Are you wondering how to capture amazing home recordings of your songs but technical stuff freaks you out? Do you hear what a song should sound like in your head, but you have no idea where to begin getting it all out in a stunning home demo? Do you really have to trick out your basement with all the latest gear and sonic treatment just to capture your song ideas?
If you’re like me, the tech stuff can seem confusing and expensive. Which software should you use? Do you have to have a new Macbook Pro or some other high-end gear? What kind of investment is enough to get started?
I recently interviewed my great friend, Bryant Urich, about this topic to share some important steps with you if you’re looking into the home recording thing. Bryant is actually our producer on The Song Revolution Podcast and a songwriter himself. He does television scoring, our podcast and his own Reverse Podcast, and has a lot of skill when it comes to tweaking the knobs and making great things happen musically. You should check out the full podcast for the complete download on his recommendations, but here are a few highlights to get you started.
First, there’s a difference between a “work tape” and a real “demo.” You probably know that the word “demo” means demonstration recording and these can range from very basic recordings of a piano/keyboard or guitar with a vocal performance of the song up to fully produced arrangements that sound like the final recording you hear on the radio. But the step before the demo is your basic work tape you can do on a cell phone or in a simplistic way on your laptop.
“Work tape” is a holdover from the olden days when we actually used tape to record on instead of ones and zeros. I tell the story on the podcast of how I used to edit on 2″ magnetic tape on a reel to reel the size of a front-loading washing machine and hearing me tell the story on the show is well worth the time. Learning to do “work tapes” is the first step to capturing your songs on more impressive demos.
Secondly, serious songwriters invest in their demos. There are several ways to invest in getting your songs recorded in a way that represents them in the best possible light. One way is to buy the gear and invest the time in learning how to use it. The second way is to just hire a producer and some musicians to do them for you. Some of us do a little of both, depending on our ability to maneuver the gear and our musical ability. I can do very simple chords on the guitar and piano, which works well enough for my worship work tapes and even demos, but for a pitch to say, Mandisa or Natalie Grant or another pop-oriented artist, I would need help with producing the kind of demo that represents my song in a way that would be appealing to that particular artist and whoever’s listening for them. You really need to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they’re wanting to hear for an upcoming project. Sometimes it’s better to fork over a few hundred quid and get a cut than be stingy and miss one, thinking everyone’s going to actually listen with imagination. Why take that chance?
Third, start with Garageband or any other free app before investing a lot of money in software and gear. Very few people actually learn to do home recording from scratch. You need to ask yourself a few questions before jumping into it, like, Am I musical to begin with? Do I have any aptitude for technical stuff? Do I learn quickly or is this learning curve going to be daunting and frustrating? Once you answer those questions and still want to go after it, start simply with whatever you have on hand like Garageband (or whatever PC’s use like Cubase) to experiment and start figuring it out. If you are one of those rare creatives who actually read instructions, there are plenty of tutorials on Youtube for all kinds of gear. If you’re like the rest of us and are compelled to jump in without reading up on it, be sure to start slowly and only spend actual money when you know you’re ready to go deeper.
If you’re just beginning your songwriting journey, my vote is to spend your time on learning how to write great songs before you worry about getting them recorded. Tech stuff can bog you down quickly and actually distract you from spending the time you need on writing great songs. Which do you most want to do?
Consider partnering with someone who is more technically inclined to produce out your songs, if you’re not, in order to stay in your best gifts and save time and cashola. We all have limited time and creativity, so be sure to not waste yours on tech if you’re time is better spent on writing great lyrics.
It’s really fun and we laugh a lot, which is a very high value for me. Songwriting should be fun and so should making home work tapes and demos. We talk through the whole process in this show and your understanding will grow if you’ll listen to it. If you’d like to connect with Bryant about production or your podcasting needs, he’s on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s a good guy and I’m proud to have him as a friend.