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Winter 2001.

Recording Tips for the Beginner, Phase One

by Jason Martin

A Radio Shack cassette recorder with a real VU meter came on my 5th birthday. I wanted one after my grandpa recorded us talking then played it back, much to my surprise. I am still surprised. This is not a professional speaking here. But I have spent a lot of time with recording, releasing music, weird video/music hybrid projects, and thinking about recording. And the reason is, um, well, hmm.

Now for some tips. Let's start with recording in a professional studio.

Think about why you're doing this. Have a good reason. Look at studios. Dont get entralled with advanced-looking equipment. How would you feel if you were those machines? Be sensitive to the vibes. Its not an exact science. If you're still not sure what to make of the place, pretend to be a babbling, possibly dangerous, idiot and see how they treat you. Again, we're not talking hard science here. Feel it out.

Think about equipment you own that will be needed. Heres the beginning of a list I made recently:

  • muffle guitar
  • twang guitar
  • gorilla amp
  • clapper
  • maestro
  • dod phasor
  • wood block w/ contact mic
  • (etc.)

This should be done whether you're in a studio or recording at home. Outline each song and what voices go where. Then select the gear. Assign personalities. That little green fuzz box is a brat! Wood block with contact mic is horse's hooves (now dont PLAY it like horse hooves, just THINK of horse hooves when playing it). Characters to play off each other - it's the oldest trick in the book. This helps arrange parts within the song. Not the notes and chords, mind you, but the instruments/effects you'll be using to play the notes and chords.

It might help to imagine (or even create) a still-life for the overall body of work. But not something stupid like ballet shoes if there's a song about a dancer, or fancy-pants symbology like: a hitler/nurse doll. Aw, gross! What are you, a creep? That's okay.

This is what happens when you try too hard for meaning. Stay away from that. Feel confident to pursue every insane notion to its hilt, and far far beyond, but dont expect it to be relevant just 'cause you did that (for examples of this problem, see roughly two thirds of my discography). There's no greater purpose to any of this, be it art or science or golf. Make that relax you.

One can also record at home. Don't bother unless you're psyched to spend a serious amount of time on it. Now we're talking what some would call "low-fi", but that term is only for people who don't pay attention. It's a perception as much as it is a low fidelity recording. Without getting too deep into this argument, lets just say recordings can be made on any kind of equipment and ITS OKAY.

Some will insist on certain studio tricks or "standards" that are the status quo of the day. They have their place. To further complicate matters, Its completely subjective. Feel free to make "bad" recordings. You'll find some of them are good.

To start recording at home: get some kind of microphone, some kind of recorder, lots of time, and spend whatever money is left after rent and bills (if any).

Understand that one day its all going to decay and be forgotten. Look no furthur than cd's on which there's a loud click followed by silence instead of music, or cracked records stuffed in the wrong sleeves at salvation army that say "unbreakable". Far enough into the future, the Beatles will mean nothing. If you havent thought about this yet, think about it a lot now and get caught up.

Try to not think of white paper. Feel it out.

It helps to view the entire body of work as trial and error, nothing will ever be perfect or be right, and there's no guarantee it will even be good. But put most of your time in it anyway. What else are you gonna do? Go to the rally? Steal a bike? Watch tv?

Stay tuned for "Recording Tips for the Beginner, Phase Two" when we discuss specific recording methods, both mechanical and shamanistic.

JASON MARTIN tries not to think of white paper.