Updated: Aug 20
One of the ways you as a musician can take control of your career is to learn how to record your own music. So many musicians are scared to learn the process so they never take the first step. But you can learn and develop the process over time. You don’t need to commit to a giant studio set up. In other words, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
When I realized that I wanted to learn how to record and produce my music and produce other artists, I started slow. I got a few pieces of gear that I honestly didn’t know how to use. I got an Atari 1040ST computer, loaded it with Opcode Vision, (which was a brand of early sequencing software), a couple pieces of outboard gear, a Fostex board, a quarter-inch Fostex eight track recorder and a Fostex two-track to mix down to a stereo track. Then I proceeded to try and set it up. Then I lay down on the floor, stared at the ceiling and started to cry. I looked at everything and thought, “what have I done?!?! I don’t know how any of this works!”
I had worked with plenty of other producers. I sat with them as we wrote songs together and watched what they did. I asked questions and tried to pay close attention while watching how they ran everything. It was during these sessions that I realized that I had to learn how to produce and engineer myself. I didn’t want to have to rely on other people to record my music.
So after several days of self-deprecation and complete frustration, I swallowed my pride, got on the phone with friends and asked for help. I bought books on recording and read all sorts of magazines articles written by professional engineers and producers. I was very happy to learn that the people I knew were very passionate about recording and loved to talk about what they did and share how they did it. They LOVED what they did, so they loved teaching others because it was their passion! I felt better! Yes, it was hard and confusing but over time I started to learn.
When I got together with my husband and music partner, Jean-Pierre Durand, I had acquired a few more pieces of gear - one ADAT, a few more mics and some effects units. It wound up that JP was quite adept at learning and then using my gear. Bonus!
Not long after we started playing music together, an opportunity presented itself for us to write music for the show Entertainment Tonight. We would be working with two other seasoned composers and had to send in an audition tape. JP was pretty skeptical about us getting this gig as we didn’t have the desired amount of gear AND had never written background music for TV shows before. Luckily ,I convinced him that we had to throw our hat in the ring. Guess what? We got the gig!
We had minimal gear, but we knew how to play our instruments, how to write, and how to get a good sound out of what we had. Two years later, we had written around two hundred minutes of music for Entertainment Tonight. All that music eventually went into The Paramount Music Library, which in turn was used on many different shows - that’s a good thing! We learned the craft of writing background cues for TV and how to turn out quality music quickly with the resources available. It was a great gig in so many ways! Twenty-five years later our studio has grown and so has our music catalog! Looking back, I’m glad that we had to start with a minimal amount of gear. We learned to use our ears - trial and error taught us a lot about the recording process, mic placement and so much more.
So now jumping ahead, I want to recommend a couple of mics that you can add to your studio TODAY without spending a lot of money. If you are starting to build your studio having good mics is a must! We’ve have been Audio-Technica endorsees for many years. We use their mics on drums, percussion and all sorts of acoustic instruments, including the recording of the Spanish guitar for our group Incendio. Incendio is all about the Spanish guitar! Besides Incendio’s eleven albums we’ve recorded hundreds of tracks for TV and film as well as producing quite a few other artists. A lot of those tracks have Spanish and steel string guitars.
We have and do use different mics but the main mic that we have used for years is the Audio Technica 4033. We always come back to that mic. We had discovered a hidden treasure in the 4033 which made our sound unique. It was our little secret that made our guitars sound really great! Yay - celebrate us! After many years of using the mic, one day JP was reading an article by the brilliant producer Keith Olsen. He mentioned in this article that one of his secret weapons was in fact that same Audio Technica 4033! So it wasn’t our little secret but we were validated by the fact that such an incredible producer was touting the virtues of the mic that we had discovered on our own. If you don’t know Keith Olsen make sure to look him up. That article (which has some other GREAT miking advice) is here:
You can get this mic for around $400. It’s versatile and works well on some vocalists and for other instruments besides the guitar! It doesn’t have a lot of bottom and records very cleanly – perfect for nylon and steel-string acoustic.
Our mic closet also includes the Audio-Technica AT4047/SV. We kept trying to use it but could never get a sound out of it that we were happy with. It was frustrating! And it has to be said that we were used to the 4033 –the 4047 is voiced very differently and sounds NOTHING like the 4033. Then one day we were at the studio of a colleague and new pal, Charlie Waymire, who is also drummer extraordinaire! We were all chatting and he was saying that the 4047 was his desert island mic . . . do tell? He went on to talk about how he positioned the mic, the type of eq and other useful tidbits of information. Of course, we went home and implemented that wonderful advice. Now this is another mic we use often for the guitar non-stop as well as other applications. The 4047 is around $700, so if you only have money for one I recommend starting with the 4033. However, I’m sure there are folks that choose the 4047 instead. Now here is the great thing! You can research and make your own decision. They are both great mics that we use often and if you can get both even better!
FYI here’s Charlie’s take on that 4047:
I am including in the blog a couple of tracks from our album, A Bridge Between by Carbe and Durand- that’s us. Two guitars only, both recorded in mono. I am using an Alvarez with the 4033 and JP is playing his Maldonado with the 4047. When we record mono we put the mic near the 12th fret. When we record our guitars in stereo we put one mic near the 12th fret and the other close to the bridge.
We are in the process of recording a new Carbe and Durand album and will using our Kenny Hill New World guitars in stereo this time. More on this later!
For now, check out these mics if you can or are so inclined. Most of all keep exploring and learning! There is so much that you can do on your own if you just give yourself the chance, and don’t be afraid to experiment!