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I once heard someone say that when you're paying for studio time, it's easy to make a record on no money, and easy on a lot of money, but hard to make it for a budget that lies somewhere in the middle. This is because if you have no money, you just get a great sound and go for it. If you have unlimited money, you try all the tricks that you've always wanted to try. If you've got a medium budget, you try to get the big budget record with all the tricks you've always wanted to try, but you fall short and forget to even get a good basic sound. There is some truth to this, but if you're recording in your home studio, it shouldn't be an issue. Work at first at trying to get a great basic sound, and with experience, learn to get a great sound with all the bells and thistles and fun crap. But remember that none of that stuff makes up for poor songwriting or playing. Great songs recorded in a good basic manner will always beat crappy songs recorded on an unlimited budget. That's the secret of the $30 Way, no matter if it's film, music, writing, or whatever.

That's where we have the advantage that no money can buy: talent.

[ LiB ]
[ LiB ]

Chapter 12. Software Recording

Software is really just bunches of strings of zeros and ones. But oh boy, can it do a lot. It's the instructions that enable your computer to do pretty much any thing .

Software is no replacement for songwriting skills. The better you understand the fundamentals of writing a chorus, hook, and verse and structuring things with variations on a theme, the more likely you will make music that's great, even with software that makes anyone sound good. And it sure is cheaper than a hardware-only studio, just as good, and in some ways, better.

Software recording allows you to do everything (and more) that you can do with hardware recording. And all without tape hiss, maintenance of moving parts , the expense of tape, or even the need for a tape recorder.

I remember the first time I heard the top-ten pop hit "Tubthumping" on the radio with its perky pub party lyrics:

"He drinks a whisky drink

He drinks a vodka drink

He drinks a lager drink

He drinks a cider drink

He sings the songs that remind him

Of the good times

He sings the songs that remind him

Of the better times."

I thought to myself , "Ah, a cute pop song for people who like to drink. How quaint." (As a side note, I also thought, " and it borrows heavily from Bonzo Dog Band 's "Give Booze A Chance," which also borrows heavily from a John Lennon song. [1.]

[1.] Reminds me of my line in Starving in the Company of Beautiful Women : "Everything that can be done has been done. Being a great artist now consists simply of being a good editor."

Then the DJ announced the name of the band. Chumbawamba. I was like, "My God! Them? Who let them on the radio??"

See, I remember Chumbawamba from their first go round as a bunch of squatting British anarchists who demanded the immediate overthrow of all governments and wrote scathing, screeching atonal dirge music. I think they described themselves as "Situationists." Or at least that's what the filthy, smelly, penniless, vegan crusty crass punks with "Chumbawamba" scrawled on their filthy leather jackets were called in 1987.

A batch of them took over my apartment that summer and would not leave. I think "Situationist" means you find yourself in a good situation, like my living room, and stay there. And when asked to chip in money to pay the phone bill or buy some food or beer, they yell that you're "exploiting the workers." [2.]

[2.] For some reason, most people I've met who rail about "the system exploiting the worker" never seem to do much working themselves.

Anyway, in 1987 if you'd told me that Chumbawamba, a collective of shrieking, squealing, squalling limeys would have a number-one hit by 1997, I would have thought you daft and said, "Shut up and do some dishes, you lazy poofter!"

So, how did this band that might have blown up a major label in 1987 end up on a major label in 1997?

A large part of the answer is: software recording.

Just as a word processing program makes a good writer much more able to organize her thoughts, software recording solutions like Vegas, Sound Forge, Acid, FL Studio, and Pro Tools can take the most marginally tuneful rough musical draft and make it easy for someone with a good sense of pacing to rearrange his output into a passable pop song. You only have to sing the chorus correctly once, then it's just cutting and pasting. And that chorus, and each line and note and every beat in the song, can be pasted from the best parts of dozens of other takes. All this studio glitz is one reason groups that sound great on record don't always sound great live.

It also enables individuals to make music easily without even having a band.

Computer recording can make the lame rock. But in the hands of a someone who's already talented, it can polish the raw unrefined diamond and make it shine . In the hands of someone who's extremely talented, like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, it can produce new music that passes beyond the ordinary and is actually acutely amazing.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel (just the reel to reel). Most of what we learned in the last chapter applies here. You still want to use good mikes , baffle them for better sound isolation, and not hurry or pressure the musicians . Tune your instruments. Get good levels. Record tests and listen to them before starting. All that stuff is the same in software recording. So if you didn't read the last chapter because you just want to jump ahead to software recording, go read it now. Ninety-three percent of it will be relevant here. The only stuff that isn't is the actual other end of the recording chain. You'll be going into the computer rather than into a tape recorder, and the mixer and effects will probably be software on the screen, although the smartest software recording engineers still use a hardware mixer too, and probably some outboard hardware pre-amps, and effects like reverb and delay.

[ LiB ]