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Advice for an amateur band

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by sayawnj, Dec 9, 2003.

  1. sayawnj


    Dec 9, 2003
    What would be your advice to a heavy amateur garage band that is looking to record a decent demo? By advice I mean what equiptment, type/and brand, should we start saving for. I know we would need a mixer and tape deck but what kind might fit our situation best? I've read other posts but they are too specific. In general, what would be the basic needs? thanks for your help.
  2. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    By "decent" I imagine you mean something to give to venue owners, booking agents, etc., in order to get your more/better gigs.

    My advice would be to save up for studio time. Recording to tape would be your first handicap, as it is infinitely easier to make higher quality copies of CDs.

    Second, yes, there are some high quality home-recording units out there, but a real studio will give you much much more professional-sounding results.

    My band recorded through our guitarist's girlfriend's dad's project studio. Nice gear from Sam Ash, decent set up, and unfortunately sounded like crap. Bare bones and effective? Yes. But what happens when you need compression? Or just the right amount of reverb? Or you need to take a little bit of 1k out of the guitar? There's a huge level in flexability that you lose in an all-in-one setup. A studio has a plethora of tools they collect over time to make the little differences that add up to a quality recording.

    Our drummer's brother does live sound, and could record us to 2-in tape. He knows what he is doing, set it up, recorded us live, and, yep, it didn't turn out as well as we liked.

    Instead, we went to a studio that very reasonably charged $35 an hour, did a series of four 2 hour sessions (with four band members it came out to less than $20 a session, so easily less than $100 each for the whole shebang), and came out with a demo we are proud to give to people. Three songs, some rushed but effective mixing time, and we were done.

    We also got a break on mastering from a friend of ours, and if you can get that done for a reasonable amount of money, that will also raise the quality of the demo greatly. (Assuming you get someone who knows what they are doing.)

    It ultimately comes down to how much money you want to spend, and what you want to do. Buying a $300 Tascam multitrack will not give you a high-quality digital demo, but you'll have something to play with, and something to own. The studio time is a one-shot, but, in my opinion, is a far better investment.

  3. sayawnj


    Dec 9, 2003
    Thanks alot for replying. I'll consider your opinion
  4. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    "a heavy amateur garage band that is looking to record a decent demo"

    Hi sayawnj, by "decent" my guess is that you mean something fairly clear and listenable, that pretty accurately represents your music.

    Here's my 2c worth: depending on your budget, if at all possible, try to get an 8 track tape deck. You can get far FAR better recordings if you track each instrument (and the vocals) separately. Of course that means you'll need more mics too, and cables and all that, but that's the optimal when it comes to flexibility and recording power. I have a Fostex VF-160 that I use to record rehearsals for the band, it's basically an 8 track hard disk recorder with built-in mixdown capability and CD recorder. I use an 8 channel cheapie mic pre with it 'cause the VF-160 only has 2 mic inputs (the rest are line level). So that's a total investment of about two thousand bucks, for the recorder, the preamp, eight '57's, and a bunch of cables and stands. You might be able to do better than that if you look around eBay or the Recycler.

    Now, if that's way beyond your budget, the minimum setup I could envision would be a stereo tape deck, some kind of preamp (or you could use the PA for that purpose in a pinch), and two fairly good room mics. Condenser mics work a lot better for room recordings, they tend not to pick up a lot of bass though (plus they typically need phantom power, which most mixers do provide). '57's are "okay" but they tend to sound muddy when they're used for rooms. They're great for single-instrument mic'ing though, don't waste your money on anything more expensive. For condenser mics, try an Octava MC-012, they're like 99 bucks a pair at GC when they're on sale, they're very good mics for room recording and they're "hot", you'll get plenty of volume out of them. If you're going to use a cassette deck for recording, plan on doing some EQ after the fact. Most of the hard disks and digital recorders are pretty faithful, if you're lucky and you experiment for a while you can get a setup where you can "straight through" without any EQ and it'll sound good. The other big advantage of hard disk recorders (and part of what makes them cost effective) is that you don't have to keep buying tapes! That's half the fun, discovering these things. Good luck!
  5. batarseh


    May 7, 2003
    Baltimore, MD
    having gone both routes I would definitely suggest saving your money for studio time. You should be able to record a very good sounding 3 song demo in under 20 hours of studio time. My band just did it in 16 although I would have liked to spend another couple of hours on mixing. with studio time running from $25-50 and hour you can easily do it for under $1000. I would also suggest getting it mastered by someone who really knows that they are doing. Three songs would only cost a few hundred (something like $300).

    I have a Digi 002Rack setup with an external 8 channel A/D converter so I can record 16 channels at once. I have a 16 channel Allen & Heath mixer and a bunch of mics. I have a pair of Event studio monitors. I probably have about $4K in equipment and I cannot come close to the results that we get with our engineer ($50/hr). Its not just equipment - its experience, knowledge and ears. Our engineer can hear things that I expect I will NEVER be able to. He told our guitarist which string was out of tune the other night. Not just that he was slightly out of tune but, "your G string is out - fix it". I enjoy recording my bands practices and using those recordings to improve our music and use practice for the studio but I really doubt we will ever release a CD from my equipment.

  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Your ability to play better than average will get you miles further than average gear.......sorry, it's not what you want to hear.
  7. Greg R

    Greg R

    Mar 11, 2003
    Avonmore, ON
    You can do a lot with computer-based recording software such as Cubasis, Cakewalk, etc. If you don't mind fiddling and reading "help" files you can handle it.

    Start off by getting your drummer to play to a click track (that you'll record in track 1) and record his part in channel 2. Listen to it. Is the meter consistent? If so you've got your ghost track drums. Add your guitars, bass and vocals to seperate tracks. Once this is all in you can edit to your heart's content. Feel free to email me for a more in-depth explanation, I've got some experience in this.

    As powerful as home-recording stuff is though, a decent studio can get you results as mentioned in far less time. We recently spent 14 hours in a studio and walked out with one completely finished (although not mastered) song. To be honest, it would take me a couple of weeks to get close to the same result at home.
  8. Ragnar_Darude


    Jan 7, 2004
    I would really prefer the above about recording in a 'real' studio and most importantly with a 'real' producer/technichian and loads of mixing time.

    But if you really want a decent recording for as little money as possible; provided you have or can borrow a really fast computer with Cubase or anything like it. Heres what i recommended some friends of mine to do:
    Get some studio time for the drums (and make sure your drummer knows his stuff) Don't mix the drums there, just burn the drum-tracks on a cd and head home. Once home again, borrow someones or preferably buy a SM57-mic, with wich you can record all the rest of the instruments (including vocals) on you home computer. Now you have all the mixing time in the world, wich you will be needing. Burn some CD's and listen to it in you car, home stereo etc to ensure it is mixed perfectly.
  9. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    You may want to get an interim solution - some kind of cheapish home recording set up so that you don't waste time when you go into the studio. Although you might not get a great result from such a set up it should be enough to get used to hearing your work played back and tightening up the arrangements so that they work in detail. That way, when you go into a professional studio you will only take the minimum of time to get a truly professional result.

    I'm listening back to the demo my band did back in November (only just got a copy... but that's a different story) and although it sounds pretty good there are certainly one or two bits where some better arranging prior to the session (in a studio at a well equipped school where one of the singers taught music) would have made it even better.

    So, although time in a good studio is worth aiming for, it might be worth doing some practise recording in the meanwhile.