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.