I believe that no matter where you are in your recording journey: you should do what you can with what you have. I find this to be better than spending all your time waiting around for a new piece of gear. Thinking that a new piece of gear will solve all of your problems. For the most part, I’ve been using the same equipment for the past few years. Anything new that I have purchased within those years was either out of necessity or out growing the gear.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I started my audio recording journey in 2008 in a place where most dreams go to die: college. I had been playing bass in a few different bands over the years. It was great being able to play music with friends, but it was also a bit creatively stifling. If I ever came up with a song idea I’d have to get the rest of the band on board with it. So out of all the songs that I wrote only a handful were actually learned by the rest of the band and incorporated into the sets. Tired of this process, I finally decided that it was time for me to start recording my own music.
Being a broke college student, my recording budget was pretty much non-exist. I had about $200 to get everything set-up and this included: recording software, drum software, an interface, a guitar, and an amplifier. So after doing a little research, I was able to find an inexpensive virtual drum machine ($20). Next, I was able to knock out the amplifier and interface in one swing with the Line 6 Toneport – Gold Bundle edition (on sale for $100). After that, I bought a cheap Fender Squire guitar from a buddy at the local pawn shop ($60). He said he hooked me up… but I’m pretty sure I got the same price anyone else would have gotten.
Now that brings us to the digital audio workstation. A bandmate had an ancient workstation called Cool Edit Pro that he graciously let me use ($0). This brought the grand total of my setup to $180 (with a nice cool Andrew Jackson left in my pocket). With my remaining small fortune, I bought a used Seymour Duncan Super Distortion pickup from my roommate. He was even kind enough to install it for me as well! So, now armed with an armada of inexpensive gear (and a pair of earbuds I had lying around) I got to work.
At the time I didn’t really know much about mixing or mastering. I had dabbled with tracking and editing a few times before, but nothing serious. I just knew that I wanted my music to sound as good as I could possibly make it with the limited resources that I had available. The guitars were quad tracked because I read somewhere that’s how you make your guitars sound THICC. Eq was randomly thrown on tracks because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. There was zero mastering done. There wasn’t even limiter on the master to keep the songs from clipping! I just recorded, mixed, bounced down, and uploaded all of the songs to SoundClick (which was all the rage at the time).
So with a poorly intonated guitar and very little knowledge of recording, I was able to create the With Distance EP. And all things considered, I think it came out pretty well. Sure the recording sounds rough (like really rough), but do you know what sounds worse than roughly recorded music? No music. If I didn’t buy that gear and record that EP then that music would simply not exist.
At the end of the day, I could have just sat around and waited for better gear or more experience before I did anything. The problem with that is that the time you spent waiting around could have been spent on actually getting better at recording. I learned a lot through this process. And I certainly learned a lot more through action than I would have through inaction.
Experience is the greatest teacher of all. The more you record, the more you will learn, and the better your recordings will get. Throughout the recording process, you will learn a lot about your gear and the best ways to use it. You will also figure out the difference between what you actually need versus what you want.
So don’t focus on the gear because the gear is simply a means to an end. Instead, try focusing on the emotion of the song. Try focusing on the timing and the groove. Spend a little time setting up your instruments and optimizing your recording space before hitting that record button. Try getting creative. But most importantly focus on the arrangement and the performance. So do what you can with what you have and you will continue to grow in the areas that truly matter.
Stay creative, stay encouraged, stay inspired, and stay motivated.