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It is becoming increasingly easy to record your own professional sounding music at home, whether it’s rock, jazz, folk, metal, country, and so forth. This home recording boom comes not a minute too soon, because the music industry as it once was is pretty much gone the way of the dodo bird.
In decades past, pretty much every famous rock band was trying like heck to get signed to a major label, looking for that million dollar rock and roll payout that would come with that signing.
New bands were actively running around trying to get signed like it was the end of the world if they couldn’t get a contract, and have a “sugar daddy” record label to support them.
Nowadays, tons of famous artists have their own record labels, and many of these artists record their music from the comfort of their own home, doing it themselves, from start to finish, with just a basic recording setup.
In the past 20 years, more and more artists are saying “forget it” to signing to a major label, and just doing it all themselves, from recording to promotion. It’s as if…the major labels aren’t necessary anymore. Wow, imagine that! But…big BUT…does this home-recorded music that everyone’s doing actually sound any good? Will serious music industry people take it seriously? Can you book a show at Madison Square Garden with such a recording? Is it “professional” sounding enough to get you gigs, or even signed, if that’s your goal?
We recently bumped into Young Coconut of Fauxtown Records, who just released an album called Rowdy Jumbal, which is a somewhat psychedelic ten-track home recorded rock album that he wrote and produced himself, with the help of his buddy Kyle Gruber.
We decided to grill him on his new album, since it is a both a rock record and a home recording, about the whole process. Here is our conversation – enjoy!
YTMS: Hey Young, how’s it going?
YC: Good, good. Call me YC. Just wrapped up my latest album, called Rowdy Jumbal. It’s online now.
YTMS: Yes, I see it’s a 10 track affair. How long did it take you to make this LP?
YC: About 6 months, from the start of sessions to the end.
YTMS: How often were you working on it?
YC: I’d say for an afternoon every weekend. Maybe 4-6 hours a week. Not that much, really. I recorded it all at my buddy Kyle’s studio, one week at a time.
YTMS: Let’s hear a track, shall we?
YTMS: Any preference?
YC: Nah, you pick.
YTMS: Ok, let’s go with the first track called Cancer Crew.
YTMS: Not bad. Kinda space-y. Was this recorded live off the floor, as they say? Did you get a band together and do takes of the song until you nailed it?
YC: No, no. We laid the tracks down one at a time. Just pieced it together bit by bit. Can’t you tell?
YTMS: It’s hard to tell, but I guess now that you mention it, maybe it does sound that way. Pretty organic sounding though. Why didn’t you record it with a band? Did you not have a band at that time?
YC: I generally always do it this way. One track at a time is just easier for me. But no, my band had just split up.
YTMS: So did you play everything yourself then?
YC: No, my buddy Kyle laid down a bunch of the stuff too. Drums, guitar, bass, some vocals. He was all over it. I also did about equal amounts of the same instruments. The thing is, I wrote these songs, and also I sang on them, because it’s my album.
YTMS: Why didn’t you just do everything yourself?
YC: Well, Kyle gets bored just hitting record and he’s a good musician so I really didn’t mind him getting involved to the extent that he did. We kind of shared production duties, and his style is different from mine, so that’s cool too. Spices things up a bit. That said, most of the ideas were mine. All the songs had been written well before the recording sessions, mostly. I knew what I was doing for the most part coming into that session.
YTMS: How about this one, called Man of Interest. What did Kyle play here?
YC: He actually played the main guitar riff, but I taught it to him. He’s more into metal than I am, and so he made it sound more metal than it did in the past. I like how it turned out. This is probably my favourite track of the bunch. I wrote it back in the day with my buddy J.K. Phil Osé.
YTMS: Cool. So, moving right along, the topic of this article we’re doing here, if you didn’t know, is “how to record a rock album at home”.
YC: Oh, I see. Ok, well there you go. That’s pretty much what we’re talking about here.
YTMS: Keeping that in mind, would you say that recording a rock album “at home” would be any different than recording, say, a metal album, at home? Or a jazz album? Folk?
YC: Hm, I don’t really think so. If you’ve got the gear, and people to play the parts, and obviously the space to do it, then you can do it at home, no problem. By space, I mainly mean just having enough space to record, but I personally don’t take up too much room, as I’m just one person, and so there were only ever two of us there doing stuff at any one time.
