10 - The Expensive Recording Myth
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
I’m going to get straight to the point with this one; expensive recording gear won’t make or break your song.
A crap song recorded using the same gear as Abbey Road studios won’t suddenly make your song great.
“But Joe… if that’s the case, why should any record in an expensive studio?”
Well that’s because you’re paying for the experience of the engineers or producers using that equipment. The same goes for buying the same plug-ins that your mix engineers use. I could tell you what plug-ins I use but that doesn’t mean you could get the same results by yourself.
Here’s an example. I’m an awful tennis player. And when I say awful, I mean AWFUL! If you gave me the worlds most expensive training shoes, racket and kit… do you think I could beat Roger Federer?! Of course I couldn’t!
The same goes for recording equipment. The worlds best recording equipment in the hands of a novice won’t yield great results. In the opposite scenario, if you give an audio pro a great song and some basic gear… they’ll still make a killer record.
Here’s another way to look at it. If your guitar part is out of tune or played really badly, recording it through a vintage microphone that costs more than a new car isn’t going to make it more in tune or listenable. If anything, the more expensive gear will only capture a more high definition version that highlights all the horrible parts.
Get it right at the source
Take it from me; if you give me the option of a well tuned snare drum recorded with £100 microphone or a badly tuned snare drum recorded with a £1000 microphone… I’m going to pick the cheaper microphone with a great sounding source option EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Go back to basics with your own music.
When I’m producing, I like to try something called the campfire test. Try to perform your song with just an acoustic guitar and vocals (as if singing by a campfire). If it works in this format it’s a great song. If it doesn’t, it will quickly highlight areas for improvement. There’s nowhere to hide in this method and it’s a great way to get a fresh, alternative perspective on something you may be a little lost on.
Why use a professional studio?
So I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t explain why I prefer to use certain studios. For me, these studio offer more than just expensive gear; they offer a better creative environment to make music in.
On a practical level, it affords more physical space and with that comes the ability to use methods such as live tracking, an option I will always take if applicable.
A professional studio is also a much better space to be creative in. It’s something that’s easily overlooked but if a space is welcoming and provides inspiration, it can make a real difference. If the artist feels comfortable and inspired, it might encourage them to take creative and rewarding risks that they might not in their home studio.
An important thing to highlight is that when I use a professional studio, I don’t abandon all the principles I've mentioned so far.
To use the Federer example again; he’d be a great player with a cheap racket, but he’d be an even better one with the right equipment.
The same goes for my work as a producer/mix engineer; I’ll make better records with cheap gear than an amateur with a huge budget, but I’ll an even better record in a great studio.
It’s not what you have, it’s how you use it.
Your friendly neighborhood mix engineer,