PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in August 2007, contributed by then Editor Andrew Long. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
Recording an album without a record deal is a challenge, to say the least. It can put a strain on your finances, your relationships and your sanity. I am currently trying to finish my second album, and the experience has been almost as painful as my first album. However, I have learned a lot and I hope my next one will be a breeze.
I am one of those “engineers” that doesn’t really think of himself as an engineer. I am first and foremost a songwriter. I play guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. I sing because I have never been able to find a singer that could sing my songs the way I wanted. I guess I live by the old adage “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
It is easy to find talented people, but it is much more difficult to find talented people who share your taste and vision. Furthermore, even if you find people that are talented and share your vision, they rarely exhibit the level of commitment required in order to bring a project to fruition. It’s a “show me the money” world and unless you put people on a payroll, they aren’t going to do much, especially engineers. Once an engineer or musician makes a couple bucks, pro bono work is not an option.
There are many ways to pay your dues in the music biz. If you’re an engineer, you can assist other engineers, record unsigned bands, record jingles, etc. If you’re a musician, you can play in cover bands, play in original bands, play in the subway, etc. If you are a songwriter / musician looking for other people to form an original band and put some time and effort into it without a financial incentive, good luck. If you are a songwriter / musician looking for an engineer to record your brilliant debut album and put some time and effort into it without a financial incentive, good luck, again.
When you are not made of money and you are trying to make something happen in this crazy business of music, life can be quite unpleasant. I think that many musicians and engineers are like most other people. They have little faith in themselves and little faith in others. Yet they are greedy and shortsighted, with a false sense of accomplishment. Hence, lack of faith and lack of vision mixed with greed and pretension is the MO of most musicians and engineers I have come into contact with.
pay (one’s) dues: To earn a given right or position through hard work, long-term experience, or suffering.
I wonder if the pompous people I am referring to have ever looked up this definition and really thought about it. Everyone I have tried to work with thinks that they have paid (past tense) their dues. The clock is always ticking. It’s always about the dollars. This attitude actually keeps engineers and musicians down. Everyone wants to walk in the front door. They are too scared, too lazy, too greedy and too shortsighted to find the back door and kick it down.
When was the last time you heard of an engineer looking for a talented person or band to record for free? That’s right, you heard me, free. I think musicians intuitively understand this more than people who are primarily engineers. They had to play in clubs for free, play on the street and hope people threw a dollar their way, etc. However, once they start making money, greed takes over and actually dooms them to a mediocre career that has no opportunities for advancement. Who was the last cover band that headlined at Wembley Stadium?
Why record or play with people for free? Three reasons: to learn, to build a portfolio and to possibly become famous by association. Wow, that CD sounds great. They just got signed to Epic records. Who recorded that? Who played drums on that? Wow! Get the idea?
I am so fed up with these people who think they are Bob Rock or Paul McCartney when they really haven’t done squat. Even Eddie Van Halen played on Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” for free. His band mates said, “You should’ve asked for a lot of money”. He said “Whatever”. His generousity indirectly increased record sales for Van Halen because he reached a lot of people who probably didn’t even listen to rock music. Whenever I see pictures of Eddie, he’s always smiling. That’s because he loves what he does. It ain’t about the money. And you know what? I bet he has plenty of it. Why? Because money was never his primary motivation. His motivation was a deep love for music. That’s why he was and is so great. That’s why he has been so successful. Musicians and engineers alike could learn a lot from Mr. Van Halen.
So here I am, all alone. I’m no master, but I can confidently say that I am “pretty damn good” at engineering and playing various instruments and singing. I’m going to mix my current album myself at home on my new PC with Cubase. I’m going to have it mastered by a brilliant guy named John Vestman, who uses a technique called Separation Mastering. His rates are reasonable considering he was paying his dues when I was in diapers. So now I think I can sleep at night knowing that I have talent, vision and a really big hard drive!