Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Get that song on tape! Errr... disk?
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Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by stevejamsecono » Sat Mar 30, 2024 5:14 am

Greetings Chums,

During the pandemic I got some nicer mics, a better MIDI keyboard, the full version of Logic, etc. etc. in the hopes that having a more robust setup would encourage me to write more songs. The reality is the exact opposite. I've barely touched my modestly improved setup because it takes longer to set up and if anything, find myself demoing more on my phone if the inspiration comes at all. I feel like I got infinitely more done when all I had was an SM58 and a 2 track Yamaha interface.

One of the major issues is that just prior to the pandemic, I transitioned to working from home. Therefore what was once my artistic sanctuary has become where I work, and at this point I DO NOT have great associations with being in there. I sit at that desk for 8-10 hours a day dealing with my very irritating boss and once I'm done, I want to be out of there more than anything else. It sucks.

We've just moved to a new apartment and my office is now a decently larger room, so I am considering getting a smaller desk in the other corner that can have its own feng shui focused on making art. In the spirit of this, I'm also wondering if it might be worth investing in one of the 6 or 8 track digital Portastudios that exists now as a means to further separate the experience from the day-to-day drudgery of my work. No laptop screens, just a few tracks and inspiration.

Does anyone else do anything like this, and if so, has it been a worthwhile experience? It bums me out that I don't write as much anymore, and although I attribute some of that to age/circumstances, I have to imagine the psychological toll of my work situation is no small part of it.
And you find out life isn't like that
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by marqueemoon » Sat Mar 30, 2024 7:24 am

I can relate. I used to work remote and it was hard and stressful.

Any kind of change of scenery might be good.

If the phone works I would keep doing that. In my experience it’s the initial idea that requires inspiration.

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by seenoevil II » Sat Mar 30, 2024 8:27 am

warning: this post got away form me slightly. I have no idea what's going on here, but apparently, this subject set something off in me

I feel this deep in my soul. I've been harping on about the concept of a recording "thing" for over a decade (I've wasted my life).

I'm comfortable with my DAW (logic) and feel I can do a serviceable job at mixing (though I invariably hate my mixes after they're finished), but I really regret a few things.

The editing mentality- AKA "we'll get it in post!"- When you're tracking doing multiple takes, creating enormous take folders, all the while thinking "oh, well, I can nudge that on time or bend it into tune" etc. Similarly, when you get a signal at the front end that sounds like a damp piece of cardboard, because "that's what plug-ins are for." Then, later, when you have seventeen plug ins in the channel strip, it still sounds lifeless and crappy.

It's so much better IMHO to get it right on the very front end. To get the performance you really love, not simply a bunch of "options" that you cobble together in some Frankenstein's compromise of different takes. There's a million ways to skin a cat, but my current philosophy of recording is create the sound and performance that you ultimately want, then simply point the "camera" at the action. You can't punch up in post what was never there to begin with, and that includes charisma. The fear of "bad sounds" has caused me (and suspect most aspiring musicians) to ruin countless recordings by working exclusively in a method that plays it safe. A million takes so that there's at least one note in tune for each phrase. Super plain signal chain so that you have "options."

Small tangent:
I recently took another look at my most recent recording project (that I now hate the sound of). I bused all the main elements together, removed all plug-ins from their strips and buses except for utility EQs, then I re-amped them out to my Quilter (analog solid state amp that has a wider frequency response range than normal amps) so that they were at the edge of breakup. This replaced many layers of saturation, amp simulations, and most importantly- compression. Instead of attenuation the signal when it peaked too loud, I just converted it to euphonic distortion.

The end result was that instead of a hundred tracks and buses to mix, all I had was four mixed down tracks with more less similar amplitude that I just had to sweeten slightly.

Moral of this story: Plug-ins bad, external analog gear good.

My other chief regret with DAWs is there's too much friction.

Now, allow me to contradict myself utterly by also saying: Presets and better than plug-ins. (or the presets in plug-ins are better than wasting time setting them yourself)

Back when I started recording on my own, I was pretty intimated by all the options in logic, so I mostly stuck to presets. Preset drum machines, preset amp simulations, preset compressor settings etc. etc. I also mixed with the speakers built into my iMac. And dammit if those aren't the best recordings of my whole-ass music career (such as it is). Then, I learned and learned and learned, and steadily my recordings kept getting worse and worse. No, more presets. I was fussing with mic placements and controlling plug-ins from their default settings to taste. And bit by bit, the life was coming out of mixes.

The thing about presets, is that they're all kind of extreme, and there's a lesson in that. Good mixes are extreme, lopsided, crazy even. Don't be a knob twiddler. Be a knob cranker.

I'm all over the place here, but I think there's something sort of coherent in there. I'm rebelling against my DAW (or the way I've been using it at least). Let's both get ourselves some digital recorder devices.

