Merely owning a guitar, does not make someone a guitar player.
by, 08-03-2010 at 08:30 PM (956 Views)
Rather than have my rambling run-on sentences (that may end in prepositions) drag down someone else’s blog, I’ll try my first blog entry.
After reading hueseph’s thoughts on ”What’s going on with Pro Audio?” - blog, regarding the future of recording studios, the demise of the project-studio, and the double-edged sword of affordable recording technology, and people who want to buy professional results, experience, and knowledge in magic pill-form.
I got to thinking....
Isn’t that the paradox of RO? Guys and gals with a wealth of experience and knowledge, helping fledgling and intermediate recordists get to the next level. At least that is what I perceive to be a big part of the mission statement of RO - maybe I’m wrong. And isn’t the net-result more and more people who think they don’t need to be bothered with any size of commercial studio (or bothered with reading the manual)?
I’m not suggesting we try to judge who might be worthy of receiving advice. I’m just wondering if we should spend more time trying to figure out where they're at in the process. Do they ask their question because they LOVE the process, and they’re eager to get better at it, and they want to learn something new every day of their lives? (which I would guess is the testimony of most of the more accomplished RO contributors). Are they just too lazy to read and research, or are they fooling themselves into believing the ads that imply they can produce a platinum record with a little imagination and the cost of a blank CD? [NOTE: the ad-man who thought up the go-to cliche´ for advertising music paraphernalia, “the only limit is your imagination” should be flogged. Their equipment has distinctly finite capability, well below the limits of my imagination - it’s insulting.] Anyway... I just wonder sometimes if we perpetuate some of their unrealistic expectations. Guitar Center’s statistic on DAW returns (referenced in Bigtree’s post) certainly says something about expectations not being met.
I think home-studios are great. If nothing else, it gets you familiar with the process, and hopefully more comfortable when the RED RECORD light comes on. Multi-tracking at home is a great way to work on your song writing, and a great way for you and your band to record a demo and get ready for the next level - which often times SHOULD include going to a better studio setting and getting some fresh perspective from an impartial set of trained ears. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Are your home recordings honestly as good as a major label release? Maybe, but you have to be honest with yourself and keep your expectations in check, and even set aside that prideful attitude of “this sounds great, considering....” (the equipment, the conditions, whatever). It’s good to take pride in your work, but I’m just saying those things (expectations and rationalization) will cloud your judgement.
I hate the phrase “good enough.” Most of us know that if you’re recording someone who after a few takes utters the words, “that’s good enough” - they will justify it, and rationalize themselves right out of making a great recording and you're in for a long session. “Great” is great and “good-enough” is usually a euphemism for ‘I’m lazy and I don’t care’. If that is their attitude, don’t you owe it to everyone to diplomatically ask, “Good enough for what?” Good enough to be a demo that gets your band booked at a few more dive bars? Good enough that your direct-sale fans will be too swept up in your sparkling personality to notice the mistake? Good enough to sell to the jaded masses? or Good enough to get you noticed by the super-jaded people who can get you on the radio, in-stores, and on-tour? If you bought a crap B-mixer, mics from the 4 / $10 bin, and record to cassette tape - that’s good enough for something. If your goal is to learn, you can learn on budget gear - I know I did. If your goal is to get blockbuster professional results, you and the gear will have to get to a certain level. But buying new gear without applying yourself to learning how to get the best results will be fruitless.
Now the reality is, in this day and age you can say “I have a studio”, with nothing more than a spare corner in your bedroom, a couple of cheap mics, and a budget laptop running some free DAW program. But how many posts are there every month that essentially say, ‘why doesn’t my new CD sound like < insert their favorite artist here >?’ That’s like buying a $75 FirstAct acoustic guitar at WallyMart, strumming it a few times (without tuning it of course) and wondering why it doesn’t sound like < insert their favorite artist here >. Then the industry sells them on the idea that, if they just had a better guitar they would sound great as if by magic (I gotta get me some of that magic stuff, because magic is apparently a lot less time-consuming than studying, practicing, and learning by trial and error). So four guitar purchases later they’re out a lot of cash, but they're finally buying a top-of-the-line Martin or Taylor. They still can’t play a lick or even tune a guitar yet - because they never put any effort into learning anything about their instrument. I’d rather hear a $100 guitar in the hands of a real musician than a $5000 guitar in the hands of some ham-handed wannabe who just got his guitar for Christmas. It takes the same level of dedication and God-given talent to master recording as it does to master the guitar. But, we live in a culture that would rather waste months getting to the highest level of Guitar-Hero than doing anything like.... I don’t know.... learning a song on a real instrument. There isn’t a Recording-Hero yet, right? Owning a great guitar doesn’t make you a great guitar player, that still requires talent and practice which will give the ability to make any guitar sound good. The same is true of recording gear. Whether you've got Grade-A or scrap, learn how to make music with it.
