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The Unique Geek

The Unique Geek
February 7, 2011

Recording Advice: Rookie Decision Errors

Hi guys, I’ve been gone a while, been a little busy actually.  I thought I’d put together a quick blog about some mistakes people make when they start recording music for the first time(s).  I’m no pro by any means, but I’ve definitely made some rookie moves before, so I hope this helps someone.

Buying Too Much at Once

The worst thing that newbies to recording can ever do to themselves is to buy everything (or attempt to do so) at once. I have seen it over and over and over. Guys will decide that they need a recording studio. That’s the dream, that’s what we struggle for – the pimp recording setup. Great. BUT – baby steps, man; baby steps.

Fantom X8 Angle

Fantom X8

I was talking to an employee in a music store the other day and he had a used massive Roland Fantom of some sort on the sales floor. This was one of those huge 88-key workstation with practically a studio in itself. The guy who traded it in got it to use with his brand new Mac computer. This would be his midi controller, synth and audio i/o to use with Logic. He returned it why? Ah yes – why else? Because he decided the ideal setup for his first studio (ever!) is to run virtual instruments with an Mbox Pro (the newest one) with Pro Tools AND Logic. Next he needs to find a MIDI controller to go with this setup.

Avid Pro Tools Mbox Pro

Avid Pro Tools Mbox Pro

So, here we have someone who is new to recording, new to the Mac OS (he never used it before), new to Logic, new to Pro Tools, new to audio interfaces, new to virtual instruments and controllers. Who does this?!?! Countless people, in fact. Do you know how long it’ll take this guy to be comfortable with the Mac OS? How long will it take him to know his way around Logic? How long will it take him until he knows his way around Pro Tools? And on and on it goes.

In short – buy one piece at a time, figure out how it works and then buy the next piece of the puzzle. What happens, otherwise, is what would have taken you 3 months to understand each item (one at a time) turns into two years of constant frustration and conflicts – a sea of user error.

Bad Advice

Some Advice

Some Advice

Next you need to be concerned with whose advise you are listening to. Here’s who you don’t listen to, this will help you sort out the potential advisors. Don’t listen to:

  • The guy with a massive, expensive setup who says you should only buy the most expensive of everything.
  • The gal who makes sweeping, outrageous statements like, “only use this DAW, the others are crap”, or “you have to get this mic.”
  • The overly opinionated salesperson.
  • People who make buying decisions based on such things as “this is what Dre uses.”
  • Anyone you know with a great setup that doesn’t actually get any work done in their studio.

If you get the sense that a salesperson is a know-it-all and doesn’t appear objective – run! A salesperson in the music store can be very helpful or just an ego-driven megalomaniac that has this job in order to fulfill some sense that they must know everything about everything. They have a low self-esteem and can’t dunk, so they decided that being smarter than everyone would fill that hollow feeling inside of them. All you need to do is keep an ear open for a one-track mind. If they talk to you and know what you “need to buy” after asking less than three questions –time to move on. But, do talk with salespeople in a recording department with a music store – say, Unique Squared? This is an engineer’s day job – working for Unique by day and recording by night.

More Advice

More Advice

Anyone who can’t tell you the pros and cons of something and can only spell out only either the pros or the cons of a piece of software or hardware is an idiot. Morons will misdirect you at every turn. Just because your friend likes one piece of software can’t mean that the tens of thousands of users of a different app are dumber that your friend. Your advisor, you’ll find, just doesn’t know what they are talking about. But if your noble consigliore will be the one providing tech support for you (since they are all knowing) then that is a good reason to pick one piece of software/hardware over another. Just know that your friend is a mouth-breather that’s all I’m saying.

I’ll give you some simple advice. Buy a simple setup and do it on the cheap. Use it until it gets in your way. Once you hit a wall like “I can’t record more tracks, but I need to” or “the machine is slowing me down” – then it is time to invest more money in this. Don’t buy it all at once and know what you don’t know. If you don’t know audio interfaces – you don’t need the $1500 Apogee interface yet. If you aren’t sure why studio monitors are better than your home stereo speakers – you don’t “need” Genelecs.

Waiting for the Next Thing

The Next Thing

The Next Thing

Don’t let the next technology around the corner prevent you from making music now. Too many times I see guys who’s computer is sounding its death knell and they are waiting just 6 months more because they heard Apple was coming out with something new. Yeah. No kidding. There is ALWAYS a new technology just coming out. So what?

