Intro: Record It Yourself
By Theo Kogan & Sean Pierce • Photo by Ryan Pfluger
Courtesy of Venus Zine
Former Lunachicks front woman Theo Kogan — who’s now the current leading lady of Theo and the Skyscrapers — explains how you can turn your pad into a recording studio. Skyscrapers guitarist Sean Pierce (formerly of the Toiletboys) lends support.
There is no reason in this day and age that you should have to wait for a big budget to make a record. Self-recording is an awesome perk of the modern age. When our band recorded our new self-titled album, we decided to do it ourselves because we didn't have a large budget for recording, and between ourselves and our friends, we had the equipment. You may only live once, but you can make a lot of records. Here’s Sean’s and my recipe for doing it yourself.
Step 1: Step 1
Self-recording isn't free. There are still things you will need to spend some dough on to get started. To raise the money, you could play a benefit or have band mates chip in. Use your imagination and chutzpah to make it happen. You’re gonna need to buy a couple essential things to make your record. First, you’ll need a computer that has enough RAM and power to run the following recording programs: Pro Tools, Logic, or Garageband. You’ll need at least one of these programs to record. Next, buy a good microphone. Here is where you should spend a little money. A good mic is going to help warm up your sound. If you can't get a really good one, a Shure SM58 microphone — which is the basic mic that is used at most clubs — will do. I suppose you could steal one, but we never told you to! We run our bad-ass Blue mic through a simple little Mbox, a separate component that forms an interface between your mic or instrument and your computer (a $300 investment). You’ll also need a space to do your recording. I did all my vocals in my living room and just had to deal with discouraging my cats from yowling along.
Step 2: Step 2
At this point, you're pretty much ready to go, especially if you have a friend who has Roland TD 20 electronic drums hooked up to Pro Tools at his or her apartment — that’s how we did the drums for our record. You can also just get a few more mics and set them up around your drum set. Many classic-rock records were recorded with just three mics on the drums: one about five feet away from the kick drum, and two about five feet away from the snare.
Step 3: Step 3
Once you get your drum tracks down, you can start building the song, track by track. Lay down the bass directly into Pro Tools, followed by guitar, keyboards, vocals, back-up vocals, glasses filled with water, a vacuum cleaner, butterfly wings, keys jingling — you name it. Here's a tip from our experience: Don't worry if your tracks “red-line” a little bit. This is supposed to be a big digital no-no, but we suggest just using your ears. If you hear crackling, adjust your levels.
Step 4: Step 4
Once your tracks are down and you feel good about them, it's time to go into mix mode. We used the plug-ins (effects like compressors, reverb, etc.) that came with our Pro Tools — nothing fancy. When you are mixing, most importantly, make it sound good to you. We recommend "low listening” during the mixing process. This is when you turn the track down to a super-low volume, checking that all the tracks are still audible. If it sounds good really low, chances are it will sound good really loud. We also recommend listening to the mixes in different systems (car, home, boom box, stereo, iPod, etc.), as this will ensure that your sonic vision is translating to various devices.
Step 5: Step 5
Once your mix is completed, we recommend spending some money to “hit” your mixes to tape. Your local recording studio will know how to do this. It will warm up your mixes and add “tape compression” to them. We also recommend spending some money to get your mixes "mastered." This is the final process, and if you get the right mastering person, your mixes will rip and rock and sizzle as hard as any of your favorite bands with big, fat record execs. Oops, we meant to say big, fat recording budgets. Good luck!