Five Ways That A Home Studio Will Drive You Insane

I grew up in the pre-Internet era, but the funny thing is that I now can’t really remember what life was like before email and the World Wide Web.

It was also the pre-digital era. When I started to write songs, having a home studio entailed investing large amounts of money on a multi-track reel-to-reel recorder, another machine to mix down onto, outboard effects and mixing desk. Not to mention, mics, mic stands and cables.  I couldn’t afford all that, so I saved my pennies and hired studio time, even for demos.

 

And to be honest, I can’t really remember that time very well either. Today, I have recording software (including effects) on my laptop and with a small mixer and a few mics, I’m in business. The studio is no longer a luxury, it’s a tool.  I’ve recorded four albums at home, and because I have had  time to get things right, I’m generally happy with the results.

But…if you have the budget, there may be a case for spending on pro studio time for the bigger projects. And it’s not simply because the professional operation will have better equipment. Working in a dedicated studio may help you solve some of the issues that can drive you mad when you’re working at home.

Here are five issues that can blight your home recording outcomes.

1) You Never Finish

2015. “I’m making an album at home,” says a friend of a friend. 2018. “How  did the album project go,? you ask. “I’m still working on it,” the friend of friend replies.

And here’s the problem.  Having a home studio means  you never have to watch the clock. That’s great…it really is. But the downside is that you can just keep on tweaking things in search of the perfect guitar sound, vocal or solo that you never quite achieve. Without the constraints of a budget,  there is a danger that you simply won’t know when to stop. And if you’re working on your own, you may lack the objectivity to know what a good take actually is. The album never gets made.

Solution: Set a timetable and stick to it.

2) It’s Impossible to Judge Your Own Performance

This can be a particular problem when it comes to vocals.  The prerequisite for a vocal is that it should be in tune. In theory, and assuming you have a half decent ear, that should be easy to assess, but other factors can cloud your judgment, Maybe, it just doesn’t sound right because you don’t like the vocal tone, or the phrasing doesn’t quite work. Other people tell you, don’t worry, it’s fine and in tune, but it doesn’t sound right to you. Eventually, you lose all ability to judge the vocal line and possibly also mislay the will to live.

Solution: Work with someone you trust. Someone who can tell you if it’s a good performance or not. If that’s not possible, forget about it for a day or two. If the vocal still doesn’t sound right when you come back to it, do it again.

3) Live Sound is a No No. 

Unless your studio is an isolated farmhouse or enjoys state of the art soundproofing, a home rig probably won’t be ideal for recording a band, complete with live drums.  My own setup lends itself to building songs one track at a time. That gives me a lot of control, but I miss the live ‘band’ sound that is achievable in pro studios.

Solution: If you need a live sound and you can’t do it at home, invest in some studio time

4) You’ll be Learning on the Job 

My first attempt to record an album on my own equipment was a disaster. So much so, that I quietly binned it and started again. Performances were partly to blame, but mainly, I was learning some fairly basic technical skills. Skills that I would have taken for granted had I been working with an experienced engineer.

Solution: Experiment, read, take advice and don’t expect brilliant results immediately

5) Lack of Interaction

There is a temptation – which I’ve fallen victim to – to do everything yourself – guitar, bass, keyboards, drum programming etc. Actually, it’s a bit of thrill to do that. But…..you arguably lose the studio magic that comes from collaboration.

: Bring in other musicians

Why I Love Country Music

“British country music – there’s no excuse for it”

As pithy soundbites go, they don’t come much better.  In the space of just nine well-chosen  words,  the author managed to drive a soon to be bloodied knife into the heart of anyone foolish enough to enjoy playing or (God forbid) writing country music, while also being a resident of the United Kingdom.

And there is a part of me that agrees with the sentiment – which incidentally was expressed by a doyen of the English folk scene. Country music and its trendier spinoff, Americana may have some roots in the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and England, but lyrically and musically they speak to an American experience.

Aspiring to Pastiche

So if you’re based in London, Aberdeen or Swansea and you happen to play in a Country or Americana band, all you can really aspire to is pastiche, or at the very best a heartfelt tribute that sits somewhere to the left of the real thing.

One  problem with Country is that the lyrical tropes are pretty specific to America.  Words that conjure up visions of endless roads, roadside bars and trains that take fifteen minutes to roll by, don’t sit well on the tongues of Brits. Even ‘cheatin’ songs – certainly a universal experience –  exist in Country music as an almost heroic, if often tragic, counterpart to the the constricted  morality of the Bible Belt. ‘Cheatin’ isn’t just ‘cheatin’  in country music. Cheatin is the plot McGuffin that allows writers to explore sin, salvation and redemption. The same stories have a different resonance in the context of an increasingly Godless UK.

The Case for the Defence

So-case closed. UK country – there’s no excuse for it.

But there is a case for the defence.  As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from Americana. In particular,  Americana has taught me that telling stories that illuminate the lives of ordinary people  is an incredibly rewarding thing to do.

So I put my hand up. The lyrical structures that underpin much of Americana lie at the heart of an awful lot of my songs too. That’s not to say that I’m writing about American themes – most of my songs are set firmly in the UK.  But they are stories that often – as is the case with Americana – explore some of the more awkward corners of the human heart.

So file under Anglo-Irish Americana. Or better still  file under songwriter that draws on elements of folk, roots, Americana, Blues and Jazz in service of narrative lyrics.  See below for an example