I wanted to get my wife an iPad for Christmas. There is an iPad2 on the way. I should wait, right? Wrong. There is an iPad 12 on the way for that matter. Meanwhile, she is able to enjoy this iPad and run it into the ground whilst playing solitaire and going on FaceBook. Let’s be honest, I think that is why Jobs made this machine – solitaire and FaceBook.

Then again, there may be no use in warning you of this pitfall. Usually the folks that are waiting for the next thing are merely bragging about something they don’t intend to buy anyhow. I can’t warn you against a personality type – you’re either this person or not. But, you know this person – they like to bore you with tales about what they intend to do with this vaporware. “Oh man, once I get my 73 core, i8 tower with 6 googlebytes of RAM I’m gonna”… Nothing. They are going to do nothing, because all they do is talk and not actually record music.

78 Million Cores and 6 GoogleBytes

78 Million Cores and 6 GoogleBytes

Karma

Karma

Getting Cracked Software

Cracked Software... Bad

Cracked Software... Bad

Queue the blessed B3 soundtrack in the background; for I am about to preach. Don’t get cracked software. Just don’t do it. Not merely because you will soon become paralyzed in a horrific car accident soon thereafter – or someone you love will. You know, “instant karma?” The real reason you should avoid cracks is because you’ll make two vital mistakes by using this software. First, you’ll install everything and learn all of it poorly. Cracked software users suddenly get Reason, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, Native Instruments, Waves (and on and on) and proceed to learn all of them very superficially. Secondly (and worst of all) you are introducing a world of hurt to you computer. Unless you are a computer wiz (on par with those that cracked the software) and understand about kernels or library conflicts – stay away from cracked versions of software.

Buying the software you use will get you tech support, proper owner manuals and a computer that is healthy and happy. An unhappy computer is sad, sad thing. And, when your computer does die (as all good computers will do from time to time) you will have good, clean installers for your next machine. Oh, and you’ll keep the use of your legs since the universe won’t need to exact revenge on you.

The Universe

The Universe

Sleep tight!

The Unique Geek

Comments

  1. Andrzej Sitek says:

    Great article! Looking backwards at my experience I totally agree although I haven’t made some of the “newbies’ mistakes”:) If somebody has lots of money after buying one piece of gear instead of the whole mass at once he still will have money and.. CHOICE! Every contact with new gear gives a typical homo sapiens some new experience and ability to see pros and cons. I avoided many mistakes as I had little money when I started completing gear and I HAD TO buy the most basic gear.
    One more advice from me – when buying any hardware is to buy things which will be able to earn money for another things. It’s not the point in buying 100 microphones when you haven’t got any preamp, am I right?:) Better than reading forums for reviews read the manual from producer’s website and THINK. Maybe something which works from your online fellows doesn’t have some crucial functions for you?
    Instead of cracking software try demos (trails)! I was working once as a software developer and it’s lots of efforts. If you aren’t sure use trails. Because I use only legal software I know what I have – not 1000 plugins that I can’t even recognize. I know exactly my tools and feeling that some guys can feed their families thanks to my “support” is great:)
    The newer versions… Yes but remember about the compatibility. That’s why some professional studios don’t upgrade unless they are sure that compatibility remains. Sometimes an exact model version of gear is considered to be the best of all line (although there were many new with “improvements”). Once again, test test test and choose wisely:)

    Shopping gear is emotional not rational but remember that it’s you future work comfort!!

    1. ariff says:

      Congratulations Andrzej Sitek, you are the runner up for this week’s FAN-tastic Friday giveaway. Your prize is a Unique Squared T-shirt. Please email your address and shirt size to ariff@uniquesquared.com so we can get your prize shipped to you.

  2. Stefan Castro says:

    I agree with most of these pieces of advice. I’ve been recording in my room for a number of years now, and have had the same setup- a Yamaha KX controller, a PC, Reason 4, and Mackie Tracktion 3. Learning the ins-and-outs of just two programs makes it easier to record. I have a friend who gets cracked programs- one week he uses ACID, the next CUBASE, and now he is on to ProTools. He never really learns any of them.

    So, my unnecessary summary-

    I agree with all of this.

  3. Interesting article. This sort of sums up all the information I’ve collected mentally by scouring the internet for tips on creating music (none of it actually directly assists me in creating my music, but nudges me in a direction that feels right and comfortable).

