Aside from the cost of buying gear (which can end up being considerable, even if you plan to keep your spending under control) there’s the fact that every hour you spend learning how to use it is an hour you’re not writing songs, not practicing your instrument, not getting gigs, AND an hour you’re not making money through other activities where you may already be much more productive.
7. “If I work by myself, I don’t have to worry about someone else’s schedule”
The part of your schedule you should be most concerned with is your release date. And so many artists who try to do everything themselves release their music much later than they had hoped to. Some of them never end up releasing their music at all.
One of the many benefits of hiring a professional is that you are forced to come up with a schedule of some kind. This is simply because you need to arrange for this person to meet with you to work rather than you being able to record when you “find the time” (or the inclination) to do so.
Having a schedule also forces you to make some very important decisions: You have to decide when the songs are ready to record, which songs are the most important record, what kind of arrangement you’d like to settle on for each, and so on. All of these decisions not only force you to start, but they almost assure that you will make progress, and make the likelihood that you will finish in a reasonable timeframe that much greater.
You are also forced to make essential judgment calls about your tones and your performances. One of the biggest casualties of home recording has been an increasing inability among musicians to make decisive judgment calls. It’s so easy to keep a take and do another, and another, and another (lather, rinse, repeat) as if the “magic” will somehow appear through sheer repetition. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way at all.
When I work with an artist, by the time a take is done, I know if it’s worth keeping or not. On rare occasions, I will do one more take after I have a “keeper”, but it’s usually not needed or used. Recording yourself by contrast, engenders more second-guessing, so there’s a higher probability that you’ll do more takes than necessary.
While these additional takes at home may not cost you more money out of pocket, they take more time and effort to do—and to sift through later. You also run the risk of micromanaging your performance and scrubbing it free of all its charm through far too much second guessing.
A major by-product of postponing all of these decisions is a completion date that keeps slipping further into the future. While you may not have a label breathing down your neck about a release date, you are not doing yourself any favors by taking more time than your really need.
Failing to put out releases is one common path to failing to build a career. Professionals help you force yourself to just get it out there —and at a high enough level of quality where you know a professional is confident enough to put his or her name in the liner notes.
8. “I know when I sound my best”
Making great music requires perspective. With few exceptions, great records are made with a team of collaborators.
If you think about your favorite artists and their best work, there’s a good chance that there was an engineer, a producer, a mixer, a mastering engineer, some musicians, and maybe even some additional songwriters. The point being that almost no one makes a great record entirely alone.
Music is collaborative by nature. Even solo artists rely on the synergistic relationship with the audience to inspire their creativity and performances. And even though they may write their music in solitude, at some point they have to come out of hiding to present it to their audience. Before they can release their records, they often need and rely on someone else’s input to further develop the ideas and bring them to fruition.
Music cannot be its best when it’s created in a vacuum. Even if the music is fantastic and groundbreaking, there is still room for input from a trusted third party.
A professional can reaffirm what the artist is already thinking, add great new ideas that the artist may have never considered, all while ensuring that nothing gets lost in the translation from “song” to “record”—because the two are not the same.
Professionals also understand the various delivery media and how to make sure that the music is well-served and the fans get the best possible version of the song for that moment in time. It’s not just about technical details like sample rates, levels, codecs and formats either. True professionals bring a perspective with them that, at best, can be like having the most constructive version of fan feedback possible, right away.
A trusted, objective ear can help you decide if a take was good enough, and can help you hone in on what is wrong with the earlier take so you can fix it more quickly. Many professionals can offer fresh suggestions about song structure, melodies, harmonies, arrangements, and instrumentation that might not have occurred to you.
A good professional is a team player, and all they have to gain by adding these insights is that your music sounds its best and can find the best audience possible.
Summing it Up
While much of the recording process can be done at home on your own these days, the value that an experienced outside contributor can add is still significant—and can help to separate your music from all the noise that’s out there.
You don’t necessarily need to hire professionals for everything to reap these benefits either:
Dead set on recording yourself? Find a good mixer who understands your genre.
Don’t have space to record the drums? Book a studio for a day or two and utilize their people and their spaces.
You’re finding yourself losing perspective when tracking vocals? Hire an experienced producer or engineer with the right touch to come to your space to track vocals with you, helping to coach you through the process and bring out your best self.
Are you happy with your tracking and mixing but feel that the mixes are still missing a little something? Send it to a mastering engineer.
While the financial motivation is to record yourself can be powerful, you also have to consider that the real reason to record music for release is so that others can hear and enjoy it. If it doesn’t sound like you want it to, then you may lose potential fans on the first try.
And let’s face it: Most people won’t give an artist a second chance when their music sounds like it was made in their mom’s basement.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Artists who already have rabid fans may be successful in selling their previously unreleased demos, and certain artists hone a quirky DIY aesthetic to great success. But for every Deerhoof or Ween or Nebraska, there are countless thousands of unknowns.
Ultimately, the right production will ensure that the audience hears the artist and the music as it was meant to be heard. Isn’t that the whole point?
You’ve taken the time to specialize in becoming a great songwriter or performer. You know firsthand how the countless hours you’ve invested in your craft is what has made your level of artistry and creative insight possible.