Aesthetics of home recording

Get that song on tape! Errr... disk?
User avatar
Professor Bill
PAT PEND
PAT PEND
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 7:59 pm

Aesthetics of home recording

Post by Professor Bill » Sat Aug 01, 2020 7:25 am

During these past few months of being socially distanced, I have delved a little deeper into home recording. I have a small Pro-Tools based rig, a few microphones, amp sims, a midi keyboard, &c., as well as guitars and a bass. Recently I’ve been playing around with Toontrack’s EZdrummer, which has some surprisingly good sounding drum samples and loops (especially with the “Indie Folk” and “Indie Rock” expansion packs).

This has me thinking about the purpose – and the sound and feel – of these recordings. By way of background, in the past couple years I have gotten back into writing and playing after a long time away from it (during which time recording shifted from tape to digital when I wasn’t paying attention). After some false starts I settled in with a couple of collaborators, one of whom is a recording engineer with a home studio. We were making decent progress, tracking the band mostly live and adding some judicious overdubs, punching in for quick fixes, &c. It was beginning to sound like the music I grew up listening to. I was pretty happy with the direction we were headed.

Now, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic with not much hope for getting back to working together anytime soon, I’ve tried to keep my process going. I’m using ProTools more and more in the writing process, which has been interesting. I can now make demos, or what I think of as sketches, and with a decent drum sound they are an almost convincing approximation of a band playing together. I can imagine sharing these with folks as a starting point, if we were to be able to get back together to play in the same space.

But I’ve also been wondering about home recording as an end in itself and if that might warrant making the quirks of writing and building a song with ProTools an intentional part of the thing – with the idea that maybe my sketches could be developed into finished pieces.

There’s of course a long history of self-recorded artists (not that I consider myself an “artist”) who were able to approximate the sound of a live band: Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes, or Prince come to mind. But more recent bedroom pop seems to accentuate the ProTools (or GarageBand or whatever) aesthetic – metronomic rhythm section, non-naturalistic instrumentation, a cut-and-paste/collage feel overall.

One direction would be towards a more intimate, acoustic-based thing, but I’m interested in what might happen if I were to go towards the possibilities and inherent qualities of a digital process. I’m interested in the idea that the finished work shouldn’t be an approximation of something that it’s not – i.e., an ersatz live band cobbled together on a laptop. This is, perhaps, related to what happened with the introduction of multitrack recording in the 60s (i.e., Mothers of Invention, Pet-Sounds era Beach Boys, as the studio was imagined as a kind of instrument) as well what I’m hearing from newer artists who have developed something distinct from, yet based on, the sound of a conventional band (Black Belt Eagle Scout, Vagabon, or maybe Bon Iver come to mind…) Examples abound, of course, so clearly I’m only recognizing something that has been afoot for quite a while.

(As a side note, I feel like having become more familiar with writing and editing in ProTools I can now hear a shift in some bands’ sound, for example Spoon, somewhere between Kill the Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but that’s another topic that perhaps has been addressed elsewhere).

So I’d be interested to read what some other folks do, or are thinking. Or resources to explore, things to listen to, contrarian thoughts, &c., as I learn more about what’s possible, and consider the purpose of my home recordings.

User avatar
øøøøøøø
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 4849
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:26 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by øøøøøøø » Sat Aug 01, 2020 7:45 am

One thing that I find liberating:

Process is irrelevant. To everyone outside yourself, there is only the work. Your process becomes interesting to your audience only in rare cases, and exclusively when the work itself is so compelling that other people simply must know how it was made.

So using whatever you have at hand, press toward making work that you think is interesting and good. Whatever stimuli you have (i.e. a pandemic where you've only got a laptop as a collaborator), endeavor to respond to those stimuli in personal, authentic, resonant, real, honest, unique, and creative ways.

Literally anything else is "who cares."

User avatar
marqueemoon
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 3868
Joined: Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:37 pm
Location: Seattle

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by marqueemoon » Sat Aug 01, 2020 8:39 am

Until recently my own songwriting was a side thing and I often played all of the instruments on recordings.

Then, a few years ago I got bored with this and started a band to play the stuff with some old friends. At that point I turned the writing of bass and drum parts entirely over to them. I really like what they bring to the songs.

I’ve started to work on some stuff at home, but the old way seems like a step back in some ways. It’s missing the spontaneity of playing together in a room without a click.

