The process of recording music can seem quite daunting, and in many ways it is, but it's also a powerful way to take your musicianship up a notch. Even if you aren't a producer and have no interest in engineering, having basic recording skills will go a long way and pay itself off.
I started a little home studio from scratch years ago for the sole purpose of having a way to record my music as a singer-songwriter. Along the way, however, I've learned a surprising amount about music – arranging, creating grooves and beats, writing harmonies and counterpoint melodies, balancing levels, etc. It's definitely to your advantage in many ways to have a basic understanding of the recording process, and here we'll explore some of the major benefits.
1. Technology is a powerful tool for expressing your creativity
We all know by now that technology is as powerful as you make it. Knowing how to utilize your computer, an audio interface, and a microphone will provide you with the fundamental resources for a home studio and a basic understanding of how the recording process works. From setting up a microphone to setting levels on a mic preamp to operating a DAW (digital audio workstation) – you'll be equipped with skills that will give you greater command over your creative process. You'll be able to lay down ideas right on your computer, experiment by overdubbing parts or harmonies, mock up arrangements for your songs – basically, you can be as infinitely creative as you choose to be once you have the tech side down.
2. You can whip up your own demos (and do it your way)
Let's face it, we all need demos, and we'll never stop needing demos. Whether it's a demo to pitch to publishers, a demo to send a barebones idea to a producer, or a demo to send to your band, they're crucial, and sometimes voice memos on your phone just don't cut it. Having recording basics under your belt will ensure that whenever you need a demo, you'll be able to create one without the hassle of finding someone else to do it for you. I also find that when I track on my own, I sound better because I'm not under any pressure. I can take my time and do as many takes as I want to get it just how I like it. I'm also in a familiar space where I'm comfortable creating, so I'm naturally more expressive.
3. You'll improve your communication with producers
Knowledge is power, and the better you understand how sound works, the more you'll be able to command just how you want things to sound . If you're working with a producer, one of the most crucial elements is communication. I fiddled around with a little recording rig for years doing tons of little projects with my songs and arranging parts for them. When I finally started working with a producer, I was able to say things like, "I want the high-pass filter to open up more slowly so that washing effect doesn't sound so drastic," or, "Let's try a reverb with a faster decay time so it doesn’t sound like I'm in a giant concert hall," instead of being completely unaware of what was happening to my music.
4. You'll gain transferable skills
The fundamentals behind the technology we use for music, whether in the studio or on stage, is the same. For example, you'll want to know the difference between a TS cable and a TRS cable (which look nearly the same) because that can mean the difference between your signal coming through or not coming through. Knowing that you need a DI box for your acoustic guitar in order to plug into an XLR input is crucial both in the studio and on the road. Technology can be your best friend or bite you in the butt, so again, the more you know what you're doing and how it works, the more control you will have in all situations in the studio and beyond.
The takeaways from getting your feet wet in the recording side of music are vast and as infinite as you choose to delve in and experiment. I think all artists and musicians should have some basic understanding of the process, and the more technology advances as the years go by, the more crucial it will be to ensure success and longevity in this business.
Belinda Huang is a contributing writer for Sonicbids. She is a music production & engineering major at Berklee College of Music and is a staff writer for their online newspaper, The Berklee Groove.