Ruckus in the garage: My noisy obsession

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As a person who's recorded hundreds of hours of local music in my home studio, I get to hear all sorts of sonic creativity that never reaches a wider audience. In fact, none of my recordings have ever ascended beyond the level of vanity projects, other than a couple of indie releases by the Pink Lincolns and Flat Stanley. (Leave it to the punks to act like businessmen.) It doesn't bother me at all, just reinforces the idea that I'm doing it purely as a hobby, not some sort of business venture. The musicians bring the beer and I help them get their sounds on "tape."

When I get to hear new sounds and shape them into a cohesive whole of my choosing, I tap into some sort of special pleasure center in my brain. I'm not claiming I'm good at it – I just love doing it and I've been fortunate enough to have worked with any number of aspiring local artists who usually think I'm doing them a favor. They're wrong. I need them as much as they need me. They bring original songs, their instruments and voices, and I get to assemble the sounds, to feed my head. What could be better? Playing music is rewarding in its own ways, but done right, it's hard work and the rewards can be elusive. Recording it is like catching a snowflake on my tongue; it makes me feel lucky, and if the results melt away into oblivion, there is always the memory and another project around the corner.

This is where I usually jump on my high horse and comment on how too many amateur musicians are under the misguided assumption that their DIY ethic has automatically bought them the sort of "indie cred" that allows them to forget they are nobodies. I say it's totally okay to be a nobody as long as you embrace it. If you want something bigger, there are many, many tasks at hand. Do all of those tasks, or shut the fuck up. And by that, I mean there is a clear distinction between a hobby and a profession. Don't mix them up, because if you do, you're kidding yourself. That's called – in a word – delusion, and it's embarrassing.

All right. Enough of that. Just don't start talking about your "album" or how you're an "artist" and we'll get along just fine. First, we'll talk about how you want your songs to sound. A lot of bands want a live, in-the-studio experience. Regrettably, very few can pull it off because they simply don't have the chops. There is a fine line between exquisitely messy and just plain awful. It takes a lot of patience for the "magic" to arrive and I usually don't have that much time. So I'd suggest something more flexible. Let's say we lay down the basics and record the drums, bass, and one guitar. Most bands can handle that as long as the singer gives them cues. If a hot cut of a basic track can be captured, some of the pressure is off. But now the details need to really shine. Can your singer sing? Can your lead guitar player rip a worthy solo without consuming an entire afternoon? If so, we'll have a blast. I'll be willing to work long hours. If not, well, go home and practice. A lot.

Things have changed drastically in the years I've been recording. Tape is a thing of the past around my studio (and around most studios). Sure, it sounds better, but the costs are exorbitant compared to hard drive space. So we'll do what we can to warm up your tracks and that is plenty. We're not making an audiophile masterpiece, I'm sorry to say. You'll get mid-fidelity. Hardly anyone expects more these days. The good news is we can automate mixes and operate on the cheap. Your CD (or worse, your MP3) product will sound like lots of other amateur recordings. If you want professional results, GO TO A PROFESSIONAL RECORDING STUDIO. It's totally worth it if you have the musical goods and you want to be taken seriously. People who do what I do professionally have vast amounts of knowledge that I do not and will never possess. Consult them. Pay them. Raise the bar on yourself and become what you are already pretending to be. Now!

In the end, it is extremely unlikely that posterity will give any fraction of a damn about what you did in my garage (or anyone else's). That is totally okay with me and it should be with you, too. Let's live in the moment, shall we? We'll make beautiful music together and have a couple of beers. We can blast your sonic creations from now until we go deaf from too much rock music. What could be better than that?

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