YTMS: What about the sound of the room. In a studio it has certain acoustics, but at home? What kind of room were you guys using?
YC: We were just in his basement, which is basically like a rec room / den type of setup. There’s a big billiard table, and often we’d just lay stuff on there like mics and stuff, as well as patch cords. The one side of the room was all of Kyle’s stuff. His desk, his gear, his computer, guitars, drum kit, etc. As far as acoustics go, there was a big entryway leading into the recording part of the room, so the sound kind of carried out of that room and upstairs basically.
YTMS: Did you think that room had good acoustics? Like, did you guys do anything to that room to prepare it for recording? Sound-proofing, for instance…
YC: Nah, we just set up mics, got levels, and went for it. The walls are just made of.. you know, wall stuff. Drywall? I don’t build houses, but anyway, obviously every room has its own sound, but this is really the only space we had to do this, and I wouldn’t say it was a bad place to record an album. The room was fairly large, like 15′ x 45′ or something. I think once you start mic’ing stuff like say drums, you focus more on positioning the mics so that the recording sounds good, and you forget about the room a bit, even though it’s part of the sound of the recording. I’ve recorded lots of places – different friends’ houses, basements, jamhalls, and even more pro studios. The point is if I want to record something like a song, I’m going to do it. I just need somewhere to do it. I’m not going to be overly picky about where.
YTMS: Fair enough. But I’m sure people might be wondering if it’s worth it for them to go to a more professional recording studio vs. just doing it at home themselves. What do you think? Can you hear the difference?
YC: Well, if you go to a fancy studio, they’re probably going to have better gear than me. Actually, they definitely will have better gear than me, and probably booths, and sound proofing, proper mics and stuff. And yeah, you probably will get a better sounding recording at the end, whether it’s a song or a whole album. I can’t say that me recording something is going to sound better than a pro studio, but I do see advantages to doing it myself.
YTMS: Such as?
YC: How about saving thousands of dollars? There’s that, plus there’s also things like if it’s my house and my instruments I can set things up when I want and take all the time in the world to do it. Unless some room mate or neighbour or girlfriend or wife or landlord or guy across the street complains, and then I have to go by their rules, or else I’ll have to put up with their complaining and they might even call the dreaded bylaw enforcement or whatever.
YTMS: Let’s check out another track, if you don’t mind. This one’s called Seven Tornadoes. What’s this song about?
YC: Well, if I remember correctly, my ex girlfriend had a dream one time about being at a house somewhere and being in a basement and looking out a window and seeing seven tornadoes all coming towards the house from different directions. She told me about it and I thought it would make for a cool song idea, so I made up a song to go with it.
YTMS: Hm, interesting. So this song is about natural disasters?
YC: Yeah, kinda. It’s about having your life going the way you want and then suddenly – BAM – you get hit by a tornado and everything is gone. Sort of like devastation, but more like emotional devastation, not literal tornadoes in this case. The song also talks about being able to create havoc yourself. So not only does stuff happen to you, but you cause stuff to happen to others. It works both ways.
YTMS: Gotcha. Ok, this might be a personal question, but did you record this album the way you did because you didn’t have the money to do it at a studio in town somewhere?
YC: Obviously if I had a pile of money, or even an ample budget to record songs professionally, I might like to visit a studio. I like working with other people, in new environments, trying different things. Different guitars, drum sets, vocal mics. I even like taking input from producers sometimes. That doesn’t bother me, unless that person is a jerk, but all of that requires money, yes indeed. And for that album, I paid Kyle a bit, but we basically just did the whole thing because I wanted to. I had a bunch of songs, and I didn’t want to save up money I didn’t have or wait around. So we just got down to business.
YTMS: Ok, so in terms of special gear for this project, is there anything that someone reading this who wants to do something similar should know about? Would you say it was a “basic” recording set up?
YC: I’d say pretty basic, yeah. We had a couple electric guitars, a bass, his drum kit, his laptop with some software, that being Cubase. We had a nice big synth, we had a corner where the vocal mic was set up. In terms of gear, I’m not all that picky about it. What I try to do is to make it sound the best it can. I think that’s almost part of the fun, unless, of course, something is majorly screwed up and you can’t even play it. Like, he didn’t have my favourite type of bass, but we still used it.
