Why You Should Hire a Professional Producer or Engineer (…And 8 Bad Reasons to Do It All Yourself)

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Perhaps that responsibility to my clients gave me more motivation to be hyper-vigilant, and even think about possible mistakes before they arose, so I progressed even faster. But I probably wouldn’t have learned nearly as fast or as deeply if the client was me. I would have been much more likely to cut myself some slack and end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again, even forming bad habits that I would take with me to sessions with others.

Even if you do want to embark on a career as an audio engineer, recording yourself may not be the best way to learn. You are only learning about recording as it pertains to you, which can be limiting. Your experiences are limited to what you consider to be musically important.

You will get better, sure, but you will likely not gain the depth of knowledge that someone who records a variety of artists would.

And consider this: Would you hire someone else to record or mix your most important music if they were “just trying to learn”? The tracks could come out well, but then again, they might not. You just won’t know until you do it. If you do it all yourself, you are essentially hiring an amateur, and you cannot predict the results.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t record yourself at all. Learning more about recording is beneficial to all musicians, regardless of where they are in their career. More informed musicians make better recordings every time. More knowledge can help your demos sound good or can even allow you to work on supplemental tracks within a final master recording.

But if we’re talking about music that’s important enough for you to release to the general music-buying public? Then you should make sure it gets appropriate attention and consideration. Hiring a professional for at least some part of the process allows for this.

3. “If I have unlimited time, I can make it sound exactly like I want it to”

This is an incorrect assumption on many levels.

First of all, the idea that more time is all it takes to get better results falsely discounts the skill it takes to make great recordings. It’s as if anyone, at any stage of their development as an engineer, can end up with exactly what they want through trial and error alone.

Why do some recordings come out so much better than others? Is it only a difference of time spent?

Up to a certain point, more time can sometimes help lead to better results, all else being equal. But the skill, experience and knowledge applied to the project has a far bigger impact on the final product than the time spent.

It seems obvious when we apply this logic to other disciplines. For instance: I could buy a canvas, some paints and brushes, and spend a year on one painting, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. I’m not a painter, after all. We seem to realize this intuitively when it comes to other crafts, but not when it comes to recording and mixing. Why?

There are reasons that certain engineers and producers work more than everyone else. Not only are they good at what they do, but also they also consistently deliver something exceptional, regardless of the artist, the budget or the genre—and regardless of whether they have all the time in the world.

It’s no accident and it’s not luck. The great ones work on their skills in the same way great musicians do. There’s a relentless passion to get better, to know more, and to constantly innovate. In other words, they take the responsibility of making your music sound great just as seriously as you do when you are creating it.

A truly seasoned engineer may have made hundreds of recordings with countless musicians in many different spaces. Through all this, they have encountered obstacles and have been forced to find solutions. Hiring one allows you to learn from others’ mistakes instead of having to learn by making so many of your own.

The proverbial bag of tricks that an experienced engineer carries with him or her becomes deeper with more experience. No extra amount of time on any one project brings the kind of benefits of working with someone who brings a lifetime of learned experience to bear on your music.

4. “If I get some high-end gear, my recordings will sound like they came out of a professional studio”

Having more or better gear doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily get better results. You still have to know how to use it properly, and how to use it to make good creative and aesthetic decisions.

It seems obvious when we put it in another context: if I buy a nice guitar I don’t suddenly become a good guitar player. Yet so many magazines, websites and forum marketers go out of their way to promote and sell gear as if it’s a fix-all, perpetuating this misconception. When companies peddle products that “creates hits”, the buyer is left to believe that the gear itself is somehow responsible. It is not.

Good gear in the right hands is definitely beneficial to any recording. But even mediocre gear in the right hands can deliver a very good recording. It all goes back to the level of commitment to the craft of recording that you can only get from a professional. experienced professionals better understand the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of gear and can use that knowledge to get the most out of the situation.

Good gear is fun to use and cool to own, but it doesn’t make the recording. And it doesn’t even necessarily make the recording sound better.