    I’m not a newbie to making music, and I’m certainly not a professional (which would imply that I have at some point made money from my music; which I haven’t :P ), but my advice to anyone thinking of kicking off with their creativity: Keep it really simple, and build from there.

    If you’re just starting, technically you can only get better, and really all you need to start producing music is a mouse, a keyboard, a computer, some demo software, and determination.

    Also, before you buy anything, have a long think about whether you actually have any idea what makes you want it other than it’s visual appearance and the fact that everyone (all the audio geeks who can actually hear the difference) keep saying “it’s the best one!”. Most likely, you’ll be just fine recording your singing with that pin-hole microphone in your laptop (regular computer microphones that cost around $10 work fine for starting out).

    A microphone that perfectly picks up all the low-end and high-end and gets great reviews from the tech-heads and needs a pre-amp and a pop-filter and costs hundreds has nothing to do with honing your creativity. Something like that is for when your skill outgrows the pin-hole mic in your laptop, and thus you need a high-quality microphone to fully capture your sound.

    Anyways, good article, it’s cool that you’ve got all these (sort of) ‘rules’ that I’ve accumulated mentally over years, all in one place. :)

  4. Tina says:

    Yep I agree

  5. reasonusual says:

    Getting studio gear is not the same than buying sweets.

    The most important thing is to have clear ideas of what you need and the way of work that suits with you.
    Buying everything at once is not a bad idea if you know what are you paying for.

    If somebody thinks seriously about start a home studio, the first thing he should do before going to shops is look for information.
    You have to read all the user opinions as you can and, if you can, test equipments at shops before buying.
    And of course, you should read the manuals of the products.

    As this way you can know the pros and contras of the products.

    After doing this, it could be that you were no comfortable working with the gear you bought, but this would be a very strange case.

  6. Prashant Saraswat says:

    I mostly agree, but I have to say that one thing that I feel is quite important in the initial stage is selecting a proper DAW to work with. Software is fairly expensive and there’s usually a learning curve that follows in order to get to the meatier abilities of the program. As a novice you’ll be spending a lot of time learning the ins and outs of a particular software package, so its a good idea to think about what your goal is and then do a little research as to which DAW would be best for you. For instance as a composer I primarily use Logic and have little use for Pro Tools. If you are a Mac user it may be a good idea to get familiar with Garageband (which is a pretty powerful DAW itself, and best of all is included in iLife!), which makes a transition to other, more powerful DAWs much easier.

    Secondly, I think if you want to spend money on something, the things you should acquire are a decent set of speakers and headphones, and one pair of not-so-great speakers. Listening to your recording/mix across a range of systems is important because it gives you an idea of what it will sound like in the real world. You could purchase the most expensive set of speakers and mix your song to them, only to find that it sounds COMPLETELY different when you play it over another medium (I’ve run into that more than once, unfortunately). Take your time and most importantly, really use your ears when recording. They’re the most important instrument in the production process, afterall.

  7. Bete Noire says:

    Heh, you don’t need to know much about your kernel to functionally use cracked software. Less if all it requires is a key. That said, shameless plug tiem; I started this whole recording thing totally noob. Literally, no prior musical training, just a love for noise rock, I got really lucky on getting a keystation pro88 for 200 bucks, and a nice pair of krk rokit 6s for 300 bucks. Borrowed a firepod and a mic, and got crackin’. Pretty happy I got hammer action, and I don’t think I went to big starting. I tried a lot of DAWs, and… found them…. intense. Far, far too large, and unwieldy to get started in.

    Then I got mixcraft’s trial. In the 14 days, I made so much progress I was astounded. I figured out how to get whats in my head out and into music. Everything started to converge for me, and it was amazing. I paid for the 60 day trial, and purchased it outright from there.
    A year later, I still haven’t hit a wall with mixcraft. It can do everything I’ve needed so far. My setup is mostly the same, I got my own interface and a few more pieces for live sound, and I’m building my own drumset out of a washing machine… and some other various junk.
    And it’s pretty amazing.

    So for the novice; try mixcraft. I went from zero to “I didn’t know you played piano, how long have you been doing that? A YEAR, WHAT? And you wrote this???” thanks to virtually no frustration at the hands of my DAW.
    Now my firestudio mobile, on the other hand…