The process of recording your music for a professional release entails a broad range of methods, each with their benefits and downfalls. We’re going to take a quick look at the pros and cons of music DIY vs studio recording. One of the most notable variances between the two is time. DIY effectively gives you unlimited time whilst the studio adds the pressure of completing tasks in a relatively short period. Is that good or bad? The answer to this can only be found through individual experience. The ‘Do It Yourself’ approach is one of the most fantastic options for developing musicians; however, depending on your situation, it has the potential to be both destructive and beneficial.
Music Industry Inside Out has been in touch with some professional workers behind the studio glass. ARIA award-winning producer, Magoo, and platinum record selling studio gun Lee Prebble offered their opinions and advice on recording approaches, but if you want to dig deeper, you might want to head over to some of our great course content at our Recording Your Music course.
Should an artist enter the studio if they have no experience at all?
Prebble: Of course. One of the advantages of going into the studio is that, in theory, there are experienced people helping you through the process.
Sometimes it can be good to meet the engineer beforehand to discuss what you want to achieve and what their process may be to help you get there so that on the day, you have a vague idea of what might happen. The engineer is there to help you get the most out of your music, so you can make the decisions, they just help you along the way.
Magoo: Sometimes this is often the best choice for those that are inexperienced in the recording studio. Yes, you can do everything in the home studio these days and achieve the same quality of a fully equipped recording studio, but it takes a lot of skill and knowhow to get there. Do you know anyone who has the skill to do this? Do you have enough equipment? Anyone have a suitable venue? And these questions are just the start.
Of course, due to financial reasons, the sake of experimentation or the goal of recording could mean you choose DIY instead of the studio, which is fine. Some artists flourish in the DIY world as their creativity continues to stay productive over an extended time. On the other hand, the limits of your DIY production quality may not match the needs of your goal. The time for a studio may be close, but think…
When should an artist shift from the DIY approach to the studio?
Prebble: Whenever they feel like it. If you have good songs and believe they’re worthy of spending time, money and energy on, then you should go for it. Or perhaps you just want to book a day; see what its like, see if you enjoy the experience and result.
Magoo: In this direction, the answer is money. When the band is earning enough money to get investment from a recording company or are generating enough money autonomously. The most expensive part of running a recording studio is the rent, meaning that despite the price of (new) equipment falling, rents are increasing, meaning a large studio experience will not get any cheaper.
As implied in my first answer, many artists go the other way. When they see how it’s done, they then get the confidence to have a go themselves. You just point a microphone at something and hit record – it’s not that hard.
The number of variables affecting your final decision is very difficult to determine. If you are struggling, think hard about what it is you want to achieve and then compare the pros and cons of each. Consider what workflow will suit you and your musical project best.
What is the most beneficial aspect of DIY?
Prebble: Time! Being able to take your time to get the performance right.
Magoo: Usually time. Being in your own environment means you can revisit parts and perfect them, when previously you had to live with it. You can develop an ownership over the space you’re in, and really concentrate on the music.
What is the most negative aspect of DIY?
Prebble: Time! Too much time to dwell, second guess, get bored, check your phone, do the dishes, mow the lawns and other general distractions.
Magoo: Lack of experience. There’s a lot of know-how you need in the studio. Youtube is great, but who do you believe? And sometimes the benefits of time I just mentioned can be negative for your recordings. You can dwell on something that is really fine, and then lose the love for what was a great idea.
Space is also an issue. Do you know of somewhere where you can make a lot of noise late into the night? Airbnb can be a good option.
Research will also aid you in comparing the two approaches. The studio, in particular, is a world that can be intimidating if you aren’t aware what can and can’t happen.
What do most musicians not know about the studio during their first encounter?
Prebble: Some people are surprised that they can record more than one instrument at a time. A band doesn’t have to record drums first, then bass, then guitar etc. A band can actually all record together, at the same time in the same room!
Magoo: The amount of time it takes to do a good job. There’s a lot of setting up; a lot of “hurry up and wait”. Yes, some recordings have been done very quickly in the studio and are awesome, but they have also captured a band at their peak. Is your band at their peak? It’s impossible to tell without hindsight. These recordings are definitely the exception to the rule. I’ll often hear, “don’t worry it won’t take long. We are a great live band”. Live and the studio are two completely different art forms and should not be confused. Creating sounds for a part in a song usually takes time for it to belong in the song. This is the time that usually goes unaccounted for.
I certainly love DIY recording and the extra time it brings. You can get the artists into an optimal state before recording, rather than recording because you have to – because you’re running out of time. But it is not a panacea for everyone.
To inquire about Magoo’s (Lachlan Goold) services, visit his website here.
Lee Prebble’s services are based in Wellington, New Zealand. Visit his studio website here.