There is one essential way to better yourself as a musician that every successful musician does but most of us ignore it completely.

No, it’s not ear training. It’s not music theory. It’s definitely not remembering to ask “Would you like fries with that?” It’s simpler than that…

It’s learning how to record yourself.

We’re not talking about recording all of your own album releases from now on, producing and engineering an album is an art form that takes years to master and serious releases should be produced by the serious professionals.

Luckily, you can make huge strides as a musician without becoming some godly mixer, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

We’re talking about practicing one single skill that improves ALL areas of your musicianship.

Here’s how home recording will quickly make you a better musician:

1) You’ll play better
2) You’ll write better
3) You’ll sound better

I know, it sounds like a huge oversimplification of something super complex and time consuming, but think about it. Don’t just skim over those points and move on. Let them sink in, remember them.

If you don’t want to get better at any of those things, then by all means skip this article and go back to running scales to a metronome for 5 hours a day. For those who do, let’s get started!

Since you’re still reading (good choice, by the way) and we already know the what, let’s get into the how and why.

How Does Home Recording Make Me PLAY Better?
(And does it involve selling my soul?)


Yes! Well, no. I don’t know. I can’t really answer that last part.

As musicians we tend to be very detail oriented and the dreaded word “perfectionist” gets thrown around a whole lot. This means we have the potential to make really awesome things. Unfortunately, this also means we suffer from horrible tunnel vision.

We get so focused on the details of that “weird upstroke on the second 16th note of the sixth bar of that solo” problem we’ve been having that we completely ignore major mistakes and bad habits that we’re letting seep into our playing.

Sure, you might learn to nail that weird upstroke on the second 16th note eventually… but at a pretty big cost.

When you record yourself and play it back your full attention is there. You’re able to hear every detail and nuance in your playing because no singular movement or note has consumed your attention in its gravitational pull.

While you were so focused on that last note of your run, you completely missed that you had an open string ringing out, you’re rushing the first bar, and you’re pulling that 3rd note stupidly sharp.

How about that rhythm part you’ve been working on for the new song? You record that and it sounds… great! Okay, cool! You record it again as if you were doubling your rhythm parts in the studio.

Uh oh, they don’t synch up very well. You were so focused on the tone and BR00TAL sound of all those chugga-chugga notes that you didn’t realize you’re not playing in time very consistently.

You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s a problem.

Don’t. Forget. This.

Actually hearing yourself play without distractions is what uncovers massive insights about your playing. Once you uncover them, that’s when you can address them.

Hearing yourself recorded removes the cloud of confusion, distraction, and bias from your head (and your ears). It’s humbling, and sometimes it really sucks to hear how badly you messed up…

… but it will make you play better.

How Does Home Recording Make Me WRITE Better?
Recipes For #1 Albums

 

How many times have you heard a smaller local band hype up an album only to have it come out 4 years later with only 6 weak tracks?

Maybe you’ve started a new song with your band but your drummer forgot the beat he played because you only jam for an hour a week?

Or how about when you have this SICK idea for a riff in your head but at band practice it just ended up sounding like a drill in the ear?

The problem is the same in all (and many more) situations: a lack of songwriting maturity.

A mature songwriter is someone who can write quickly and efficiently, someone who knows how to translate what they hear in their head to their instrument, someone who knows what works and what doesn’t.

These are the people touring the world, selling hundreds of thousands of records, and getting bigger by the second. (Seriously, you ever hear Michael Jackson’s demo of Beat It? It’s almost note for note identical to the final version. THAT is songwriting maturity!)

As with any skill in life, the only real way to improve is to do it. Then do it again. Do it over and over again until you just can’t anymore… and then just 5 more times.

Recording yourself is the best way to get your musical ideas into a real, tangible form. A form where you don’t have to imagine how it COULD sound. You can sit back and really take it in, work it, add to it, expand it. It’s the next best thing to hearing it on a record.

No more trying to imagine drum parts from a crappy phone recording of someone beat-boxing blast beats, no more “we’ll just come back to it next jam,” and no more asking your bassist if he can hook you up with his cracked copy of Guitar Pro so you can open his tabs.

Not only does home recording allow you to work on songs in your bedroom whenever you want, but imagine what happens when the entire band can do that! No more excuses for not getting things done. High efficiency, high payoff.

You can quickly and easily send song ideas to each other, add on to each other’s recordings, collaborate outside of band practice, and write a record in just a month if you wanted to.