5. “I don’t really need to go to a studio. I’ll just use nearfields and close mics so the acoustics of my room won’t be an issue.”

This is so, so wrong.

The monitoring environment is easily the most important part of your recording chain. If you can’t hear things as they really are, then all of your decisions will be way off base.

You simply have to have a good point of reference from which to work to make sound decisions. This is the thing that real professionals take care of first.

Most professional engineers have their own monitors they travel with, or only work in studios that have monitors and a control room that they’re familiar with. The monitors become an extension of their ears and they need to be consistent. Without this, they’re just guessing.

Compounding this, there’s a good chance that if the room you listen in doesn’t sound good, then the room you record in is probably not ideal either. So now your problem is multiplied: You’re capturing a bad sounding room and evaluating it in a bad sounding room. From where I sit, that doesn’t sound like it would work out very well.

Hiring a professional leaves those decisions to someone who either A ) Has a trustworthy space to work in, or B ) Has experience dealing with less-than-ideal acoustics. Your music should be worth that.

6. “But I will save so much money if I do it myself”

This one seems like the hardest one to disagree with, but to be honest, there’s no promise that recording yourself will necessarily be cheaper.

This depends in part on how much gear you end up buying. (Hint: it’s always more than you think it will be.) It also depends on how much it costs you in time and opportunity compared to working with professionals.

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  • brad813

    I take the hybrid approach. I do what I can myself, and have set up my home studio for songwriting specifically, but when I need to polish it, that is when I will go to a studio. It helps me to save some money, but also have expert advice when I need it.

  • Scott G-RRR

    All the reasons why NOT to DIY but none of the reasons WHY. What about these: Because I WANT to, I DESIRE to, I am INSPIRED to, I LOVE to. Making mistakes is all part of learning and if it ends up in the trash – so be it. True pioneers make their own way. They are bold, brave and fearless about what lies ahead and not afraid of mistakes. How many mistakes did Edison, Tesla, Curie, Bell, Rembrandt, Picasso, Einstein and others make? Tell me which great Inventor, Innovator, Researcher or Artist held back because someone gave 8 reasons NOT to do it. Dr Livingstone fearlessly blazed trails exploring Africa. When Great Britain wrote him asking if he found a path for men to follow and wanted reinforcements, he simply replied “I don’t want men who follow. I want men who can blaze the trail.” Food for thought.

  • Laureano López

    man this stinks so much of corporate propaganda. how did YOU start, mike major? did you come out of an egg saying “engineer!” with your hat on? did you find a million dollars in your parents’ bedroom and said yay? if no one wants an amateur, who the heck hired you in your first year? have you done anything besides turning knobs at some point in your life? how many songs have you arranged? have you tried arranging something that wasn’t a song? do you sing? do you play something? are the answers to all that “no” or “once in a while” or “a long time ago”? why should one trust in the musical abilities of someone whose only developed point of view comes from turning knobs? what’s your opinion on people like nigel godrich, who has produced little more than one band and its spinoffs for his whole career? do you think he “lacks perspective”? or maybe he’s a genius so we can’t compare?

    come

    the heck

    on

  • Mike Major

    Corporate propoganda? A million dollars from my parents? Wow. So, clearly Laureano you don’t know me at all so let me explain my career path (since you have some strange misconception about it):

    I was a musician first. I played drums for 25 years. I sing, I play GTR, I dabble with keys, I’ve written a bunch of songs (not very good ones), I have done and still do a ton of arranging and still help my bands and artists get their best stuff out to their fans through whatever means necessary. I was a musician first and used that experience and those sensibilities to be a better engineer and producer. I talk to musicians as a musician, but I also understand all of the ins and outs of recording.

    I started out by working for free. I followed the guys who were doing my band’s live sound and our recordings (which we paid for) and offered to help out just to be around it. I listened to what they had to say and observed what they did and picked stuff up gradually. I read books and magazines and asked a lot of questions (remember there was no internet back then). Because I was dedicated and a hard worker, these professionals gave me opportunities to try stuff out and learn on the job. Sometimes it didn’t go well but they put me in situations that wouldn’t negatively affect someone who was paying for professional work. There was lots of on the job training.

