I have just sold a fabulous Neumann KM184 microphone, an industry standard for recording stringed instruments, including acoustic guitars. Why?
Good question. Well bear with me, there is some kind of method in this madness. I have spent hours upon hours learning recording techniques. Experimenting with various microphones and mic placement, from stereo and spaced pairs to XY and V, with a range of mics from Neumann, Rode, and Audio Technica, spending huge amounts of money on acoustic treatments for the studio, all in pursuit of that ‘perfect’ acoustic sound! And sure, there is nothing wrong with this, however, when it comes to writing and recording songs, I have come to understand and appreciate more fully, just how important the performance is. I would say, over and above, by some margin, that of the quality of the recording.
Now this newfound understanding didn’t come lightly, it smacked me in the face with some velocity!
There is a fabulous artist, you may have heard of her, called Laurel, known as Classic Laurel on social channels. I came by an interview she gave to Audient by chance, if that’s a thing. Here she was in her very simple, ‘untreated’ home recording studio, using a moderately priced vocal mic, and DI’ing straight into her sound card with her electric guitar (OK no mics/treatment necessary for electric/DI). Fold-back monitors against bare breeze-block walls – using limiters more for the effect! Literally maxing them out. I mean, it’s like she took the book ‘How to record in a home studio’ and used it only to raise her laptop to view the screen more comfortably – and yet.. and yet.. she is smashing it!
Freedom to create and record songs without rules or limitations
If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to check Laurel out, and listen to her recordings. Where are the reflections on her vocal takes? And is that really a question the majority of listeners would ever ask? Hey – maybe she recorded the final vocal takes at a pro studio? I can’t say, it sounds that good! But my point, and what I have learned from this very talented artist and producer, is this: without rules, without precision and attention to detail on recording techniques, Laurel is free in her performance.. it shows! Her songs are engaging, they’re natural, and they are frequently on loop in my car! The performance here is everything, the quirkiness, and the rawness is fresh. And it’s addictive, you feel it in your bones! Laurel’s performance resonates with the creativity within, it’s honest and it is her! And it is her individuality that is captured in this way, and that has to be how one can stand out from all the rest.
Are you overthinking the recording process?
I know I have been! Not overthinking will allow you to be more authentic, more relaxed, and more naturally who you are, and this is what we want to engage with, that’s what I feel anyway. I like Laurel’s approach to producing also, a lot is about experimentation and layering sounds, she’ll even use 3 different kick and snare samples to create a sound she likes. I love that! There is one particular track, my favourite in fact, called ‘Life Worth Living’ – the first song she ever mixed.. in her own words:
I had to.. I had recently left a record company and couldn’t afford to go in to a professional studio, and so I taught myself.
and wow.. watch this space is all I can say!
If the performance is there, is the quality of the recording less significant?
So, I’m not saying, sell all your microphones and grab a tape recorder! Although that in itself would be pretty cool! And I appreciate that this approach to recording may not be suitable if recording an orchestra perhaps. What I am saying is if you’re a singer-songwriter and you’re struggling to get that ‘perfect’ sound, give yourself (and the listener) a break – if the performance is there, then the quality of the recording is less significant. This said I have to say that in the case of Laurel, her recordings sound great too, incredible in fact, but the wow factor is not from the quality of the recording, it’s from her performance or rather performances. It’s her individuality that makes her stand out, and makes me hit repeat.. again and again.
Laurel is proof that you don’t need the best of everything, or have lots of money and time spent in a pro studio to make incredible sounding records – on the contrary, much could and most likely would be lost if you did. Without the pressure of time and money, or even a producer’s take on what you are trying to let out – as long as you have the means to record, then just have fun, without rules or limitations, have fun and create, it’s your music, your expression and what makes you unique, and that’s what we all want to hear.
And just to further this point on whether you need expensive gear to make great records… can you tell that the lead vocal on the Jones & Ross track ‘Make May For The Summer‘ was recorded on an iPhone, whilst standing in a wardrobe!? Well, it was!
You can check Laurel out on Spotify here hopefully she will inspire you as she has me!