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