    I worked in a restaurant while continuing to practice with my band, and started recording our rehearsals (with our rented PA). These recordings were for us to listen to and for me to learn; they were not for the public. I knew I was an amateur and wouldn’t have imagined releasing anything I did to the public-I hired professionals when I was going to release something. I did eventually start doing live gigs and recordings on my own and people paid me modestly and generally understood that I was still learning, so things were not always great-but the pay was commensurate to the quality of the work. In fact, I started mixing bands at clubs 6 nights a week and made about $120 for the week. Yeah, $120 for the whole week. Big, big money here.

    Doing it every night, I learned a lot and got better and better, and was able to charge more (eventually). It took a long time before it was enough to support me; (especially since my parents kept the million dollars under lock and key-they were crafty!) but I did eventually reach that point. Even then it was never lucrative, but I loved what I did and have never looked back. In fact it’s still not lucrative but I still love it.

    Did you notice that I write articles for SonicScoop? Do you know why? Because there’s not always tons of work mixing and mastering and I try to make money in the music business any way I can. I also like helping people get better at recording and think my perspective from 30 years of working in studios and on stages can be helpful. Especially to those who don’t think I’m trying to keep them out of the profession.

    The point of the article, if you had not taken such an adversarial view of it from the start, was that if you’re going to release something, and you want your music/record to go toe to toe with anything commercially available then you should give it the respect it deserves and hire someone who does this professionally for some portion of the process. Your fans (and I’m sure you have many from the tone of your post) will give your music more attention and treat it legitimately if it sounds like it was done by professionals and doesn’t pale in comparison to whatever your competition may be.

    Can you do all of this yourself? If so, great. Keep at it. Do you want to save money but don’t have the skill to mix it well enough? Hire someone who will do a better job than you and be happy about it every time you listen to your record (or every time you play it for someone). Are your mixes turning out exactly like you want them to? Great. Hire a mastering engineer to finish it out.

    I’m actually restating what I said in the article but through your misplaced rage and feeling that I was attacking everyone who wants to learn how to record, you probably missed it.

    Nigel Godrich usually has an engineer on his records, by the way. A professional too, right? The Beatles? They used professionals. Led Zeppelin? Them too. The Sex Pistols? NIrvana? Marvin Gaye? Stevie Wonder? Frank Sinatra? Beyonce? They all also hired professionals to make their records. There are some records that are recorded, mixed and mastered by one person these days, but they are surely the exception. I personally don’t own any music like that, but I’m old…maybe you do?

    It’s all about knowing your limitations and knowing whether or not you can meet your own expectations about how your music is supposed to sound. If someone records themselves and they love the results, then they’ll read this article and think: “this doesn’t apply to me”. But if you’re constantly frustrated with how your recordings are turning out, you might learn something from having a professional work on it with you. I always offer advice to the clients who want it (most do) so they can continue to get better. If they do better work and send it to me, it allows me to do better work for them. And with some of my clients, they have learned so much over the years that they don’t hire me anymore. And that’s great! I love it. I want to stay busy, but I also like good sounding records. Even if I didn’t record them.

  • Mike Major

    I am not trying to talk anyone out of blazing their own trail; I know that everyone records nowadays. I’m merely offering the perspective that if you want to release music to some kind of fan base, it will almost definitely come out better if a professional gets involved at some point. If you want to make your mistakes and throw them in the trash, then you should do that. Repetition is imperative to help you grow as a recording engineer. What I’m talking about is hiring someone when you’re doing work for the general public to consume.

    If you can do all of that yourself then the article was not for you anyway, right?

    I know that when I was still learning stuff, a professional’s perspective on what I did was always instructional and I actively and aggressively sought those opinions. When you hire someone to work on your music with you they can probably help you to get better at it…and maybe help you grow faster and more completely then you ever could without their perspective.

