Learning Curve, Obssessing, and Burnout

Inmyhands

Maybe I'm just getting tired of the time and effort it requires. Lately I haven't even touched it. I've always loved songwriting. I've always loved playing guitar, keyboards, drums, bass,(in that order with #'s 2,3,and 4 trailing pretty for behind). I don't love singing but I love writing lyrics and there ain't no other way I'm gonna hear em. Now, recording is a whole different thing. I got into that out of necessity, not desire. It's like work to me. Writing, playing, and singing is my lifelong passion. Those bring me joy and a sense of acomplishment.

When I first started recording it was just turning on a tape deck and having at it. Not perfect, but, easy. And it didn't take time away from the things I love doing. Everything advances over time and so did home recording gear. At first that was pretty cool because of the better results, but, it also meant learning new skills and new ways to do things and I realized I was writing and playing a lot less and devoting more and more time and money, (that I'd rather spend on instruments, amps, etc.), on recording stuff. Something I don't like doing was taking away from what I love doing.

I've heard some great recordings at this site and I know many of you enjoy it and are quite skilled at it. Extremely skilled in some cases. When I see Lori or Satch in front of some big recording unit with a guitar on their lap I can see that they enjoy what they're doing. I don't. I'd rather be in some jam band just kickin' it out. One of a kind shows sprinkled with eight or ten formated song so the bands music is known to the people listening. I'd rather be sitting in a quite room with a guitar and keyboard, a pen and paper, and just write.

Modern players seem to have really embraced the home recording format. That's great. It's just not me. Do any of you older folks ever feel this way? Maybe I'm just in a valley. I'm at a stage in life where I know there's more time behind me than in front and I'd really rather be using that time doing things I love rather than things I don't.

Dinosaur David B

For me this is like cooking. I can cook pretty well, but I'm no artist in the kitchen. I can feed myself, and did so when I was young and single. But I don't enjoy cooking. OTOH, other people -- like Amy -- LOVE cooking and see it as a creative outlet. Me, I just love good food. Don't care how it got there.

Similarly, I got into home recording out of necessity. I think most people prefer to play live -- me included -- but because I was unwilling to be in a band again, and unable to find a satisfying regular jam, I just didn't have any other creative outlet for plaing music anymore. I'm like you in that I enjoy the fruits of the labor, but I don't enjoy the process itself. At best, there are some gratifying days in the studio when the process doesn't frustrate the hell out of me. FORGET THE SONGWRITING PERFORMANCE ASPECT -- even if you're a one take kind of guy (and I'm sure not) It's just a VERY time consuming process if you have any inclanation toward producing a polished result.

A creative producer or engineer can "play" the studio like an instrument and create something (production wise) that as much "art" as the song's composition or performance. Not me. The best I came up with is sort of a formulaic, repeatable process that I knew would work for me. And I wouldn't deviate from it much, unless I had a creative reason for doing so.

The learning curve is steep, and there's never any end to it in sight. I spent months just trying to figure out how to use compression properly -- on individual instrument tracks (which I understand a little, and have used), and on the mix as a whole in the mastering process -- which I understand in theory, but still can't do effectively in practice beacause I can't hear like a mastering engineer. In the end, John ended up helping me by running my mixes through an automated plug-in that does a "best guess" compression based on an algorhythm.

I packed up my studio and put it into storage 2 years ago when I moved to NYC, and I don't know that I'll ever get back to home recording. I'd like to, but it's just not feesable in our living space. And if I don't, it ain't gonna kill me. I certainly won't miss the negative aspects of the process.

Editorial note: I moved into a new home with more space in 2009 and reopend and revamped my studio on a much bigger scale. I rededicated myself to learning and improving and have made steady progress. Using a Mac/Logic-based system has made the process a lot easier, and I have achieved some good results, but I still only consider myself an advanced beginner. 

Mayor McCheese

After I finished the Lochinvar CD, I really couldn't care less if I ever saw a Pro Tools session again. I made the mistake of taking on mixing and engineering the Stars project when I was still feeling pretty burnt from Fire Eyes, and that totally crushed any desire I have to record ever again. I'm currently working on some stuff with a friend of mine but I'm letting him do most of the production and mixing work. I'm still just too damn fried to even think about it.

Dinosaur David B

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I'm still just too damn fried to even think about it.


I think if you don't love it, that's what you have to do. You have to psyche yourself up to go through the process. Then you have to leave it alone for a while and go back when and if you're ready.

