Open door policy
There is so much talk in the community of home based studios about sound reinforcement & about the goal of getting a completely sterile recording environment. There are clearly a lot of good arguments for this approach. It can certainly make for a more professional, industry standard sound. That can’t be argued. However, I believe there is an element of dirt & chaos that is being lost in much of today’s music (mine included).
Back in ’99, I was recording an album called A+0 (M) for an industrial band called Kevorkian Death Cycle. Some of you may have heard of them. For full disclosure, this album was not recorded in a pristine studio. It was recorded in my small bedroom with 1 SM58 Shure microphone. At this time I was engineering & mastering under the name Nikk Shifter. Although most of the songs were already written on an XP50 synth and recorded in (and then vocal & other instruments added), we found that we were 1 song short of what their contract require of them to release. We decided that we would work on a part 2 of one of the songs on the album. This would be the first song we were building from scratch.
During the process of recording, I had an interesting idea. We had been listening to a lot of Pink Floyd (a lot of Jim Croce too, but that’s another story) & we really loved the cinematic feel of their music. It’s hard to define where the music stops and the organic sounds begin. I had 3 roommates at the time who were always moving through the house, making noise in the kitchen or watching TV in the living room. It was a battle to find moments quiet enough to record, even when everyone was aware that recording was happening. For once I decided we would take advantage of that.
During every take we did that was mic’d up, I decided to open the door to the studio and let whatever sounds were happening in the house, become a part of the recording session. Layer after layer there would be these subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) artifacts & inharmonic content. When all played together it gave the song this natural depth and dimension that would have been very challenging, if not impossible to recreate in a perfectly sterile environment. I was very pleased with all the little happy accidents that occurred in this song. That fact that nothing was planned made for an environment where something amazing could happen or it could sound like utter crap. I’d say it was well worth the risk. Some of the ‘moments’ came together like magic.
For those of you making music at home, I would suggest you experiment with your own “open door policy”. If you use a microphone, try allowing the environment around you to come into your recording. If you produce your music mostly “in the box” without a microphone, you may want to invest in a microphone. It can be a cheap one. In fact, cheaper might add a bit more grit. Here are a couple approaches I would take.
1. Anytime you record with a microphone, make sure to do some “open door” takes. Open windows & doors, and let whatever happens happen.
2. If you don’t usually use a mic, record a couple of “ambience” tracks to the entirety of your your song.
3. If you have a built in mic on your computer, let it run on a couple of tracks.
4. If you have a phone that records audio, stick it in your pocket while recording for 30 minutes & go about your day. You’re sure to come back with some interesting sounds that you can edit & stick into your music.
Don’t be afraid to run these through effects chains & see what happens. You’ll be amazing how boring sounds can come to life. With the over-saturation of ultra clean production in today’s pop music, I call for a return to a DIY sound that welcomes the natural ambiences of daily life into our productions. I look forward to hearing what kind of magic you create!
Next, get my take on talent versus imagination.
Happy music making!