    If I wanted to be a good mechanic, there’s probably a lot I could learn by watching YouTube videos and working on my car on my own. My car may not always run very well, but at least I could feel proud knowing that I did all of the work. But, I bet if I hired a mechanic who would let me watch and help him/her repair my car I would learn a lot more, don’t you think?

  • Scott G-RRR

    Thank you. Disclaimer – I am not looking to pick an argument, but I am merely trying to present another perspective.

    Absolutely, I agree that learning is important. But today, I find, more often than not, that the word “professional” is thrown around without any quantifiable definition. I attended the Berklee College of Music Production course of studies in the 1980’s, Apprenticed with knowledgeable, seasoned Engineers in some of the best equipped studios in Boston and piloted the renown SSL4000G for a years. Today, I have been relegated by some of these “professionals” as a DIY, Home Studio, Bedroom Studio or even use the dreaded “Hobbyist” status. Many of these “professionals” don’t have the experience of equal due. Yet they feel an obligation to discourage others instead of sharing their knowledge.

    You are correct in your article about learning and we all have to start somewhere. But what you have written can also be interpreted as to discourage. That, in turn, falls into the trap of some “professionals” who seem to only be looking out (and chasing after) the almighty dollar in an effort to survive and grow their client base. Sometimes, the biggest regret in life is listening to advice of others who do not have your best interest in mind.

  • Well there’s no corporate propaganda here, I assure you. If my parents had a million dollars in their bedroom, I never knew about it, they never told me and I certainly never got any of it (bummer!). I’m self-employed and work for myself and my clients. I started like most people: I was (and still am) a musician and worked for free with professionals that I had hired to do work for me so I could learn from them. I would do load-ins and load-outs with a local sound company (again, for free) to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be around this stuff.

    I do sing, play something, arrange (good and bad music) and have done other things that turning knobs (like tuning drums, tuning GTRs, stacking speakers, loading trucks, dealing with new bands/old bands, etc.)

    My early recordings sucked pretty bad but I wasn’t trying to release them either, so that was also part of my development. When people hired me (not in my first year, mind you) they knew I was still learning and paid accordingly.

    My point of view is entirely based in music and what is musical, not “turning knobs”; the knobs are a means to making things sounding musically and emotionally like I want them to.

    Guys like Nigel Godrich also use professionals when they record. In fact, pretty much everything you hear on TV/Radio/internet had a professional involved at some point. I think there’s a benefit to having someone involved who has dedicated their life to recording because your music can benefit from their involvement.

    I have done my taxes using Turbotax several times and it’s turned out OK. When certain tax years have gotten more complicated I paid someone to do my taxes so my tax situation was improved due to their experience and knowledge. This is exactly parallel to recording, even though recording is an artistic endeavor. More expertise and experience usually lead to better results.

    I know when I was learning that there were a handful of mentors and professionals whose advice I sought to help me figure out what I was missing and how I could improve. Likewise, I know that I have helped many of my clients over the years to get better at recording, so that now, some of them do everything themselves, or maybe just call me to master…and that’s great! I know that I (and all of my professional colleagues that I trust) am
    only looking to help my clients’ music sound its best. There’s no hidden
    agenda to try and keep people from doing things themselves.

    If you can do stuff yourself and are growing, getting better and are always happy with the results, then the article wasn’t for you. If you don’t need or want input from others, then you should do it all yourself, plain and simple. This article was merely an attempt to help people who are struggling with the way their recordings sound to understand that a professional may be able to fix what’s wrong or improve what’s already pretty good.

  • I get what you’re saying but I was not trying to discourage anyone from doing things themselves, but rather pointing out that seeking help from someone you trust to spread around the responsibility is usually better. To me this is sharing my knowledge and perspective gained from a fairly long career. I’ve seen otherwise great songs ruined by bad recordings from bands who felt they could do it all themselves but really shouldn’t have. That kills me.