I’m just naturally more uptight than the folks I play with, so on my own recordings the drums are simpler, I sweat the bass parts a lot more, and I tend to layer guitars more because I have time to.

User avatar
Telliot
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 10248
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:38 pm
Location: Orange County, CA

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by Telliot » Sat Aug 01, 2020 8:57 am

I’ve been a bedroom recording ‘artist’ since I was in my early teens (I’m 47 now, just go give you an idea how long that’s been). I’ve played and recorded in proper studios over the years, but my humble little studio is my sanctuary and I treat it as such.

The thing I’ve learned over the years is how much I get done when it’s laid out in a way that’s both easy to use (ie: cohesively setup and ready to hit record with very little guesswork), and aesthetically pleasing to me. That last bit is SUPER important to me because if it isn’t, I find myself less inspired to work in that space. Essentially, I do everything musical I’m that room, including writing (I should note I consider myself a songwriter who happens to also play a bunch of instruments well enough to get what’s in my head into my DAW).

All my synths, channel strips, FX, and mic are set up, EQ’d, and ready to be switched on and used. Of course these things are an approximation and I’ll tweak as needed, but the point is to be as close to plug and play as necessary to not waste time.

To be honest, that’s the main reason I’ve shied away from modular synths; I could totally see myself spending days trying to dial in ONE patch...
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

User avatar
marqueemoon
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 3868
Joined: Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:37 pm
Location: Seattle

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by marqueemoon » Sat Aug 01, 2020 10:12 am

Telliot wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 8:57 am
The thing I’ve learned over the years is how much I get done when it’s laid out in a way that’s both easy to use (ie: cohesively setup and ready to hit record with very little guesswork), and aesthetically pleasing to me. That last bit is SUPER important to me because if it isn’t, I find myself less inspired to work in that space
It’s taken me a long time to realize this. I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy over the years cobbling stuff together, and often at the expense of staying in a creative headspace if I can manage to overcome the inertia of having to set crap up.

I’m finally on the road though. I got a nice rolling cart that fits my racks of pres and compressors, laptop, interface, and MIDI keyboard. Planning to swap out one pre for a simpler one with insert points so I can track with compression or not with the push of a button. My goal is to be able to walk into the room and be recording within 5 minutes.

Part of this process has been coming to terms with and letting go of some gear snobbery. Nice recording gear is only worthwhile if it works for me and my workflow. At a certain point it’s all pretty good.

User avatar
øøøøøøø
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 4849
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:26 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by øøøøøøø » Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:40 pm

marqueemoon wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 10:12 am
Part of this process has been coming to terms with and letting go of some gear snobbery. Nice recording gear is only worthwhile if it works for me and my workflow. At a certain point it’s all pretty good.
This is an important point, I think.

It would be silly to let gear (or lack) stand in the way of making some music. We don't write songs to show off our signal chain.

But more-broadly, "perfect" can very much be the enemy of "good" in other areas too, besides just the gear. And with what we do, "good" is much more about the moment and the creative impulse, anyway.

Even with all of that aside, cheap recording gear now is usually light years beyond cheap recording gear twenty years ago. In many cases it's better than stuff that was being used in modestly-priced professional studios twenty years ago.

For instance, I'd MUCH rather use the onboard preamp and converters of a UA Apollo than an old Digidesign Control 24's preamps into an 888 i/o.

User avatar
sookwinder
Mods
Mods
Posts: 10613
Joined: Mon Sep 11, 2006 6:47 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by sookwinder » Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:04 am

When we are tracking a guitar track and I move the amp into the main bedroom, I do not bother to make the bed.
It is what it is.
relaxing alternative to doing actual work ...

User avatar
Professor Bill
PAT PEND
PAT PEND
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 7:59 pm

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by Professor Bill » Sun Aug 02, 2020 7:57 am

sookwinder wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:04 am
When we are tracking a guitar track and I move the amp into the main bedroom, I do not bother to make the bed.
It is what it is.
Now that's what I was getting at.

User avatar
sookwinder
Mods
Mods
Posts: 10613
Joined: Mon Sep 11, 2006 6:47 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by sookwinder » Sun Aug 02, 2020 8:39 am

My guitarist and I have been recording so long in my home studio that we even have our own short hand language that we use when we are recording. This actually has caused singers and a sax player (at various times) to ask: what the fuck are you two talking about?

