get good at anything you need to spend a lot of time doing it, so why should recording be any different? After all it's not the end of a songwriting process but the beginning of a whole new one. One that could potentially introduce your band to a much wider audience, so surely it makes sense to make your records sound as awesome and professional as possible. And in my experience you either need to spend at least 10.000 hours learning how to record, edit mix and master yourself or you need to find someone else that has, for your record to sound good. And having spent at least that long working in other people's studios (I even had the pale blue “studio tan” to prove it) I decided to set up Darkhorse.
So, on to the main question. Why should you bring your band to record at Darkhorse? (or anywhere else for that matter) Well, apart from the things I've already covered above, here's a list of the main reasons why it's great to get someone who really knows what they're doing involved in your record.
1. It's a lot more fun!
When all you have to do to make your record is actually play it, life becomes much less complicated. A day in the studio for a musician really should just entail thinking about the music (with the exception of the sex, drugs and rock & roll bit of course) A good studio will make it easy and fun for the performer to get the most out of themselves and their instruments and sound great. By contrast, if you're recording at home and trying to wear the various hats of recording engineer, producer, singer, guitarist (and of course sex god or goddess) well, then something will eventually give and it will probably be the performance and therefore your record.
2. You can be more creative A lot of people worry that going to a studio to work with a third party will make them lose some of their originality, after all how can someone you've just met understand your vision? But an experienced studio engineer knows that they don't really need to understand your creative process, most good engineers will have worked on enough projects to know how to help you get the most out of yours. When I'm engineering for a band who are new to me and I've never worked with before, I know that all I have to do is facilitate whatever it is they're trying to do. And most of the time that ends up with them creating something that's bigger and better than they thought would be possible. For example I can use mic placement techniques, effects, creative editing, recording techniques and many other things to help them get a sound out of their head. And the best part about that is that it was their idea, I just helped them realise it in a way that they hadn't thought of before.
3. Make a record that actually sounds how you want it to This sounds sort of simple until you try to do it for the first time. It's relatively easy to make something that sounds different and new but is it the sound you were hoping for when you started, is it really you? If you're trying to capture how you sound live or create your signature sound, working with someone who has experience of this will make all the difference to your tracks. The use of a good studio space will also mean that you can record live drums and have them sound great.
Quite often a band will have a track they love and want to get a similar drum or guitar or voice sound etc.. on their record. I've found it can often be a really simple task of choosing the right guitar or amp or microphone or effect, or it can sometimes be much more complicated. But working with an experienced engineer will immediately put that sound (or an even better one) within their grasp and save hours or even days of searching. This and a great mix and master done by someone with the necessary experience will help you to make the record you wanted all along.
4. The use of much better equipment
I guess this one's pretty simple, but unless you have the use of thousands and thousands of pounds of recording gear in your set up then you probably won't end up with something that sounds as good as someone who does. Don't get me wrong, there are some amazing records that have been made with the use of very limited equipment but that sound won't be right for everyone. Having invested in upgrades at Darkhorse over the years I can assure you that a variety of better equipment will end up with an end product that sounds the way you want it to. A good studio will also have a good selection of instruments for their clients to use. I'm lucky to have quite an extensive guitar collection which often enables my clients to get a sound that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
5. It saves time, stress and you'll sound better (lose less hair, drink more beer!) Ok, so we can probably all agree that recording should be stress free and fun. The part of being in a band where you can really think about your sound and the best way to deliver your message to your audience and where everything is possible and ultimately rewarding. Which is also to say that it probably shouldn't be the part where you and your bandmates find yourselves staring at a tiny laptop screen while deafening yourselves with your HiFi speakers trying to make the kick drum “sound right” until you all lose the will to live. I have been in both of those scenarios by the way! Recording with your band in a proper studio means that you have all your bases covered, the people that should be playing the music are, and the people that should be setting up, recording, editing, mixing and mastering the music also are. That doesn't mean that the band members shouldn't get involved in the technical side of the recording process, of course they should if they want to. But it means that as everyone's doing their job the best they can, the end result will not only be way better but everyone will have had a great time creating it. And the audience will hear it!
And to answer the question “Can't I just record it myself at home?” Well yes of course you can, in just the same way that you can cut your own hair, do your own dentistry or make your own clothes. Some people will be naturally adept at all of these and won't require any further training. But in my case I know that if I did, I'd be walking round with a bowl cut, drooling while wearing a toga!
Thanks for taking the time to read this, all the best...
Dave Needham - Owner, Darkhorse Recording Studio Surrey
We'd love to hear from you if you're thinking about bringing your band to Darkhorse, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the form at the bottom of this page..