When You're the Band: Successfully Recording by Yourself
by David Summer
"You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out,
You put your right foot in
And you shake it all about."
If you were lucky, as a kid you did the Hokey Pokey. To me there was always a certain profundity in the idea that moving your feet and hands in the described manner, and then turning yourself around was “what it's all about”.
Take a look around you. Is anyone there? If not, just for old times sake try doing the “Hokey Pokey” again. Go ahead, it won’t hurt. But this time, while you’re doing the prescribed motions, try expounding on one of your most creative, original ideas. Describe your idea in great detail and even try to enhance it, all the while moving your right foot in, right foot out etc. This is what it’s like when you’re recording by yourself.
Wearing many hats in any creative endeavor, especially modern computer based recording, with its eclectic mix of right brain/left brain activity, can be a difficult challenge. On the other hand, there’s an intense personal satisfaction that comes from nurturing a creative idea from conception to fruition all on your own. While it’s true that many ideas can benefit from the perspective of another person, it’s equally true that creative concepts can get watered down when compromises are made.
As you know, transforming song ideas into recordings takes a large amount of preparation. When preparing to do a session by myself, I like to think in terms of low-tech preparation first.
OK Ducks, Line Up
Make several copies of whatever written materials you’re using, including lead sheets and lyrics. When I’m recording, I’ll set my lead sheet down, place something on top of it and it’s “gone”. Having copies on a music stand or on top of a speaker lets you keep working without giving you time to forget what it was you were looking for.
The same goes for having plenty of pencils and paper on hand.
Handy pencils and paper provide a quick easy way to note that excellent idea that comes up while in the midst of recording. Pencils on hand are also good for making corrections to your lead sheet or to write last minute lyric changes. As I mentioned in “Creativity Traps” (Fade Out, Sept. 2005) a low-tech solution, like a pencil, is often preferable to a sometimes-fickle high tech alternative. Especially when you’re in the heat of a creative moment.
One thing I often neglect before starting a session is to have a large container of liquid refreshment handy. If it’s something cold (plain ice tea is a favorite) remember that drink might be sitting there for hours so don’t skimp on the ice. Also, be aware of the potential for disaster when the liquid is in proximity to all your expensive recording gear. Ice tea inside your computer or microphone will not enhance your recording experience in any way. Use a separate table, like a TV tray, placed several feet away from the computer to hold the refreshments.
The typical recording environment is a strange mix of technology and mood. This is especially true in home recording, where there is normally no booth. This means that the devices used to make the recording; your computer, breakout box, etc., are usually in your line of sight right along with the lava lamps, music posters and similar artistic mood enhancers.
Quick access to your computer is necessary when you’re recording by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to look at the beastly thing while you’re about it. Set up your microphone, music stand, etc. so you are facing away from the computer.
Setting the proper mood for your session is something that’s easily overlooked in all the technical details that must be attended to. However, it’s important that you take the time to do this right.
Put on your engineer hat now. Check all connections and input levels. Also, be sure your project is being saved on the proper place on your computer’s hard drive. When starting a new project, I like to make a new file folder and create and save an empty project. I then verify that the project files are being saved on the computer in the place I intended.