Carlock: Do more by using a professional recording studio

Published 9:40 am Friday, October 26, 2012

Making a pro independent record is a huge step in the career path of any musical artist. When making a record, artists must decide whether they really want to give themselves over completely to the pursuit of their career or not. There’s no justifiable way to approach a saleable recording in half-measure.

One of the biggest mistakes made in a developing musical artist’s career is the decision to buy their recording equipment instead of going into a pro studio. At that “career crossroads,” the decision to make a record at home can throw an artist’s career momentum out the window because the artist doesn’t realize that trying to become an engineer requires an entirely different energy.

The outward-reaching energy that the artist previously put forth to perform shows, engage fans and promote their music needs to be replaced by an isolating, introverted energy necessary for setting up, learning and operating a recording studio. Very few individuals can develop both, and those who can, can’t do both at once. Due to the opposing natures of the two disciplines, one is essentially shut down to make room for the other. But perhaps most notably, working with experienced producers helps an artist grow much faster in a studio than being alone at home while having no idea what they’re doing. Producers should do a producer’s job and artists should do an artist’s job.

Artists’ jobs include developing their stageshow, their visual image and their performing abilities. They also need to rehearse and keep their band together unless they’re doing track dates or unplugged style-shows. Without management, they’re also responsible for their tour and venue relationships, creating and distributing their marketing material, and all other business related networking. All of this is both terribly important and time-consuming. Without a booking agent, they also handle all their own tour plans and routings, collect money, and handle venue disputes and any daily “surprises”. A working artist headed for success has to have all of this covered to build their fanbase. Without a fanbase, they have no one to sell records to, so this is critical job task for an artist.

But artists asksthemselves, “Why should I spend a lot of money in a pro recording studio with an experienced producer and engineer when I can save some money and buy my own recording studio? I can record any time I want, as long as I want — FOREVER!”

First: Nothing lasts forever, so wake up before I throw water in your face. Second: Running your career is not about “value” — it’s about getting to the next level, and next, and next. This costs money kids, penny-wise and pound foolish is kidding yourself big time. Then, once you earn your audiences’ attention and support, you have to keep the quality of your products high and worth the money or you’ve blown it. If you do, you build trust and word of mouth further expands your fanbase. Pro-level records can also garner attention from majors, if that’s a goal. Having options never hurt.

Making records by yourself will stunt, if not kill, your artist career. Audio engineering is a craft that takes years and decades to fully develop, not months. The hidden cost in making this decision is discovered later when you realize how much time and focus you lost chasing EQ concepts and working with equipment you can afford instead of doing an “artist’s job”, as listed above.

I recently talked to a musician friend of mine who had been recording four songs for the last couple of months, meeting every Sunday. I assumed they had some “all-in-one, box-of-the-day” recording system and were struggling to learn the gear, hence the delays. When I asked how things were going, he said they still hadn’t finished. He told me they were essentially recording live with a stereo miking setup. The songs were done, the were doing them at shows, but they just couldn’t get the recording together. He told me they were going to buy some more mics and an inexpensive mixer. I was aghast and told him he could have those songs finished at better quality working in my studio in half-of-a-Sunday and offered to help him out if he could convince his bandmates that actually getting some music finished was more important than dumping a bunch of money into not very good gear and putzing around for a more months. I see their future going to pot right in front of me and I feel like Christopher Walken in “The Dead Zone,” smashing vases and shouting “THE ICE … IS GONNA BREAK…!!!”

In contrast, I just talked to another band yesterday who bought a really nice home recording setup to make its first record. But after that experience, on the second record, band members decided to work with a producer in a pro-recording studio. Their studio is now mostly collecting dust, but at least they’re smart enough to see that their studio was sinking their chances at career advancement before it was too late.

Career decisions can’t be about “value.” They have to be about being the best at what you do while surrounding yourself with others who are the best at what they do. FIND A WAY, MY FRIENDS.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.