Then, yes, let's also make designated spaces with simple rigs that we never take down. Always have the mic and pre amp and everything plugged in and set up so we can just bang out "demos" when the mood strikes. That way, they aren't iPhone recordings that , while amazing sounding for what they are, maybe can't be turned in to the final products.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by Larry Mal » Sat Mar 30, 2024 9:15 am

No, I wouldn't find that to be better.

I've got a workflow I like now, I'll start off with a chord progression, in the songs below case I wrote in the tuning FACGCE. That was kind of a new tuning for me.

Then it's over to Logic, where I have Drummer set up around what the tempo will be. The tempo is important, and I need something to play to, which keeps me in strict time. That's why I wouldn't ever go back to tape.

Then I write out the parts, in the song below it's verse-chorus-verse-doubled chorus-bridge-ending vamp. Drummer makes that possible because each part has a slightly different beat.

The this case I played the guitar part twice, both more or less the same, panned right and left. Then I did the bass track.

Then I strip off the Drummer stuff, and send the track to a woman in Italy who I found on Fiverr. She's tremendous. But she needs to know the BPM, and without my using Logic I wouldn't know what it is. She's fast, she gets me the drum tracks the next day.

I still need to sing to that one or even better find a singer, but it came out very well.

I had approached a group of people that wanted "dance punk" so I wrote this using the same process.

I would not be able to do this via tape, but I have streamlined things by using a Geddy Lee bass DI. I am trying to cut down on the software I use to generate guitar/bass sounds.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by DrQuasar » Mon Apr 01, 2024 3:17 pm

I tried working on a Zoom R16 for a while for a lot of similar reasons you describe.

I wanted to divorce the visual aspect of recording and try to focus on listening, like the dual track tape deck recorder I had as a teenager. No more wave forms.

I also thought I would be more creative if I limited my options. It didn't really work. Turns out what has helped my creativity more was addressing some of those life circumstances you mentioned. You know, the easy stuff...

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by crazyzeke » Mon Apr 01, 2024 4:51 pm

My recording setup is a 2015 MacBook Pro 15" top spec with GarageBand, Scarlett Solo, RØDE NT-1 and sometimes an ancient Evolution MIDI keyboard with a USB adapter if I need to put keys stuff on, so old the keys have gone kinda red, never seen plastic do that before (yellowed from the thalates sure, but not red) so it's pretty unique. I tend to record stuff all the time because it's an easy setup and of course, easily portable. I pack it away after use. I can usually sit and record guitar parts either cross-legged on the sofa or in bed. I think people would be stunned how many guitar parts I've just sat in bed and recorded if they knew - the amp sims in GarageBand are surprisingly awesome if EQ'd right. Also means if I wanna give up and take a nap because I've been doing it for 8 hours, I can.

I usually start with a click track and just layer up like crazy, but I find I have weird accents/rhythm so it is all in time but it can be tricky to program drums for so it's not a job I relish. I get there in the end though. Soon enough I'll have real drum tracks to work with so yay for that. I did have real drums and live everything for the wedding band demo, which we did live guitar/bass/drums/scratch vocal for in a studio (one session, 2 hours) and I did the produce/mix/master stuff for that, adding loads of guitar and organ in the process. We've booked paid work off it and mimed to it for the promo video.

I advocate for simplicity - I've never had a big complex DAW rig so that's forced me to get creative with the little I have and actually get better at producing and mixing instead, using automation for the latter. I've probably improved at mastering too - I've been using an old version of WaveLab for years (I BootCamp to it from the MacBook as it's an Intel one) and it's never seen me wrong... Audacity you can't get the same results.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by mediocreplayer » Wed Apr 03, 2024 3:29 pm

stevejamsecono wrote:
Sat Mar 30, 2024 5:14 am
Does anyone else do anything like this, and if so, has it been a worthwhile experience? It bums me out that I don't write as much anymore, and although I attribute some of that to age/circumstances, I have to imagine the psychological toll of my work situation is no small part of it.
I think your diagnosis is accurate -- it is not the DAW or the equipment, but rather your personal/work/life circumstances and situation.

I think natural limitations are useful and can make you more creative as you try to work around them. But I dont personally subscribe to artificial, self-imposed limitations; they strike me more as a gimmick. Sort of like the rich girl in Common People trying to slum it.

That said, equipment also does play a part; I personally love and do all my production in Logic, but it is not a fun or inspiring DAW. OTOH, it is almost impossible for me to open Reason and not write something. But I don't think the equipment is the main hurdle in your situation.

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by øøøøøøø » Wed Apr 03, 2024 6:23 pm

the more i learn the more i settle on: just do stuff with whatever tools you have.

show up to work/create with consistency and purpose and sooner or later good things happen.

then people will try and copy your approach.

