Recording Is Documenting

I’m a huge fan of documentaries. The main reason I’ve held on to our Netflix account for so long is because of the documentaries that shuffle through. I’ve seen way more documentary films than any other film genre. I love a good story but when there’s a real life connection, it makes the subject much more interesting to me. 

Some of my favorite docs are produced by a British guy named Louis Theroux. Most of his repertoire comes from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s and were broadcasted by BBC. I discovered his stuff on Youtube about 4 years ago. Most of his films are based on weird and interesting cultures or sub-cultures of people. Funny enough most of his films take place in the U.S. 

Louis has such a unique way of finding some pretty strange people and integrating into their lifestyle for a week or so to show the rest of the world how these particular people live life. The best thing about his films is how awkward, creepy, and freakishly real they get. In most cases, you get introduced to a particular person or people group and by the end of the program you’ve seen everything about them. From pretty despicable moments to even times of compassion and redemption. But often times not, there’s just some ill people in this world. Either way you usually become aware of why and how this person became the way they are. Even if you don’t agree with their life choices you can at least understand something about who they are. 

As much as I’ve grown to love documentaries, it often makes me want to give up audio recording and go film some docs. Since I don’t even know how to turn a camera on this would not be a good idea. But it does make me think about how documenting plays into the audio recording process.

Sometimes we look at recording music as such a perfect, well-calculated piece of art that we miss out on some of the unique character that a recording can showcase. Many times I see bands or artists that have been playing for a few months and want to record a 12 song album. They usually don’t even have that many songs written, but they just think that a band gets together, records an album, and then goes on an international tour. This is never the case.

I think that a band or artist would be better off viewing their recording career as a documentary film. When you’re a brand new band just starting to write some songs and play at a few local bars, just record a simple demo of a few songs. This will probably sound a little messy and awkward but it’ll be a great representation of who you are and what you sound like at the time. Don’t be afraid to show your fans where you started and how you’ve grown with each new project. As you create more music and play more shows, people will start to take notice, connect with your music and ask for more. If this doesn’t happen after a year or two then that business degree you’re working on will come in real handy!  

I’m not saying to go into a studio unprepared and record a bunch of garbage, but don’t be afraid to not have everything perfectly together. If you view your band or artist aspirations as starting a business or career, then you have a span of several years to perfect things. Start slow and don’t get too ahead of yourself. Work on your craft and as appropriate through your career, document who you are in that moment. 

Documentaries show a lot of the messiness of being human. They’re filled with moments of awkwardness, confrontation, defeat, and redemption. As we approach recording in light of documenting, we shouldn’t be afraid of these elements in our music and productions. Don’t be afraid to reveal your imperfections and see how they improve and change through your recording career. 

Brandon Shattuck
The Minimalist Recordist

Three Things Better Than Gear

Sometimes in recording and producing music we get so caught up in all the lore that gear has attached to it, that we often overlook some other very vital parts of the music-making equation. I’ve worked in very nice studios with $100,000 plus lists of gear, and it’s always nice and a lot of fun! Don’t get me wrong, great studio gear can make great sounding recordings. But, not having the best gear in the world is in no way a hindrance to making great music. Like I said last time, I’ve started a studio from the ground up without going into debt and building the studio/business slowly and patiently. One day, I hope to add some nicer microphones and outboard gear, but for now I’m learning how to get everything I can out of what I have. During the past couple years of learning how to make the best recordings I can with what I have, I have noticed a few things that I think are way more important than what gear I have or don’t have. Here they are… 

Space

You gotta be somewhere to record something right? Well I’m not too much into philosophy so we’ll leave that alone, but some sort of space is crucial to recording music. This can be anywhere from the closet of your bedroom to a big open cathedral. In my mind I’ve always had 3 needs to consider when it came to a recording space of my own. A bigger room for recording drums and anything I want to sound live or “wet,” a smaller dead room for vocals and all things I want to sound “dry,” and finally an isolated control room. For those reading that aren’t as familiar with recording terms, “wet” usually refers to a sound that has lots of room reverberation or echo. “Dry” is the exact opposite of “wet,” usually no reverb or room sound involved. The control room is a separate room from where the instruments or vocalists are recorded. That’s where the recording equipment usually is and where you can listen back to the recorded material in isolation from the actual live performance. I was able to achieve all three of these factors in my studio. The two recording rooms are actually one big room, but I have a thick curtain that separates the room into the live room and the dry room. The curtain doesn’t provide complete isolation between the rooms but it does keep any room sound or reflections from getting into the dry room. Another great thing about the studio space is that it’s in an old house with a lot of character. Everyone loves the look and feel of the building itself and feels inspired by the space. It’s comfortable and we can achieve just about any kind of sound we can think of. There are some aspects of my space that I’d like to improve on in the future, but I couldn’t have asked for a better space to start with.  

Instruments

This kind of falls in the category of gear, but it’s usually the most overlooked category in the lust for gear conversation. Good instruments have always been a priority to me. I’d rather have a good drum kit with budget preamps than a bad drum kit with awesome preamps any day. MIDI instruments sound amazing these days, but there’s something about a real instrument with air around it that just sounds a bit better to me. The thing with MIDI and samples too is that when you go to buy some, you’re always looking for the best. Which happens to be what everyone else is buying as well. If we’re all using the same sounds and samples, then there will be a lot less unique recordings. Even two of the exact same make and model of an instrument hardly ever sound the same and two different players will definitely never sound the same. There’s just good stuff that happens when a musician sits down to play a real instrument. Don’t get me wrong, MIDI and samples are good things to supplement not being able to invest thousands of dollars in great instruments, but I like to make things happen in the real world before I go to the samples. Sometimes we try and make records sound so clean and perfect. Sometimes this is great and can make a hugely popular song. But sometimes things that are loose, dirty, muddy, distorted, or noisy can evoke a lot of emotion and energy on a recording. We definitely use our fair share of MIDI sounds and samples when we need them, but a large part of the sounds on our recordings are real live instruments.  

