Home Recording - Lead Me Not Into Temptation

Twenty years ago, who could have imagined a time when a person could write, arrange, record, duplicate, and distribute music to entire world...all from a little grey box no bigger than a house-cat? We songwriters now live in an era of unprecedented creative freedom, with a wealth of capabilities and audio tools at our disposal. Why is it, then, that we can’t finish a dang song?

Original Sin
We got into trouble because like Eve in the Garden of Eden, we bit the apple without first reading the fine print. Our newly found knowledge and freedom has come with a price: we must now work for ourselves. Not only must we be songwriters, but producers, engineers, engineer’s assistants, multi-instrumentalists, and bright-eyed interns willing to fetch coffee for free. We have to worry about mic placement, signal routing, monitoring schemes, levels, processing, and effects. Is it any wonder the creative energy needed for songwriting often gets burned figuring out why the new driver for the sound card isn't working?

The Siren Call
Audio recording is very seductive; maybe even downright sexy. Every day new plug-ins, soft-synths, gizmos, and widgets are introduced to tempt and delight. Songwriting today requires the self-control of a saint. Just as the mythical explorer Odysseus was lured by the Sirens, so many musicians are lured by lushly chorused walls of layered guitars and angelic, multi-tracked vocal harmonies…only to be dashed upon the rocks of an unfinished song.

Deliver Me From Evil
So how do we avoid these temptations? How do we ignore the wily serpent, or lash ourselves to the proverbial mast? How do we write good songs using today’s technology? The answer is quite simple: we write good songs by making crappy recordings.

While writing, forget about all the things that make a good recording: finding a good guitar tone, setting your levels perfectly, capturing the best performance, or figuring out what the heck keeps squeaking in the background. Don’t work out vocal harmonies. Don’t experiment with instrumentation. Concentrate instead on getting your ideas into your computer as quickly as you can, and finding only the chords, melody, and lyrics.

Once the foundation of your song is built, you can begin to arrange it - try different harmonies and voicings, experiment with instrumentation, and develop the musical themes. All the concerns of making a great recording, however, should still be secondary.

All who resist temptation while writing songs will find themselves doubly blessed, for not only will their songs improve, but their recordings as well. With their songs already written they will be free to try different microphones, experiment with EQ settings, and double-track guitars during the recording process, without killing the spontaneity of the songwriting process. They will be able focus on capturing good performances without worrying that they will have to trash them later because they don’t fit an adjustment that must be made to the song’s basic form.

Such is the proper order of things.


*Photo by pierrepapul43.


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