    I think the term “professional” can be misinterpreted, yes, but I believe it is incumbent on the client to research who they’re going to hire. If you like what someone has done as a mixer, recording engineer, mastering engineer for others, then there’s a good chance you’ll like what they do for you. If you’ve never heard their work but hire them based on a website or hype then that may not turn out so well. Who would do that? Just as we ask for referrals when hiring a mechanic or plumber, we need to do research on those who may work on our music. Anyone who is actively trying to record or mix professionally will have a “demo reel” to listen to.

    If people are making claims about you being a “Hobbyist”, that’s unfortunate, because it sounds as if you’ve been at this for a long time. However, if you have a catalog of great work to show people what you can do, it would tend to de-legitimize what others may be saying about you. And if others are using this tactic to steer work away from you and towards them, then the clients they gain through this means will ultimately pay the price, sadly. I’ve never felt the need to talk badly about others work to drum up work for myself.

    The professionals that I know and associate with only have their clients’ best interest in mind. Personally, I know no one in the recording biz that is just chasing the almighty dollar. In fact, everyone I know does it because they love it and have figured out a way to make a living doing it. Hell, even guys whose recordings/mixes that I don’t like are still passionate about it. Just because my opinion and theirs are not in agreement doesn’t mean that they’re just trying to grow their client base; they seem to love what they do and give their best to those who hire them.

    If I was just doing it for the money I would have quit a long time ago because many times, the money is just not there. There are many other ways to make more money than I do with less effort and higher returns, but those professions don’t make me want to get out of bed ready to work every day.

  • Justin C.

    “Corporate propaganda”? Really Laureano? 🙂 Haha.

    We value your feedback, and you’re welcome to disagree with the author. But since when is “recommending that you might benefit from working with a professional audio engineer or producer” the same things as shilling for some big business?

    Most producers and engineers are small businesses, and few of them are incorporated. (Though there’s a valid argument that more of them should incorporate as small businesses for tax, accounting and liability reasons.)

    Mike does have a section in here on how he got started, and how many mistakes he made along the way. Check out #2 near the end of the first page. I think it addresses a lot of these questions

    And far from being propagandistic, we have many opinion pieces and articles here that extol the great virtues of DIY music production too. This one is Mike Major’s personal opinion. It’s not anyone’s views but his own.

    To each their own and best wishes to you.

  • Laureano López

    i was being harsh, sure, maybe i was annoyed, but not enraged. i was overdoing the point, and i’m sorry if it came off as rude. i do at least partially agree with many things you say here. i like your other articles too, and i think they’re very informative.

    “corporate” was a mediocre translation of “gremial” in spanish, where “gremio” is something akin to “union” (that would be “sindicato”) but more general -like any kind of association between people of a certain profession, even in an informal sense. i meant that there’s something of a corporative, protectionist attitude with respect to the profession that comes through the text, the idea that specialization is something good by itself, that some things should be better left off to the professionals. i didn’t assume that your parents gave you a million dollars, or that you’ve never done anything besides turning knobs. i assumed the opposite, and that’s precisely my point: how do you get into something if you always leave off to the professionals? how do you get good without sucking a bit and dealing with it instead of just paying someone to do it “right”?

    i live and work in a place where there’s no music industry. there are some big labels (in the country -certainly not in my city, which is the second biggest), but below that everything gets quickly unstructured and, well, unprofitable. there’s nothing remotely like the traditions you find in the US (even traditions of production) where knowledge and style (and even gear) is shared in many ways through many people working at different levels. building a studio is VERY expensive, even a small one. i can very certainly say that no one here would be able to build a studio (even a small one) from savings of working at a restaurant, at least not in any reasonable time. so most people who actually get to build a studio get a starting push from somewhere else -that is, they’re usually high-middle class kids, and they get their knowledge just like their gear: paying a lot for it. this amounts to a situation where you have many people making music with any different backgrounds, and a way smaller amount of people with the resources to sell themselves as producers/engineers. then you have something like this: some (high-middle class) kid buys a new tlm 103 for his studio and posts in his facebook page: “come to our studio to record your vocals like a real pro”. it’s not a big studio, it’s a small, “independent” thing, maybe they even think of themselves as “progressive”. then you have another kid, who has a band, and his band is sounding good, and they’re rehearsing a lot, and he’s working at a restaurant. he thinks: i want my band to sound good. i want to be competitive, i want to be able to play at [some cool, trendy place], i want to reach that target. he’s been recording stuff with his 2i2 and he likes it, but suddenly he fears. because he doesn’t have a tlm 103, nor he will, in any reasonable time. so he won’t sound like a pro.

