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Home recording

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Bring it back home

Home recording is seemingly all the rage right now. Many well-known artists, such as Sufjan Stevens and the Shins, started out that way—and Stevens still does it—and with the cost of recording software and hardware coming down at a furious pace, it seems everyone is doing it. Heck, GarageBand comes free on MacBooks and just stares you in the face daring you to make up a song. Because it’s part of the plethora of tools artists are now using to circumvent the music industry, home recording is even being lumped in with things like file sharing and the Internet as things that are killing music—it’s that powerful.

But home recording isn’t killing music. If anything, it’s making it better. Artists can now record themselves and play it back to listen to what needs to be fixed before they head off to a big studio to make the album that will enable them to take over the world. Or they can just record themselves and release it, though as producer/engineer Doug Organ of Edmontone Studios explains, maybe they shouldn’t.

“It kind of depends on who you are—just because you can make a record at home doesn’t mean you can make a record at home,” he says. “Nik Kozub can make a record at home, Ian Martin, there’s a handful of guys who can do really good stuff and I’ve done some fairly good stuff at my home and other people’s homes, but for the thousand dollars you just spent on software and hardware, it doesn’t come with years of engineering experience and training.”

That kind of training can’t be bought, of course, but home recording serves a valuable purpose to any band: it lets you know whether you have a song or not. As Organ—who got his start in producing and engineering years ago by renting heavy gear and recording his high school band in his parents’ home—explains, home recording is a tool that bands can use to tighten up their songs so that they’re as economical with their time as possible once they hit the studio. In fact, Organ says that when he’s working with a band in studio, he prefers it if they’ve demoed their songs beforehand.

“When I’m listening to people’s demos I’m usually pretty pleased that they’ve demoed themselves at all and for the most part those people have done their homework and it takes a lot of cost off recording,” he says. “They’ve already realized that this part is going to work and this part isn’t, or that the song is too long or too short or needs a bridge or whatever.”

But if you are set on recording and releasing something yourself—and it is possible to come up with a really great project that way—there are a few things to remember. Most importantly, according to Organ, is to not overdo it.

“Because the technology is so amazing, I think people are tempted to use it, and just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I’m thinking of things like tons of reverb and tons of delay and tons of compression and all those effects that are available to you when you’re recording in GarageBand or Pro Tools and that’s kind of a giveaway,” he says. “To make a recording from home you have to keep it really simple—where one microphone will do, don’t use eight.”

The other important thing is to know where to save and know where to splurge when you’re setting up your home recording space. The available software for home recording is basically equal, as are the computers that house it, but what you plug into them isn’t. To Organ, a good preamp box and a few good microphones will go a long way.

“I would put my money into mic preamps, and to a lesser extent microphones themselves,” he says. “You can undo a lot and you can always replay, but if it’s through a poor quality microphone or a lame-sounding preamp, then it’s forever coloured.”

And the cost for setting up a decent home recording studio is not very much, even for some top notch equipment.

“Assuming someone already has a laptop, and if it’s a Mac then that laptop came with GarageBand, you’d need $100 or $200 for a little breakout box that has some mic preamps on it, and you can get ridiculously good mics for $200 or $300 as well,” explains Organ. “So, for under a grand you can get the type of setup that you could do a reasonable demo with, assuming you already have a computer.”

Ultimately, however, a home studio is mostly for demoing, unless your specific sound calls for the lo-fi treatment. Most importantly, you should know what kind of sound you’re looking for and decide on what tool is right for the job when it comes to the finished product.

“There’s so many things you can do at home like dentistry or running a zoo,” Organ says. “I mean, the best analogy would be a commercial kitchen; you can have restaurant-quality food at home—if you’re a chef.” V 

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