By Jason Bays
Jason Bays of Ventura’s indie music outfit The Spires waxes poetic on how musicians can record their own tracks on the cheap.
First off, here’s my list of things you need to make a record in order of importance:
I would say the ability to play an instrument “properly” is important but have you heard Jad Fair play guitar or Bob Dylan, for that matter? Does Brian Eno know how to play anything? Clearly it’s subjective, just like songs or voices etc….
So let’s just focus on gear. I’m gonna pretend 2” tape machines and Neumann microphones don’t exist. Who can afford that?
- These days Garage Band or a Tascam 4 Track are great and super affordable things to record your music with. You could probably make a record on an iPhone these days. Anything goes. You can find free plug-ins all over the Internet. Some are great, while some not so much. Still, it’s more gear than Charlie Patton needed to make brilliant music.
- Microphones: An Sm-57 or Sm-58 usually run under $100. They’re great for recording guitars/drums/vocals—pretty much anything. A pop screen is pretty crucial, or at least a foam cover for vocals.
- Revel in your shitty gear and poor-sounding room. Great recordings create their own space that you acclimate too. Have you heard Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices? It’s like a guide on how to suck and still rule. It’s a totally bonkers, amazing record made on a 4 Track.
- Good headphones are a must. Otherwise you go to the car to listen to a mix and it’s way off because your headphones are way off. Sony makes a great pair for $99.99.
- Pawn shop pedals: The pawn shops where I live have tons of great cheap pedals that people sell off to buy tattoos or weed or whatever. Great for going direct if you can’t make any noise in your bedroom studio. Run your SM-58 through a cheap delay pedal and you sound like John Lennon or some Sun Records cat.
- Amps have great reverb, especially old Fenders. Run a vocal through one for some of that Roky Erickson in a cavern sound.
I guess the point is that you don’t need to wait for that perfect Abbey Road situation to make cool, fun recordings. At least at home you can tweak things to your hearts content without somebody getting annoyed that you drank a bunch of Dewers and did 30 guitar overdubs. Maybe I’ve said too much already.
Here’s a short list of home recorded albums that I find inspiring:
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age
Cleaners From Venus – On Any Normal Monday
Guide By Voices – Alien Lanes
White Fence – Family Perfume
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Bob Dylan and the Band – Basement Tapes