Independent, impecunious and heading for the recording studio: An exhortation to prepare excellently

She Makes War
The album Disarm by She Makes War is out now

A lovely coincidence of information occurred today that give me a chance to beat a drum for using good studios to record your music, if at all possible, and to do this sensibly by preparing thoroughly for the recording sessions.

The first element is a great blogpost from warriorgirl announcing the release of the She Makes War album Disarm. Before going any further you can (and should) buy the album here because it’s great. In the post she shares her thoughts on making an album as an independent artist including the decision to spend money on making the album in a studio rather than recording at home.

… I wanted to show people that indie artists could make a product with a quality of sound and aesthetics on a level with or better than those with label backing, at a fraction of the cost. By being prepared for the recording sessions (the songs were all written and arranged) and getting down to work in the studio rather than wasting time playing pool and drinking coffee you can get a professional sounding album made for a reasonable sum of money, and I’m happy I chose to work with Myles rather than added the pressure to become a good quality engineer to my already full plate.

There are a couple of things here that I want to heartily endorse,

  1. Sticking to what you are best at and allowing someone who is already a good quality engineer to handle the recording process is a great idea
  2. If you prepare well making sure that all the writing, arranging and practicing is done before you start recording you can keep the costs pretty low

The most famous example of excellent preparation creating an efficient recording process is probably Trout Mask Replica with the reputed recording of 20 instrumental tracks in a single six-hour session with the vocals recorded over the next few days. The Magic Band spent eight months rehearsing for the recording sessions in an environment described as Manson-esque.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend that as a healthy working practice but the results are stunningly delivered performances of complex nuanced music. The key point is only that with great preparation you can keep your recording time down to a minimum and that can save a lot of money.

The second element that brought all this to mind was getting my grubby hands/ears on a recording of the Steve Albini produced version of Cheap Trick’s In Color. The band were evidently not happy with the Tom Werman produced original version and had a few days spare while working with Steve Albini on a project for SubPop in 2004 so, as you do they decided to re-record their second studio album.

I don’t know how long a few days is, but it seems that they ran out of time to add finishing touches like high vocal harmonies, so I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t a long time. The recording sounds incredibly tight to me and to get it done in “a few days” is deeply impressive.

Of course they were doing this 20 years after the original recording but they had recorded 12 other studio albums in the meantime and been gigging  like bandits, so it’s not like they had nothing to do but play Downed over and over again. It’s probably the gigging that allowed them to work so efficiently. Most of the songs on In Color became favourites of their live shows particularly after the at Budokan live album.

I think home recording setups are great places to work on the writing and arrangements for an album. You have the chance to try out all sorts of approaches to the songs with the only cost being your own time before venturing into the studio and starting the clock. If you are confident with editing digital audio it may even be worth taking your tracks back to your studio to edit into shape before returning to the studio to mix ready for mastering.

So thanks to warriorgirl for showing that you can make great music (that you can and should buy here) on a sensible budget and to whoever leaked the as yet unreleased Albini version of In Color for letting me hear the fruits of 20 years of gigging.

The image she makes war by mädchenkrawall is used under a Creative Commons license

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Ruben Kenig

I used to play punk, then jazz. Somehow I went to music school to study composition. I wrote music and made sound design for theatre and studied film music. In the interstitial spaces of this I made websites as a content manager and project manager. I sometimes publish articles at rubken.net.