5 ways I figured it out
I should probably save this for sometime when we have new music so I can say “look this is how we made this!” but…I’m not going to do that. I wanted to write something today to tell y’all that you can do it. If you want to write music or record your songs…you can do it. You should totally do it.
I don’t live near my bandmates anymore so a lot of demos have to happen in order to write new songs, so we can make the most out of our time when we’re actually in the same room together. I’ve never been a gear nerd (about anything, really). I just want to write songs. But obviously making them sound like they sound in my head is something I should generally understand how to do.
Over the past couple years, I finally climbed out of my 8-track, “3-4 tracks in Garageband”, voice memo recording hole and figured out how to make demos that sound “good”. That descriptor is totally subjective, but they sound good *to me*.
I think it’s important to realize that the absolute basics are incredibly important to demystify. I love shop talk, but it’s the fastest way to alienate folks who don’t know the terminology yet.
So here’s a few things that helped me feel like I actually have some professional grasp of how to make music sound nice.
- Ask your friends! I have a few friends who are either recording engineers or have taught themselves a lot about recording, and they were kind enough to point me in the right direction. Whether that’s tutorials I should watch, the best mic to buy, or what isn’t working about the mix I made. Ask! They might not be able to walk you through everything but odds are they can help you take the first step.
- YouTube! The two YouTube channels I watched the most were Mix Better Now and The Recording Lounge Podcast. There are a lot of videos that will answer questions like “how do I make these drums not sound like crap” or “when you say ‘compression’, what does that mean?” Even just this video for some basics was a big step in the right direction.
- Figure out what software and audio interface is best for you. I have a Mac and wanted to get a bit more technical in mixing and sampling, so I finally got Logic. If you also have a Mac, Garageband honestly gives you a TON of tools and options and is an awesome free option. If you get an audio interface like this one from M-audio, you can plug instruments and mics into your computer more easily and it’ll sound better.
If you only have a mobile device to work with, Spire is an amazing app that lets you do multi-track recording on your phone or tablet. So you can record a guitar track, then record vocals over it, then whatever else you want over it, etc. If you have no idea how to use any of these things, see #1 and #2 above.
- Mess around with a MIDI controller. For lack of a more technical explanation, MIDI is the way that you can either trigger sounds like a bass drum hit or a clap, or play longer sequences that are electronic instruments, like keyboard or a string section, or trumpets or something. It usually looks like a tiny keyboard. You can plug it into your computer and software like Garageband or Logic or Ableton will turn what you tap on the keyboard into something that sounds like an infinite number of cool sounds. Find out what your songs sound like with a string section, or a synth part, or a grand piano without actually having those instruments in the room! I have an AKAI MPK mini but there are a lot of options out there.
- Magazines and podcasts! Magazines like She Shreds and Tom Tom often have gear reviews or tutorials and other musicians talking about how they demo things. I also find podcasts like Tuner and Switched on Pop to be revelatory in explaining how the songs I like sound the way they do. Nerd out!
Do you know a lot about mixing and think those channels / tips are terrible? Tell me about the ones you like! Where are the accessible, layman speak, how-to videos that you swear by? What can we share with folks who know zero things about recording and producing and sound shaping that will actually give folks the tools to get moving?
Consider a paid subscription so you can comment below, but also feel free to just email them to me.
If you know someone just starting to figure this stuff out, please share this with them!
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Thanks folks. See you next week!