This is Dan McCurry of the Charleston-based indie rock band Run Dan Run. I’d like
to take a moment to share some DIY recording wisdom & mantras that I’ve acquired
over the past 5-6 years with Run Dan Run. RDR has been DIY from the get-go and
much of what we have learned has been through experience. I felt I personally
have learned a great deal in the past 1-2 years working on our most recent album
Normal. I often say that finishing this album felt like completing an associate’s
degree. Perhaps after the next record I can get a bachelor’s : ) Anyhow, here are
some philosophical tidbits in respect to recording.
1. Mantra: “Felt More Than Heard.” – Personally, I like listening to records that have
a lot of depth to them where after the 100th time listening to them you’re still
noticing elements that you never heard before. It’s the little things, you know. You
may think of it all as layers, percussive layers, sustained layers, reverb layers, vocal
2. Develop your preferences. Have an idea of what you want things to sound like.
Do you like a dead kick? Do you like a thick snare? Do you want people to hear &
feel the sensation of space? Chime-y guitars? Dripping reverbs? Etc.? It’s important
to have a little direction, even if you end up going in a totally different direction later.
Your tastes will probably change over time anyhow, especially if you’re recording a
record over any period longer than 2 weeks. Listen to your favorite albums and
listen to how each element sounds. Take all your favorite sounds and mix them
together. And don’t worry about sounding like a carbon copy of your favorite band.
Chances are you couldn’t do it no matter how hard you try (especially if you’re still
trying to figure the whole recording thing out).
3. Take Time To Setup. The usual “just throw a mic in front of it and hit record” is
probably not going to give you the best sound possible. If you are using live drums,
chances are they are going to shape the overall sound of your recording a great
deal. If you’re recording guitar and the guitar sounds like crap, the best a
microphone can do is capture that crap. Take your time. Tune up, play with the
placement of the mics, try different mics, etc. These days, for example, I’ll set up the
drums and check everything a full day before tracking. With guitar I might spend
30-60 minutes playing with the amp, pedals, mics, etc. to get something that
sounds great to me in the room before hitting record.
4. Quality In = Quality Out. If it sounds good coming in, it’ll probably be easier to
work with and end up being a quality final product. If it sucks coming in, chances
are you’re not going to be able to fix it. So remember this:
> Quality Equipment. Just make sure that when you do buy things, don’t waste your
time or money on something that isn’t professional. Start with a good mic or two, a
good preamp, a good interface, good cables, etc.
> Quality Performances. If it’s not in tune, do it again. If it doesn’t have the moo, do
another take. When your done with it, listen to it. Then listen to it again. You’re only
going to put out so many records in your lifetime. Rushing through it probably won’t
make it better, no, it’ll probably make it worse. So take a little time, not too much, get
it done, but just don’t be sloppy. You’ll know when it’s done when it’s done.
5. Space. If you’re working with a stereo track, you can create a lot of interest and
contrast by playing with the location of a sound in the stereo field. You can do this
with the original signal as well as effects. Picture yourself in the center of a room
where all of the music is being created around you (in a semi-circle, not behind you
unless you’re doing surround sound). Close your eyes as you listen.
6. Experiment. If you’re used to doing something one way, try to do the exact
opposite. Flip something upside down, work backwards, work forwards. It’s all a
bunch of variables. Understand the elements, understand how & why something
works. Dare to question that. Experimentation will lead to creation.
7. Pare It Down Later. If you’ve got 8 channels and 8 mics, why not try using all 8?
You can always drop the least useful later. You never know what you might
capture. When you’re recording, you’re always trying to capture something in time.
Music is a time-based art. You create in time, you experience it over time. A song
cannot be experienced in one instance, just like a book. You can’t get away from
the time factor. It’s a lot easier (if you have the resources) to record more than you
need and pare it down later than it is to find out that you didn’t get enough on tape
and try to create what you need in post-production. Probably not going to happen.
You can create a lot of different sounds and aural textures by blending. 2 different
mics on an amp separately might not sound all that interesting but then you put
them together and you’ve created something much bigger and richer than perhaps
any one mic could capture.