Work With What You Have (Low Budget Recording)

It's almost rent time and you may be singing to your thinning wallet, "Come on skinny love, just last the year.

Most artists aren't known for their vast cash resources or their lavish lifestyles.  The majority of artists you will meet are just barely scraping by, especially if their art is their livelihood.  It's difficult to save very much money by playing barroom shows.  They usually don't pay much, and you probably have so many expenses every month (rent, food, transportation, etc.) that you're unable to grow your savings.  That, plus you're really trying your best to record and release a great collection of songs.

Studio time is expensive, so you go to the next best thing--home recording--which can also be expensive if you don't know what you're doing and are guided by online articles about the amazing sounds you can get from analog gear, vintage tape machines, and tube microphones, which will run you well over the cost of buying a new compact-sized car.

But you really don't need to spend a fortune on recording gear in order to make a great recording of a song.

First, you really need to reflect on what makes a good recording.  Is it that the song was recorded in hi-fidelity?  Is it that the song was recorded to tape?  Is it any number of other things you will read about in magazines and articles that spout tips about using gear that costs more than your monthly rent?

Hint:  it's none of those things.

The thing that makes a good recording is that the emotion of a song is transferred from the performer to the listener. 

99% of listeners don't care about what analog gear or what expensive microphones their favorite songs were recorded on.  They care that the song makes them feel a certain emotion when they listen to it.

The best example I can think of of a record being an amazing medium for transferring emotion through recorded songs despite using budget gear is For Emma Forever Ago by Bon Iver.  The whole album was recorded using one SM57 (<$100 used on reverb.com) microphone and a limited version of ProTools.  The album launched Justin Vernon's (the man behind Bon Iver) career and it wasn't because it had stunning crisp quality or warm vintage tube sound or any of the other buzz words you may hear & read in articles about audio gear.  It was successful because Vernon poured out his heart and soul into the writing and performance of each song.  Do you think anyone cares that the haunting lyrics of Skinny Love, Bon Iver's without-a-doubt most popular song, were sung into a SM57?  I would venture to say that nobody cares.

And if even an SM57 is out of budget for you, if you're reading this blog post, you probably have a computer.  That computer probably has a built-in microphone.  Download Audacity (https://www.audacityteam.org/download/) and start recording!  No, you won't be able to achieve the crisp hi-fi sound you may hear on the radio, but that is part of the challenge.  If you can record a whole song using nothing but a built-in computer microphone and free audio software, that is much more impressive than shelling out thousands of dollars for high-end gear that, honestly, won't make your song any better.

Work with what you have.  If you have a talent for writing and performing your songs and communicating emotions through your performances, focus on that.  If you don't have the money for studio time or fancy recording gear, record through your laptop or phone mic.  Great performances through cheap mics will ALWAYS sound better than bad performances through high-end recording equipment. 

If you can sound great on a low-budget recording, that is true musicianship and artisanship.

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