    i’ve seen many people get trapped into this plot. they spend all their money (really, all) to pay for studio time in a neat place and they come out with a finished product -and nothing else. they have this expectation that somehow having a pro-sounding product will bring the jump forward, will open the doors. so they spend two years and a lot of money into it. then they have it, and there’s no jump forward, and they have no money and a lot of frustration, and maybe they disband. thing is, there are many other variables in play there besides having a pro-sounding product. and you come out with nothing else, because you’ve just paid for it. you learned nothing. it’s not your friend’s studio, you don’t even live in the same part of the city or hang out at the same places. most folks won’t even give you a project file with tracks. next time you’ll start at the same point, knowing nothing new, still needing to pay expensive studio time. it’s unsustainable, because there’s no ecosystem, there’s a breach and it doesn’t close. if you want to make that ecosystem, to cut that loop jumping between the sides of a breach, you need to get into the stuff at zero point and build from there.

    let me tell you a bit about my background. i’ve gone through a rambling path that’s not unusual in a place where there’s no industry. i started singing in bands, but i got quickly driven to composition, so i went to music college, which where i live happens to be a very (very) academic thing. then i got into choirs, and somehow into opera, and i sang and arranged for a small opera company for like five years. seriously. i ended up hating it, and got into bands again, and it didn’t quite work, but i got into sound, then i was kind of producing a friend’s band, then writing horn arrangements for another’s, and that slowly started to roll off. i’ve been diving through that for the last three years. you could call my means very precarious. i’m mixing on headphones, because i can’t afford monitors, i got a pair of dt770s as a gift, i do this in a fairly noisy place, and i can’t afford a better place either. btw the bands i’m working with certainly don’t have a million fans, maybe not even a thousand.

    i often say that poor people need to know more. if you have money, you can trust it. you can buy “the best” and trust it, and forget a bit about the details. this doesn’t just apply to gear. it also applies to expectations, and to style. if you’re working with shitty elements in shitty conditions, maybe it’s not a good idea to strive for a more or less conventionally defined “pro” thing. you’ll follow the recipe and you won’t get the cake, and you’ll always be running from behind. it’s good to know things, especially very specific things (say, phase-aligning drum tracks), but not necessarily to just use them. you can’t turn shit into gold, but maybe there’s something interesting in that “shit” and you can create something around it. you start to think about style, about the aesthetic possibilities of unexpected things. it won’t take you to the same places, but it will give you something to develop, so even if you don’t get the gig at the trendy place, after you finish something you gain more than a finished product. it’s not a linear path to some good-sounding paradise. something i see happening over and over again with (high-middle class) kids with small studios is that they have very specific, very packaged notions of what’s “good”, and what sounds “good”. it ends up in utter simplifications that border on ignorance. they will tell you this drum sound is horrible, and you’ll say “can’s tago-mago, hello” and they’ll baffle. rock music is extremely wide-ranging in production styles, but you wouldn’t tell it from the talk of people who assume that a tlm 103, without a doubt, will give you “better” vocals.

    professionalism and specialization are not good for everyone. they work when there’s an actual business, when people with different specific skills can access each other’s work through reasonable prices. they don’t work in breaches. before paying a professional to give me a competitive product, i prefer to reconsider the “competitive” part, the expectations i’m having with respect to the place where i am. to favor the strengthening of bonds with people who share backgrounds, to build a sane ecosystem in which we can actually access each other’s work. i do agree it’s good to have someone else think about the sound when you play -i’m usually that someone else. it’s just that i’m no professional, and by the professionals’ standards maybe i’ll never be.

