Doing It Yourself (Recording the DIY route – for better or worse)

By Ronny North

Like many musicians, my first time in the recording studio was a total nightmare… I was confident in my playing and song writing but had no clue about how to get it on tape or how anything worked and the recording engineer was of no help at all. As you would expect the end results were not what we wanted. Well, this happened a few other times over the years when I was in bands in the 80’s. Then I decided to get a Fostex cassette 4 track recorder after yet another studio fiasco where basically every time I would ask the engineer a question on something he would talk to me like i was an idiot. Well, that was it for me. I decided right there and then that I was going to learn to do it myself.

I had no idea how to use a recorder when I got it, but I read that manual from cover to cover and figured it out along with picking up a few tricks. Soon I was making great little demos of my songs for my band and even recorded a few friends projects along the way. Another turning point was when my band at the time recorded our EP with Jeff Pilson of Dokken producing it in his studio. Jeff couldn’t have been cooler during the sessions and had no problem explaining how we were getting the sounds and the gear we were using to get it on the project.

As technology evolved, I updated my gear to digital then finally got a ProTools set up several years ago. The ProTools learning curve was a steep one and I by no means claim to be a ProTools pro but I can use it enough to get by and have produced and engineered the last 3 of my solo CD’s along with countless other projects for friends and other sessions. When I first dove into the ProTools thing I was over whelmed and I even hired a ProTools instructor to come to my studio and show me some tricks. (None of it really stuck…lol..) I ended up figuring it out with a few crashes here and there and when I got stuck I called friends who also had PT rigs and we figured it out. Along the way, with my various recording set ups over the years, I learned about microphones and outboard gear and how it can make a big difference in your recordings. Then there’s the lost art of mic placement. (I’m still a big believer in real sounds from real amps and I’m not a big fan of plug ins.) I come from the analog old school world and I like to use as much analog gear in my signal chain as possible when recording digital. I always go through an analog front end to keep things warm and fat when recording.

Recording yourself is definitely not for everyone and being a guitar player the last thing I wanted to do was learn how to do all of this stuff but I am so glad that I did and now I never have to deal with the stupid studio guys again and when I do go into a big studio I can explain exactly what I want and I can speak their language. These days I do it all here in my small studio when I do my CD’s. I create the demos of my songs here with me playing everything to a drum machine then I have my drummer come in and lay down his drums to the machine. (We use the machine like a click track to keep everything locked in.) I really have fun getting the drum sounds and placing all the microphones on the drum kit. It also helps when you have a great drummer who can really play and knows his kit. I’ve worked with not so great drummers in the past and, let me tell you, a trip to the dentist is more fun..lol.. After we have a solid drum performance down. I usually like to have my bassist come in and lay down his bass tracks. I like to get at least 3 bass tracks to give us mixing options. I have a cool Morley spitter that allows me to run into 3 simultaneous amps at once. I run a clean DI, a bass amp mic’d up, and a dirty signal (usually a preamp with some distortion on it). These 3 signals combined creates a great big bass sound to hold down the low end of the track. Now the fun begins, guitar tracks… I have so many guitars and amps so I like to experiment. My main sound is always some of my amp heads into one of my mic’d 4×12 cabinets. I also have a cool ISO cab that I use a bit and many other cool toys including some cool DI things that I like to combine with the micd sounds to create some great textures. I’m also a big fan of vintage guitar pedals and I use them for guitar overdubs and on anything else that I want to stick out in the mix. I’m actually tracking guitars this week as I write this and my studio control room is a total mess with all the guitar gear in it while I do guitar overdubs…there’s at least 10 guitars laying on the floor and I have several amp heads stacked up and lots of pedals on the floor…everything is within arms reach to get sounds quickly as I figure out what the track needs. On that note, the last few days have been 14-hour days.

Even if you don’t get your own recording rig you should at least read up on recording and know a few things so if you ever do get into a studio you can have a good experience and be able to explain what you need to get your sound. Knowledge is power. Either way, enjoy what you do and have fun……

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