Let me answer that with another question: Why are you making music?
Hopefully, somewhere in your list of reasons is that you want to be able to share your music with others, and that's fantastic. Like a good bottle of wine, your music becomes much more enjoyable when shared.
"Music in a vacuum isn't music. It's gotta be shared." —Greg Wells
Making a Recording vs. Making Music
Don't overthink this: you can't make a recording without first having something to record. If your primary goal is solely to make a recording for the sake of making a recording, then you ought to be an audio engineer and you can probably stop reading now. BUT, if your primary goal is to make music then it's likely that you're already writing and performing music of your own anyway, or in collaboration with someone else's music. At some point, you probably thought of recording your music too but question the affordability and benefits of gear, booking studio time, mixing & mastering sessions, and distribution. No worries, I get all that. Just remember that you have options and that recording your music is never an all-or-nothing scenario.
If you are a music-maker, some part of you really wants to share your music with others and performing your music live allows you to do that directly. If it hasn't happened already, it's only a matter of time before someone comes up to you after the next gig to ask where he or she can hear more of your music—or even better, they want to know how they can share your music with their friends. This is where having a recording of your music opens more doors of opportunity for your music to be heard.
For hundreds of generations, music could only exist in the very moment it was being performed. The ability to record our music and play it back to hear it in exactly the same way every time—at any time—is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Embrace the awesomeness of this and record your music to make it more accessible to a larger audience. Taking it further, give them a recording that you can feel really good about every time it's heard.
Especially in this day and age, it's a good bet that someone in last night's audience has already made a recording of your music for you by posting a clip of your live performance to social media during the gig. Suddenly you're reaching a lot more people than just the ones who were there live for that one night. Was it a good performance? When they share that 30-second clip of your performance on the Interwebs, will it be a fair representation of your sound?
Taking Control of Your Sound
Okay, control is almost always an illusion. When you're performing in front of a live audience, what you hear in your head (and the monitors) can be very different than what the audience hears. You have to trust that the live sound engineer understands the room and can make your music fill it in a good way. Likewise, when someone in the crowd spontaneously hits the Record button on their phone, you have to hope that they are catching you at your very best moment in that night's set and that their phone's mic is picking up more than just the crowd noise and a muddy or muffled recording of your song.
The point here is that you can be much more proactive about how your fans will hear, remember, and share your music simply by providing them with a decent recording to view, download or stream. This recording can come in several flavors and you can certainly scale your recording efforts to match your budget and immediate goals:
- Song Ideas/Audio Clips — Use the voice memo app and built-in mic on your mobile device to quickly capture your song ideas whenever and wherever they come to you. Being able to recall these ideas later can help you further develop a few riffs and beats into a completed song.
- Performance Video — Use your mobile device to record a stripped-down performance video of your new song for your YouTube and Facebook fans. Simple. Fast. Just about anybody can do it, which is why you'll find so many of these on social media. How to stand out? Write often and invest in a better recording of your best songs.
- Rough Demo — As you build out your song into a fuller production, you can benefit from multi-track recording, which allows for more flexibility vs. a single stereo track offered through your camera or voice memo app. There are free mobile apps for both iOS (Garageband) and for Android (Soundcamp, Bandlab, and more) that can bring multi-track recording capabilities to anyone without access to dedicated gear in a home studio. These recordings are flexible enough for rapid song development and low-cost collaboration opportunities, yet can be easily edited & mixed to a stereo file for sharing and online distribution. You may be pleasantly surprised by the quality you can achieve with even these "rough" demo recordings. Consider my affordable mixing service for singer-songwriters to get started with your own multi-track recordings.
- Publishing Demo — If your goal is to shop your new song to producers, labels, and other artists, the expectation in many genres is for a high-quality recording, often with lots of production value already in place. Your free mobile app likely won't deliver the results you want and a dedicated Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper, etc., will provide more power and functionality to efficiently record and manage the additional tracks often needed for these recordings. Part of this investment is the basic gear you can take advantage of with a modern DAW, namely a more powerful laptop/desktop computer, decent audio interface, speakers, and at least one good microphone. Honestly, it doesn't take as much as you may think. Well-recorded multi-tracks from even a modest home studio can sound amazing. The writing, arrangement, and performance will always bring more impact to your song than the gear used to record it.
- Single/Album for Release — For releasing your own original music to the world, you will want to present each song in its best light. This is where recording in a pro studio or well-run home studio become a necessity. Aside from the superior acoustics and recording facilities, you are also gaining the experience of the tracking engineer who has the technical skills to efficiently capture your music while letting you, as the artist, focus solely on giving a great performance. The resulting audio file, once professionally mixed and mastered, can also be synced to a produced and edited video—either one of your own making or as a sync license for use in someone else's video, film, or TV show.
DO YOU VALUE YOUR TIME & ENERGY?
If you find yourself capable of tackling all of these recording types on your own (and that's awesome), still consider focusing on making your music first, while having others focus on properly recording it for you when possible.
There is a real value in utilizing a dedicated service that provides convenience and less stress while ensuring quality and efficiency. We find value in these services all of the time, whether it's taking an Uber ride, getting a haircut, dining out, or hiring a landscaping crew to maintain your lawn. There will be options and different levels of service to choose from and it's your own call as to where the value lies and who or what can best provide that value for each opportunity.
When you're ready to reach more people with your music—without sacrificing quality—you have to consider investing some time, effort, and money to receive more value. Yes, there is a difference between investing and simply spending. There is also a very real limit to what "free" can deliver to both you and your audience.
How much effort? How much money? The answer will be different for everyone, but honestly ask yourself what amount of effort is worth investing in your music to potentially reach a larger audience on your own terms with a great-sounding recording that you get to approve. When someone plays it back, it will sound great every time, just like you always heard it in your own head—or even better.
No matter the type of recording you're after, the emphasis should always be first and foremost on making great music. We would all much rather listen to a great song (regardless of recording quality) vs. a stellar recording of a mediocre performance or a bad song.
Start with making great music—your recording efforts (and budget) can then reflect your progression towards whatever musical goals you've set for each project. There's never just one way to make music and there's never just one way to record it. Explore your options and ask for help along the way.
get thoughts on music-making & making music thoughtful
we respect your privacy