I think it'd be great to learn gradually at the side of mentors or through experience -- like Jimmy Page did as a session man. But when you're taking it all on yourself without that benefit, it's really daunting.

otcconan

About the time I finished Red State, I was thinking I'd never want to record again, but that was actually my last analog recording, and I instantly went to work on re-recording some older songs in Cakewalk just to have clean versions of them. I found that when the options are limitless, as they are in digital, you never truly feel that something's done. You have to physically force yourself to declare something is DONE. Otherwise, you'll forget about it, and two weeks later listen back to it and think "man I should have had a little more Leslie on that organ." At least, this is what happened when I went to re-do "Sun Comes Up."

I generally have a rule that between recording projects I take about 6 months off, and just think about what I'll do next, maybe make some scratch demos if I have some ideas, but that's it. At some point, I'll decide, "well, it's time to start a new album," and once I get into the process, it becomes very engrossing. I consider myself a true studio hermit, and I like recording. That's why I've recorded five solo albums and two side projects (if you count EMP and Umlaut). So I've recorded 7 albums worth of material and I know that at some point the jones to record will hit again. However, since I deleted the Evil Muppet Project masters and effectively declared them done by burning them to a CD, I've not had the desire to start the process again. I'm currently working with a buddy of mine who's a Christian rapper and wants some heavy guitar on his project, so I've taken the producer hat off for a while.

Besides, programming drum tracks is a bitch. It would be easier, but I like to do it with Quantizing off for a more live, human feel. As you can imagine, this means that it takes forever to program a part, much less a song.

Flying V

I agree with you on this topic too. I love to play, I love to be creative, I love to write music and love to overdub mutltiple layers of guitars and stuff but I hate having to run the gear....or be the recording engineer so to speak. Sometimes I will record some jam type of stuff for my own entertainment and to be able to hear what I'm doing without the actual playing getting in the way of listening. The Drummer that I write music with lives on the other side of town and I work Graveyard and he's on days. When we do manage to get together we work up a song and record a scratch track of guitars for him to play with. Once he gets his drums down I get a 2 track mix of the drums to take home. Since he has Pro-tools and I have Audition I put his tracks into my computer and use them as a scratch track for the real guitars and bass. After I get done I give him all the tracks in .aiff format so he can put all the "Real" tracks together in Pro-tools. The thing that sucks is when we do his tracks we are together and I operate the recorder and he just has to come up with cool stuff and get it down but when it's my turn I'm by myself and have to be the guy running the gear too, and it slows down the creative process . It would be cool to just be the player/writer and not the tech too.......but scheduals get in the way. I usually work on a song until I get all the parts down so I'm usually pretty burnt by the end of the session....and it really kills any desire I have to play for a couple of days.....which really sucks.

Dinosaur David B

Yeah. Tracking the guitar and bass parts -- even if it took a lot of takes -- were easy for me compared to wearing that engineer/producer hat. That's that wears you out. For every song I recorded, I probably spent 2-4 hours tracking the parts, and then hours and hours and hours of bouncing, editing, fixing, adding effects, panning, mixing, mastering. Listening to the fucking track over and over until you begin to hate it. Only to find that when your're done, your mix sounds good through the monitors, but not on a boombox, or not in the car stereo. Then you re mix and do it again. You get ear-fatigue after a few hours, too, and when that happens, you can't really trust what you're hearing, and you should take a break. It ususally took me at least 3 mixes to get a track to sound right in all of the basic listening environments.

It went quicker as I became more familiar with my gear, but I always had the instructions and my own cheat sheet handy to follow, because it's so easy to for get a step in the process (anytime I got a good result, I made detailed notes of how it happened so I could reproduce it later). If you get the end result you're looking for, it's very rewarding, but I always took petty long breaks between sessions. I also had most of my basic tracks (drums and at least one rhythm guitar) cut already, so that if one song was driving me nuts, I could put it down for a while and work on a different track. So if I didn't feel like playing producer, and I just wanted to cut loose, I could go add an overdub on a different track. Or when it wasn't cool to play loud in the house, I could, for example, go add reverb to a dry track that was waiting for it.

Breakfastime

I like recording, and I hate it. After years of working as an engineer/occasional producer i just got burned out on it.

Nowadays, i rent my gear out to people a couple of months out of the year-when it comes back I'm usually ready to do some work.

But i no longer spend hours tweaking drum sounds, fiddling with guitar tones-I like to consider everything a 'demo' and just leave it at that...and you know what? I LIKE the results better iwhen i haven't obsessed over every little detail.

Nick Layton

I agree.....too much obssessing will kill all of the joy of creating. I'm currently working on my debut cd and I'm having a blast. I tend to go in spurts though. Most stuff I demo up first...so I know I'm going to go back and fix a lot of stuff anyway. That tends to take the pressure off for me.