Artist Stories: Joey Sturgis' Advice for the Home Recording Enthusiast
Joey Sturgis is a multi-talented producer, mixer, recording engineer, programmer, writer and performer. For a full decade he has brought these powers to bear on modern strains of metalcore, post-hardcore, electronicore, and more, shaping a revolutionary new wave of hard music. Sturgis has racked up a massive list of credits for a who's who of modern cutting edge metal, channeling the raw power of bands like Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack!, Born of Osiris, Of Mice & Men, Attila, We Came As Romans, Blessthefall, I See Stars, and many more. Here he offers his advice on recording at home for the DIY artist.
Don’t worry too much about gear
It’s really easy to fall victim to “gear acquisition syndrome;” always chasing that next piece of gear you think you need to improve your recordings. But the truth is that you can almost certainly make something good with what you already have because you have done just that before, and quite successfully. Here’s the bare minimum that you absolutely NEED to do great home recordings:
- An average to above average computer with latest Windows or Mac OS.
- A decent digital audio workstation (DAW): Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper, Ableton Live, Cubase, Studio One... they’re all fine. Do NOT waste your time on “DAW wars.” Just find one that you like and go with it. The differences are strictly personal taste.
- An interface to get sound into and out of your computer. The key factors are that it works with your DAW of choice and has enough inputs/outputs for what you want to do.
- A selection of microphones that suit your needs. This can be a longer topic, but you probably need less than you think. You can do a lot with $900 worth of microphones.
- A note on plugins: yes, it’s nice to have the fancy expensive ones, but you can definitely do great work with the stock plugins that come with your DAW. Before you spend a bunch of cash, make sure you actually understand how to use compression, eq, reverb, and delay.
Get it right at the source
Yes, modern technology can do a lot, but don’t ever fall into the trap of saying that you’ll “fix it in the mix.” It never, ever sounds as good as when you get it right at the source. For example, rather than let your drummer get away with sloppy timing because you know you can edit it later, do another take. Yes, it can be grueling, but that’s what it takes.
Set high standards for yourself
Don’t compare your work to other local bands; compare yourself to the best of the best. Of course your recordings aren’t going to sound as good as the pros’ (at least not at first), but that’s ok, neither did mine. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t settle for less. Be a critical listener and ask yourself what specific things about the pros recordings sound better than yours, and then make adjustments to get there. Slowly but surely, your work will get closer to the pros—but only if you set high standards for yourself!
Don’t rely on presets, templates or formulas
If you go on forums, YouTube, and other recording communities, you’ll see that there is a tendency to look for “magic bullets.” For example: Andy Sneap’s C4 settings for rhythm guitars, or my Podfarm settings. But as you have probably experienced firsthand, it’s not that simple. The settings that work in one session probably won’t work in another. You can use Andy’s C4 settings, but your guitars aren’t going to magically sound like Andy’s do.
Think about it: it’s different players, with different instruments, different mic/pre/room combos, and most importantly a different song… with so many different variables, there is no logical reason why copying and pasting settings WOULD work. That said, it can be really helpful to see how other people approach things, so I totally encourage you to learn others settings, tones, patches, and presets—but think of them as a starting point, not as a magic bullet that will give you an instant solution.
Embrace the grind
I can’t stress this point enough. Recording is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Spend as much time as you can doing work and you will get better, period. There aren’t really any magic bullets or shortcuts; it’s just about putting in the work.
Sturgis will host a free CreativeLive.com workshop “Mixing Master Class” on July 16 & 17. Enroll for free at: http://ow.ly/O2NTs.