Let’s break this down:

– Being able to record yourself means writing faster.


– Writing faster means writing more.

– Writing more means writing better.

All these successful, touring, platinum album achieving artists work this way, and for good reason. Whether it’s Metallica, Periphery, or Katy Perry, recording and working with these demos is the key to their high productivity and hit songwriting.

How Does Home Recording Make me SOUND Better?
Human Hands, Godly Tones

 

There’s nothing quite like recording to make you realize your guitar tone isn’t quite as awesome as you thought it was.

It makes you realize that getting great guitar tones, great bass tones, punchy sounding drums, they’re all an art form in and of themselves. It’s not as simple as sticking a microphone in front of something, it won’t magically sound good.

There’s a reason producers and engineers get paid so much for their time, it’s because they’ve spent years developing these skills.

I know, I sound like the lecture you get from your teacher before they give you 4 projects to do over your spring break, but I promise you don’t need to put in that much work.

It all comes back to what we talked about earlier: experience. The best way to get better at something is to do it over and over again.

Once you record your demo riff and maybe add in some drums, you’ll hear that things don’t sound very good… your guitar tones sound harsh, your kick has no punch, you can’t hear the snare, and who knows what else. Nothing like your favourite records.

So what do you do? You fix it. You turn up the bass on your kick and you turn down the treble on your guitar. You hear the improvement instantly. You learn how these instruments are supposed to sound, how they need to sound in order to work together and not trample all over each other.

Recording forces you to learn how instruments interact with each other, and therefore how to make sure they all play nicely together by making you change how you dial them in.

Whether that means how to dial in your amp or how you tune your drums, recording yourself will help you hear these issues.

 

Okay, but so what? You’re not making your own records so why does it matter how they sound when they’re recorded?

You ever go to a show at a crappy venue where the only thing going through the $50 PA system is vocals, and it just sounds harsh and muddy? Then the touring band goes up and plays through that same PA and the entire band sounds amazing?

I know I’ve seen this many times. We tend to attribute that to them having better gear than us, or just being a tighter band… and hey, maybe that’s true, but that’s only part of the equation.

All of the same recording principles still apply to playing live – each instrument needs its own space. Learning how to solve these issues when recording means learning how to solve them at band practice and shows too. THAT is what these bands have discovered.

Any time you encounter an issue like this when recording, you should go to your next band practice with that in mind and see if making the same changes there help your band’s live sound. 9 times out of 10, it does.

Treat your live band sound like you’re mixing a record, and soon you’ll sound like that touring band who slayed everyone at the worst venue in town last week.

Your band’s sound will improve dramatically as a result. Practice is hugely important, but if all your instruments aren’t working together sonically, no one is going to be able to hear your cool guitar riff, or jazzy ghost notes, or maybe even enjoy the show.

Let’s Wrap This Whole Thing Up

Where Do You Go From Here?

Let’s do a little checklist of just some of the benefits before we tie a bow on this topic:

– Gain perspective about your playing, allowing you to clean it up and improve your sense of rhythm far quicker than without it

– Write faster, and without restrictions like tab software, filming your parts to send to the band, only writing at band practice (and costing you money), etc.

– Learn how to dial in your instrument (and others) to sound awesome in the context of a full band on a much more detailed level, giving your band a killer live sound

 

(Oh, and one bonus perk we forgot to mention: When you’re in the studio, you’ll find it way easier to communicate with your engineer because you have a basic understanding of his tools and job, making it easier to get the results you want.)

No one is saying that you shouldn’t work on practicing to a metronome, writing when you’re not by a computer, or try tweaking your tone outside of band practice. All of those things have their place….

But the big takeaway here is this:

Learning to record at home unifies all these skills, and takes them all to the next level.

These days it’s so incredibly cheap to be able to record yourself at home, that you can really buy a recording setup on any budget. Not going out to eat for a few nights is a very small price to pay to be able to seriously excel at what you love.

Besides the (minimal) cost factor, there’s also tons of FREE educational content out there for anyone looking to get into recording. From the basics of what to do, to even the essentials of what NOT to do.

It may seem tough, it may even seem far fetched… but trust me when I say that no other single skill has made me progress this much as a musician in such a short amount of time.

So let’s do it. Get out there and start recording yourself so you can PLAY better, WRITE better, and SOUND better!

 

 

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This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor located in Canada.

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