  • Laureano López

    well, i write something trying to de-escalate and disqus marks it as spam… not my week i guess. sorry, i didn’t want to be a nuisance, really. i just imagined someone here finding this article on facebook just as i did, and i worried. it’s not nice to see people throwing years of savings to a black hole, and i’ve seen it more than twice.

  • Justin C.

    Agreed Laureano. We don’t want to see anyone throwing savings in a black hole!

    Though to be fair though, I’ve seen people do that with DIY projects (often in buying tremendous amounts of gear, thinking that the next one will “fix” all their problems) as well as by going to professionals (often without a plan) and wasting lots of time and money.

    Personally, I’m a big believer in starting small, succeeding small, and iterating upward, bit by bit. We have a few great articles about that too.

    Not sure why your other comment got marked as spam but I’ll see what we can do to fix it.

    Thanks again and have a great day.

  • Pierre Du Plessis

    A problem that can often occur is burnout. If you try to write, arrange, produce, record, mix and master, you have heard the same song too many times and it can drive you crazy. Best to hand over even to another music colleague with a home studio with a fresh set of ears to listen/mix. You could reciprocate by assisting with one of their tracks too. Be careful of burnout.

  • Laureano López

    (this was the previous comment. looks like it will stay in spam limbo, so i leave it here. hope it won’t get marked this time.)

    i was being harsh, sure, maybe i was annoyed, but not enraged. i was overdoing the point, and i’m sorry if it came off as rude. i do at least partially agree with many things you say here. i like your other articles too, and i think they’re very informative.

    “corporate” was a mediocre translation of “gremial” in spanish, where “gremio” is something akin to “union” (that would be “sindicato”) but more general -like any kind of association between people of a certain profession, even in an informal sense. i meant that there’s something of a corporative, protectionist attitude with respect to the profession that comes through the text, the idea that specialization is something good by itself, that some things should be better left off to the professionals. i didn’t assume that your parents gave you a million dollars, or that you’ve never done anything besides turning knobs. i assumed the opposite, and that’s precisely my point: how do you get into something if you always leave off to the professionals? how do you get good without sucking a bit and dealing with it instead of just paying someone to do it “right”?

    i live and work in a place where there’s no music industry. there are some big labels (in the country -certainly not in my city, which is the second biggest), but below that everything gets quickly unstructured and, well, unprofitable. there’s nothing remotely like the traditions you find in the US (even traditions of production) where knowledge and style (and even gear) are shared in many ways through many people working at different levels. building a studio is VERY expensive, even a small one. i can very certainly say that no one here would be able to build a studio (even a small one) from savings of working at a restaurant, at least not in any reasonable time. so most people who actually get to build a studio get a starting push from somewhere else -that is, they’re usually high-middle class kids, and they get their knowledge just like their gear: paying a lot for it. this amounts to a situation where you have many people making music with any different backgrounds, and a way smaller amount of people with the resources to sell themselves as producers/engineers. then you have something like this: some (high-middle class) kid buys a new tlm 103 for his studio and posts in his facebook page: “come to our studio to record your vocals like a real pro”. it’s not a big studio, it’s a small, “independent” thing, maybe they even think of themselves as “progressive”. then you have another kid, who has a band, and his band is sounding good, and they’re rehearsing a lot, and he’s working at a restaurant. he thinks: i want my band to sound good. i want to be competitive, i want to be able to play at [some cool, trendy place], i want to reach that target. he’s been recording stuff with his 2i2 and he likes it, but suddenly he fears. because he doesn’t have a tlm 103, nor he will, in any reasonable time. so he won’t sound like a pro.