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by crazyzeke » Thu Apr 04, 2024 2:54 am

øøøøøøø wrote:
Wed Apr 03, 2024 6:23 pm
the more i learn the more i settle on: just do stuff with whatever tools you have.

show up to work/create with consistency and purpose and sooner or later good things happen.

then people will try and copy your approach.
Good advice. Find what works for you and stick with it, that's the takeaway. Copying someone else's approach might help you understand them better but probably won't be 100% for you.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by Mondaysoutar » Tue Apr 09, 2024 7:34 am

This is a great thread. Over lockdown I done a condensed honours degree (1 year) and then a Masters in music after years of not really playing/writing.

I worried so much about learning all the stuff with logic and found it so daunting and paralysing. I always liked just recording with dictaphones and the like, coming up with stuff and just recording on the fly.

As creative output was really my focus when going to Uni, I decided to keep it as simple as possible, recording onto my mobile then moving files over to logic for overdubbing/mixing, etc. As someone else said, most of the work I consider to be good-ish, I’ve recorded live onto my mobile the moment I feel it’s ready. I find if I step away from that process, set my laptop up, mics, etc, I can get quickly stuck procrastinating or not doing it at all haha.

Bit pointless me saying all that, but reading through what others were saying I was like “aye, I’m like that”. It’s always good to find likeminded people.

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by crazyzeke » Wed Apr 10, 2024 3:27 am

Mondaysoutar wrote:
Tue Apr 09, 2024 7:34 am
I worried so much about learning all the stuff with logic and found it so daunting and paralysing. I always liked just recording with dictaphones and the like, coming up with stuff and just recording on the fly.

Best approach - get the idea down while it's fresh, so the spark of it, the essence of it, is intact. Because when the spark has gone the idea is dead.


Mondaysoutar wrote:
Tue Apr 09, 2024 7:34 am
As creative output was really my focus when going to Uni, I decided to keep it as simple as possible, recording onto my mobile then moving files over to logic for overdubbing/mixing, etc. As someone else said, most of the work I consider to be good-ish, I’ve recorded live onto my mobile the moment I feel it’s ready. I find if I step away from that process, set my laptop up, mics, etc, I can get quickly stuck procrastinating or not doing it at all haha.

I'm a massive advocate for recording on mobile - a lot of smartphones have way better mini-mics onboard than people realise. My old Galaxy S9+ is starting to fall apart but it still has a stereo pair mic set with good fidelity and will compress the input if it gets too loud to avoid clipping. Super useful for making demos quick, as I often need to do. Sometimes results in hilarious stuff like me writing a surf rock song then playing it so fast on the only completed demo that when the bassist played it I went "obviously we're not doing it that fast or our hands will fall off" ;D


Mondaysoutar wrote:
Tue Apr 09, 2024 7:34 am
Bit pointless me saying all that, but reading through what others were saying I was like “aye, I’m like that”. It’s always good to find likeminded people.

Ah, don't disparage yourself, I liked reading that and all opinions and approaches count.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by jorri » Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:03 am

writing demos are on phones or zoom field recorder for me. The phone automatically backs this up on the cloud even.

I use a live mixer as recorder where possible for real things. But its getting less and less because its not that capable for overdubs or takes, so it mainly gets used as the starting point. I do prefer it that way. But as soon as other tracks are in there or there is something like a complex click its a nuisance. But with the'live' session of a band sometimes its been set up with 10 mics and let running for even an hour at a time for later editing which is great, distraction free. The dedicated multi tracks had both overkill complexity and worse preamps as general rule but they do have better options for takes, and maybe complexities like changing clicks. I wouldn't mix on them but static working mixes are ok.

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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by crazyzeke » Thu Apr 11, 2024 9:29 am

jorri wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:03 am
But with the'live' session of a band sometimes its been set up with 10 mics and let running for even an hour at a time for later editing which is great, distraction free.
Amen on "leave it running" - it's easy to go back and divide up tracks or scrub through them later to find ideas worth building on, rather than stopping it and forgetting to restart recording as the band get lost in the moment, then it's gone forever.
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Re: Working DAWless/Dumbing down a demoing setup for the sake of more creativity

Post by jorri » Sat Apr 13, 2024 11:57 am

crazyzeke wrote:
Thu Apr 11, 2024 9:29 am
jorri wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2024 4:03 am
But with the'live' session of a band sometimes its been set up with 10 mics and let running for even an hour at a time for later editing which is great, distraction free.
Amen on "leave it running" - it's easy to go back and divide up tracks or scrub through them later to find ideas worth building on, rather than stopping it and forgetting to restart recording as the band get lost in the moment, then it's gone forever.
Its definitely possible to edit clickless too, but not always, and when it is it might involve some time-stretch to blend things unless a definite section change covers it. That definitely makes you just try and record it until perfect a little more in the take do you don't have to. Definitely should ensure you'll not do something that would have to be quantised by watching out for which sections are weak or where mistakes are as you do it! (unless you constructed a click track out of the transient detection which is possible at least with Reaper's complexity but ugh...quantising properly takes as long as the whole session of recordings, so just do more takes and practice, and be present in the session, right?)

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