For example a "slow flam" is known as a Vicki … named after an ex of the guitarist!

I do however make sure the toilet is clean before we start recording and there are clean towels and soap available.
There are certain hygiene and common courtesies which transcend everything.
There is always high quality coffee on offer (hey … I'm from Melbourne) and a nice bottle or two of vintage Muscat to partake in.
relaxing alternative to doing actual work ...

User avatar
Telliot
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 10248
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:38 pm
Location: Orange County, CA

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by Telliot » Sun Aug 02, 2020 8:53 am

That sounds lovely, David. When can I stop by? :)
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

User avatar
marqueemoon
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 3868
Joined: Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:37 pm
Location: Seattle

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by marqueemoon » Sun Aug 02, 2020 9:21 am

øøøøøøø wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:40 pm
But more-broadly, "perfect" can very much be the enemy of "good" in other areas too, besides just the gear. And with what we do, "good" is much more about the moment and the creative impulse, anyway.

Even with all of that aside, cheap recording gear now is usually light years beyond cheap recording gear twenty years ago. In many cases it's better than stuff that was being used in modestly-priced professional studios twenty years ago.
Yeah, I've realized when I record myself other than a high pass filter I NEVER print with eq, so a pre with a nice eq section is really a distraction. It's getting replaced with something simpler.

Also considering getting a cheaper fixed X/Y stereo mic. I think I need to give myself a break when tracking drums and acoustic guitar. An idiot-proof way to get phase coherent level matched stereo sounds pretty good.

Performing to a click while watching meters out of the corner of your eye and trying to do so with some feeling isn't easy. It shouldn't be any harder than it needs to be.

User avatar
sookwinder
Mods
Mods
Posts: 10613
Joined: Mon Sep 11, 2006 6:47 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by sookwinder » Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:00 am

because I have a wurli, a Rhodes, a Hammond and a roland EP set up in the corner of the lounge room (it has been unkindly described as my rick wakeman area by some) I can move easily to which ever keyboard I think might work. Usually I keep an eye on the VU meters on the preamp to make sure nothing is clipping, but every now and then I change instruments and forget to look and wouldn't you know sometimes those great takes are ruined by crap recording processes.
relaxing alternative to doing actual work ...

User avatar
jorri
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 2173
Joined: Thu May 07, 2009 1:53 am
Location: bath, UK
Contact:

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by jorri » Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:53 am

I think a band recording in studio is quite different when looking at my own work, yet from others work I may be totally surprised which was more live or more computer constructed .

For me, a lot of self-producing is about splitting tasks so that some specialisation can be made.

Such asthe need to be able to change it later, so that I can spend more time in the groove or even improvising.as per the other thread,it's where a DI and Reamp can be helpful (if still want to Mic it).

Anything I do myself I can edit a lot more too. Technically mixing will not be like someone I pay for,but creatively has lots of advantage to know what vision to head for or just have lots of occasional tweaking sessions. Lots more layers for sure!

That said even when there is an advantage to "restructure" songs it's something I find hard; cutting something to benefit the whole,or pressing mute for a section where it might benefit. More often I end up with long ambient sections created as offshoots of effects and loops I've used.

Ive recently converted a "drum machine" project into a live drum situation. No problem at all. This was at full lockdown so drummer just sent these files. Maybe the energy is in live drums here it often feels like that. Of course there are exceptions because some will want to really edit and quantized live drums,but I guess I'm after an early 90s alt sound (live recordings were done then, but seems to me the drums are the bit that matters)

User avatar
øøøøøøø
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 4849
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:26 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by øøøøøøø » Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:02 pm

sookwinder wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:00 am
every now and then I change instruments and forget to look and wouldn't you know sometimes those great takes are ruined.
Listen to the vocal on "Instant Karma" or "Little Red Corvette"!

Sometimes a little clipping (even very UGLY clipping!) isn't enough to ruin a great performance.

User avatar
Telliot
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 10248
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:38 pm
Location: Orange County, CA

Re: Aesthetics of home recording

Post by Telliot » Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:11 pm

Agreed. My favorite part of the Beatles’ PS I Love You is in the last chorus where Paul overloads the mic. Those moments can be absolute gold. :-*
The cool thing about fretless is you can hit a note...and then renegotiate.

Post Reply