    i’ve seen many people get trapped into this plot. they spend all their money (really, all) to pay for studio time in a neat place and they come out with a finished product -and nothing else. they have this expectation that somehow having a pro-sounding product will bring the jump forward, will open the doors. so they spend two years and a lot of money into it. then they have it, and there’s no jump forward, and they have no money and a lot of frustration, and maybe they disband. thing is, there are many other variables in play there besides having a pro-sounding product. and you come out with nothing else, because you’ve just paid for it. you learned nothing. it’s not your friend’s studio, you don’t even live in the same part of the city or hang out at the same places. most folks won’t even give you a project file with tracks. next time you’ll start at the same point, knowing nothing new, still needing to pay expensive studio time. it’s unsustainable, because there’s no ecosystem, there’s a breach and it doesn’t close. if you want to make that ecosystem, to cut that loop jumping between the sides of a breach, you need to get into the stuff at zero point and build from there.

    let me tell you a bit about my background. i’ve gone through a rambling path that’s not unusual in a place where there’s no industry. i started singing in bands, but i got quickly driven to composition, so i went to music college, which where i live happens to be a very (very) academic thing. then i got into choirs, and somehow into opera, and i sang and arranged for a small opera company for like five years. seriously. i ended up hating it, and got into bands again, and it didn’t quite work, but i got into sound, then i was kind of producing a friend’s band, then writing horn arrangements for another’s, and that slowly started to roll off. i’ve been diving through that for the last three years. you could call my means very precarious. i’m mixing on headphones, because i can’t afford monitors, i got a pair of dt770s as a gift, i do this in a fairly noisy place, and i can’t afford a better place either. btw the bands i’m working with certainly don’t have a million fans, maybe not even a thousand.

    i often say that poor people need to know more. if you have money, you can trust it. you can buy “the best” and trust it, and forget a bit about the details. this doesn’t just apply to gear. it also applies to expectations, and to style. if you’re working with shitty elements in shitty conditions, maybe it’s not a good idea to strive for a more or less conventionally defined “pro” thing. you’ll follow the recipe and you won’t get the cake, and you’ll always be running from behind. it’s good to know things, especially very specific things (say, phase-aligning drum tracks), but not necessarily to just use them. you can’t turn shit into gold, but maybe there’s something interesting in that “shit” and you can create something around it. you start to think about style, about the aesthetic possibilities of unexpected things. it won’t take you to the same places, but it will give you something to develop, so even if you don’t get the gig at the trendy place, after you finish something you gain more than a finished product. it’s not a linear path to some good-sounding paradise. something i see happening over and over again with (high-middle class) kids with small studios is that they have very specific, very packaged notions of what’s “good”, and what sounds “good”. it ends up in utter simplifications that border on ignorance. they will tell you this drum sound is horrible, and you’ll say “can’s tago-mago, hello” and they’ll baffle. rock music is extremely wide-ranging in production styles, but you wouldn’t tell it from the talk of people who assume that a tlm 103, without a doubt, will give you “better” vocals.

    professionalism and specialization are not good for everyone. they work when there’s an actual business, when people with different specific skills can access each other’s work through reasonable prices. they don’t work in breaches. before paying a professional to give me a competitive product, i prefer to reconsider the “competitive” part, the expectations i’m having with respect to the place where i am. to favor the strengthening of bonds with people who share backgrounds, to build a sane ecosystem in which we can actually access each other’s work. i do agree it’s good to have someone else think about the sound when you play -i’m usually that someone else. it’s just that i’m no professional, and by the professionals’ standards maybe i’ll never be.

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  • JohnSmith

    Some of the points do make sense, but it’s a bit hard to take seriously somebody who’s arguing that the result won’t be good unless you give him (or somebody else in the industry) money.
    It sounds exactly like in point 4, when a magazine reads “you will suck until you give us money”.

  • Actually it’s nothing like when a magazine tries to sell you gear as a fix all.

    Experienced professionals use the same tools that are available to everyone now (a computer, ProTools, Plugins, yada, yada, yada), yet (usually) get better results. This is not me “pimping” my colleagues to prop everyone up (because we’re all getting so, so rich!!), it’s merely pointing out that experience goes a long way. The biggest artists usually hire people to work on their records because they expect it to be exceptional and know that they can’t do the same thing themselves, even though they’ve been recording for decades (at times).

    I thought the point was pretty obvious.