How many new songs have you written or learned to play in the last 12 months? How many of those songs have you tried to record? Performing a song and recording the song will use a lot of the same skills but when you listen back to your recorded performances, you'll quickly find that recording what you play can push you to develop new skills and sharpen the ones you already have to improve how you play to grow as a musician.
There are incredible players who can absolutely rock every live performance but struggle when playing to a click track in the studio. Many talented singers feel uncomfortable with what they're hearing while they sing when wearing headphones, or they lose their energetic onstage presence when they step into a studio's vocal booth without a stage mic in their hands. Plenty of drummers and bass players are tight onstage but struggle to connect with each other when recording together. This doesn't make them bad musicians, it's just a different experience and an environment that they may not be used to.
If you want to get better-sounding recordings you have to practice recording your music too
You already know that if you want to get better at writing or performing your music, you have to practice. Practicing turns information into knowledge, and knowledge into better behaviors. Good behaviors become solid habits when repeated over time, and these habits are what produce actual skills that can be seen, felt and heard in your songs and in your recorded performances.
When the red recording light comes on, it's easy for even veteran players to overly obsess about every little detail. You can chase after perfection and get frustrated with yourself, forgetting that many of the best performances captured are the ones with our uniquely human imperfections that give our music its vibe.
For the musician recording alone in a home studio, it can be especially challenging to remain objective without someone else in the room to keep you grounded. It can be difficult to create energy without other people to feed off of. On the flip side, it can be hard for some musicians to convey an emotional performance in a big studio when there's a crowd of strangers looking on.
How can you grow as an artist and overcome these types of challenges? Try it, then try it again. Figure out what works and what doesn't work for you and learn to adapt. Create new behaviors that will become positive habits. Then keep at it. Rinse and repeat. New experiences and new techniques will help you to grow as an artist but you have to apply what you learn in order to improve and become a well-rounded musician.
The Hardest Part is Getting Started
Start by making the simple decision to record your music more often to get better at it and to feel more comfortable in that environment. Once we decide to do something, the actual doing part becomes a bit easier. With practice, we can improve. Over time, what was once awkward becomes familiar—even to the point where it's automatic.
Gaining knowledge and gaining skill is not the same thing. The two are interwoven but knowledge alone won't get the job done—we have to be able to apply what we learn, consistently, for repeatable and successful results.
Ask yourself what you can DO in the next few hours today or tomorrow morning to start recording your music. What can you DO over the next few days to sustain that momentum? Over the next few weeks and months, what behaviors will show you and your audience that you're getting better at it?
Even without worrying about the sonic quality of your recordings at first, simply work at trying to improve the performance of what is being captured. You want to be objective as a musician but to keep things in perspective, listen back to your recorded performances as a listener too. Is the performance engaging? Does your playing feel natural? Does it evoke an emotional response?
But I don't have the gear or the budget to record my music...
When you have access to a proper studio, by all means, use it—but don't use your lack of fancy gear or inexperience as an excuse for not recording your music. If you can play or sing, and you have a mobile device, you can get started today with your own multi-track recordings using free mobile apps for both iOS (GarageBand) and Android (Soundcamp, BandLab). Consider my affordable mixing service for singer-songwriters who want to present each new song in its best light without committing to a full production and the budget that often comes with it. As you grow your knowledge and skills, you can scale your recording efforts accordingly.
If you also have a desktop computer, consider downloading free software such as Pro Tools | First (Mac & PC) or the desktop version of GarageBand (Mac). BandLab has recently acquired and relaunched SONAR as Cakewalk by BandLab, now available as a free download (PC). Yes, my musical friend—you have options. For even more ideas, check out Graham Cochrane's $150 home studio setup to get started.
Would you like to start getting better recordings?
Learn to record your music to improve both your playing and recording techniques. Better songs, better playing and better recordings make better mixes every time! Rather than trying to "fix it in the mix" you can adopt a more proactive approach to making music that sounds great from the very beginning.
Plenty of talented musicians have the drive and ambition to get started but have too many questions holding them back. I've written a free interactive eBook to help connect the dots and summarize the music-making process. Get your FREE ACCESS by clicking here.
I'm always happy to help answer any questions you have.
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