People

In order to make a recording, at least one person has to be involved, and in most cases having a team of people involved is even better. If it weren’t for people wanting to make recordings I wouldn’t have much work to do. I love meeting new people, hearing what makes them unique, and capturing that uniqueness the best way we can. For each different artist/band, it almost always takes a unique approach to create their recording to stay true to their individual sound. It’s a lot of fun to work with so many different people with so many different backgrounds, influences, and tastes. It’s even a lot more fun to explore new ways of recording and producing their recordings to make something that stands out amongst all the other stuff out there. I listen to every kind of music there is. I have a few favorites that I go to often and I also have a few that I don’t understand as well or just don’t care for the sounds, but I can appreciate anyone who creates something and has an audience that responds. My goal on every project is to attend to the style and sound of the client and to not let things veer too far from their sound. It’s a lot of fun to work and interact with a lot of different people and I prefer that over collecting gear. 

Like I said earlier, I don’t have a vendetta against gear. I’ve used a lot of really nice, expensive gear that does wonderful things to any audio that passes through it. I hope to one day have a collection of gear that I know well and can use to enhance sounds that I know already sound great. In the mean time I’m going to learn everything there is to know about the tools I already have. I’m going to continue to find people that play instruments and put them in my space to record and document their ideas. I’ll add some gear along the way to make things better and easier, but for now I’ve got the three most important things I need to make some noise. 

 

Brandon Shattuck
The Minimalist Recordist

In The Beginning

 

In the fall of 2013, I was presented with an opportunity to rent out a space for my first endeavor into studio ownership. It wasn’t until the middle of 2014 that I was finally able to pull the trigger and take on the lease of a small house on a piece of commercial property close to Winter Park in Orlando, FL. In the months leading up to opening the studio, I would spend late nights making gear lists of what I thought were the necessities of having a studio. I started out with a list of gear totaling about $25,000. This was just my gear list—this didn’t even include money for the lease, utilities, insurance, and about 10 other monthly expenses it takes to operate a studio. In the morning I told my wife, “I think if I just had $25,000 I could make the studio happen.” She looked at me with a blank stare, curled lip and just silently nodded. The next night I stayed up and got my “essentials list” down to $10,000. The next morning, same thing from my wife. Finally, it hit me that I had a way to start the studio without that much gear. In fact, I didn’t need any of that gear on my list. I already had a Pro Tools rig that allowed me to record 6 channels of audio, I had enough mics to fill those 6 channels and I had a set of headphones for the musicians to listen on. I had to get a few things to tie everything together, but I was able to find it all on Craigslist for about $100. It took about a week to get setup. I sound treated some walls, booked a couple bands, and Parafonic Recording Studio was born and off to legendary status to the likes of Abbey Road and Blackbird Studios! Actually, the first month I only made enough money to pay the next month’s rent and buy lunch for a couple days. It took a few months, but I finally saved up enough money to expand my recording inputs to 14, I bought more mic cables and mic stands, and added another set of headphones. My friend and producer partner, Mark Nicks, moved in a great drum kit, some keyboards and suddenly we were officially in the sound making business! Over the past 2 years, we’ve worked on about 12-15 different projects each year and are booking more for the new year. Over the past couple years, I’ve been able to update some gear. I updated to a newer computer, I now have 16 channels of recording audio, and I’ve added a few microphones. Compared to most studios we’re pretty short on gear, but we’re making great sounding recordings and love the people we get to work with which is a lot more fun to me than collecting gear! Next week I’ll talk a little more about my gearlessness and share a few things that I like way more than gear.  

-Brandon Shattuck
 The Minimalist Recordist  

Introduction

Back in 2015 I started blogging a bit about my recording studio only to have dropped the ball on it about a year ago. Well with a new year comes new resolutions and this year's resolution is to get back in the blogging saddle. However, this time around I wanted to be a little more focused and have come up with a theme/title for the blog. The Minimalist Recordist. To kick off the new blog I wanted to introduce myself and setup what I have in mind for the content ahead. So, intro...

My name is Brandon Shattuck and I own and operate a recording studio in Orlando, FL called Parafonic Recording Studio. I've been recording and mixing music for 8 years total now, but have only had my own studio for about two and a half years. Back in 2009 I graduated from college and spent the next four years as a freelance audio engineer in Nashville, TN. In 2013 my wife and I moved to Orlando for a new job opportunity for her and shortly after I was able to open up my own studio. At my studio I do everything that encompasses producing music. Recording, editing, mixing, mastering, archiving, and restoring. My philosophy on music production has always been to keep things simple, unique, and creative hence the title The Minimalist Recordist. The music and the artist are of the most importance and the gear and techniques are used only to support the artist's vision for their music. My studio has been built on a very small budget. I rent a very affordable space and I only invest in gear when I have the cash and can't work without it. I've been making the studio happen for almost three years now and have done it completely debt free and with little outside investment. With this blog I hope to share some of my experiences as a studio owner and music producer. Some blogs might be more about the business side of things and others may be about specific music production ideas. When it's all said and done I hope to share some content that's worth paying attention to and that you'll enjoy what you read, see, and hear!    

-Brandon Shattuck
 The Minimalist Recordist