In the end, I believe that attention to detail and hard work will still be rewarded on every level. The technology may be more affordable, but there still aren’t any short-cuts. Surely some of you remember the furor in the 80’s over drum-machines, MIDI sequencers, and sampled orchestras making it too easy for hacks to make music and putting “real” musicians out of work? Drum machines and sequencers haven’t taken over the world’s stages. Now they (cheaters) just record the whole song in the studio and lip-sync to it live. Technology may change the business and the means of production, but a well-written song will hopefully always be the key ingredient that can’t be faked.
There are obviously many gradients of gray between true guitar virtuoso and Guitar-Hero, but I honestly believe that there are some skills you cannot teach. Technologies and learned techniques are great, but the person has to have some innate ability to get beyond a certain level. It’s called Recording Arts & Sciences for a reason, it is an epic battle blending the art and science. The artist wants to create ‘lightning in a bottle’ - the scientist wants to be able to capture ‘lightning in a bottle’ today so he can study it and reproduce the ‘lightning in a bottle phenomenon’ next week at a pre-appointed time - and again the following week.
On some recording projects I team up with a great friend of mine, who although he is extremely gifted in the realms of live & studio sound, makes his living doing graphic design. He’s an absolute artistic genius, but he’s always up against the same situation. Over the last 20 years of computer proliferation and desktop publishing; any nitwit with Word, a collection of clipart, and some poorly-lit blurry pictures they shot with their camera-phone, thinks they can make their own professional looking brochure or catalog - and they usually try to. When it comes back from a professional 4-color offset press it looks like it was done by Mrs. Johnson’s 4th grade art class. And after the initial child-like pride of “look what I did!” wears off, or they start getting some unfiltered comments, they might see it for what it is. If that’s not the image they want to project for their business, then they go back to the professional. On the flip side of that, if my friend let them use all of the tools at his disposal - AND he showed them every trick he knows about using those tools - if they have no eye for design, the project will still be a polished lump of excrement and a million miles short of the beautiful camera-ready masterpiece done by the professional in a fraction of the time.
My studio-build is mostly for my own work, so I've got no axe to grind here. And the recording projects we get have usually sought us out because they’ve heard something we recorded and they liked it - plain and simple. There is no thriving music-scene in this part of the country, that’s a reality - but there are a LOT of talented musicians who deserve to be heard by a wider audience. I’d like to help them out, but how many of them will squander their youth trying to do it themselves on-the-cheap? The projects we’ve done in the past, and those I anticipate doing in the current business climate would probably fall into several categories;
#1) People with no illusions of making a good recording on their own with their skill-set, or limited equipment, etc. (the realist)
#2) People who are still wrestling with the learning curve, and want to come to learn - so they can do the next one themselves (the optimist)
#3) People who have tried it themselves and come up well short of their expectations (the pragmatist)
#4) People who want to concentrate on the music and not have to think about engineering (the artist)
In my profession I end up meeting, and working with, a lot of building contractors and electricians on the church installs that I do. My favorites are two older guys, who have each been successful in their respective fields and should be in their retirement years - but at this point in their lives they just want to ‘give something back’. Both are still very hard working guys and will work all day doing the physical labor alongside the church volunteers 1/2 to 1/4 their age that they’re training. You see right away they both have a clear gameplan and know what to do themselves - and what they need to delegate to get the project done on-time. I usually start my work at the end of their day, so I’m not in their way - and they’re not in my way. But at end of one their many 10-hour days of labor, the contractor looked at the electrician while he was wiping the sweat from his face and said, “have you ever seen two guys work so hard at putting themselves out of business?”
To him I would say, “Hi Ben, welcome to RO. - Would you be interested in being a moderator?”