YTMS: What was it?
YC: I forget, some kinda clangy bass. Like a starter bass, but then we’d EQ it the best we could to give it more oomph. The synth we had trouble getting it up and running I remember in the beginning. We were just newbs and he just got it, so it was like, not cooperating even though it was brand new. But that was kind of our fault.
YTMS: How about we share one more track. This one’s called Opening Line.
YTMS: Kind of a grunge track or something.
YC: Yeah, well I didn’t write this song. My buddy Phil did.
YTMS: That J.K. Phil Osé guy?
YC: Nah, my buddy Phil Delisle, from my other band, The Approachables.
YTMS: So Opening Line is a cover?
YC: Yeah, Phil wrote it a while back. I always liked it. Actually, you know what? This was the first song that someone ever played me that they wrote themselves where they played it and I was like “Wow, you wrote that? And recorded it?” I was just so impressed, even though it was just on a 4-track or whatever. I just dug the song. It took me like 18 years to actually get around to recording it. I always wanted to.
YTMS: What does he think of this version?
YC: I don’t know…
YTMS: Hm, well then…Let’s go back to the original topic here for a second. We’re talking about making rock records at home. Is yours a rock record, would you say? The style is a bit out there for rock, maybe. Some of it is more rock than other songs. I find it hard to classify, really.
YC: Rock is such a broad term, but I think anything that has guitar, bass, drums, and vocals is pretty much going to sound pretty “rock”, unless you’re doing something really weird. I don’t think my stuff is that weird. It’s definitely not like Nickelback or The Rolling Stones or anything. Mutt Lange was not behind this album, as you know. I relate my music here more to like ’60’s weird garage rock and more recent underground types of bands like Guided by Voices and Sebadoh. Just different stuff, but not so different that you have no idea what it is. It’s pretty much rock.
YTMS: Alrighty, we’ll go with that then. You basically ran down your “rig”, in terms of the equipment you used, but you weren’t too specific about anything. You mentioned Cubase…
YC: Yeah, see, I don’t think it really matters specifically what you’re using. If you have some beat up old electric guitar, and an amp, and a microphone, just use what you got. You do need a computer with a DAW, or like some recording software, but you can get that free online these days too. I think Ableton is free, or there’s some multi-track thing you can get that’s free that will record live mics. You need a pre-amp, to run the mics through, and all the appropriate cords. Whatever instruments you’re using, you’ll need to have them handy. If you’re recording live off the floor with your band, you need your band there and they should be practiced on the songs you’re doing. If you can’t pull off the part you’re trying to record, that’ll drag things out quite a bit. That happens to me a lot. I’m not quite prepared, and I have to get good when I’m recording the part, and that can be annoying. I should just learn my parts I guess. My bad.
YTMS: You don’t have any advice on which software to use, or anything like that?
YC: No, I say if you’re comfortable using Garageband, use it. It does the job. If you like ProTools, use that. I think what’s important here is that if you have some music you want to record, don’t wait til you have money, just record it. If you’re feelin’ it, so to speak, just do it!
YTMS: But some would say that it’s better to get a really professional sounding track so that you can use it to get gigs, or maybe even get signed. Don’t you care about that?
YC: Haha, not really. But that’s me. I just don’t care about any of that. I record things because I want to, not because I’m trying to impress someone. I’m just trying to get my ideas out, and sort of please myself I guess. I don’t care that much about what others think.
YTMS: Well then why release it at all if you don’t care. You obviously care to an extent.
YC: I mean, it would be nice if people liked my music but my ego isn’t so big that I just need people’s validation all the time. I’m not making this music so you can tell me it’s good. I like it, and I feel like it’s good, and that’s good enough basically. I also know this music is not for everyone, and I’m probably not going to be famous from it. I don’t really care. I just like recording songs, and putting them in playlists, and showing them to people sometimes if they do care. It’s like art – you just kind of feel compelled to do it and get a kick out of it.
YTMS: Ok, well do you think your recordings are good enough to show to someone in the music business who might want to sign you? Like, what if we played them this song of yours, called One Third. By the way, I’m going to add it to the article, just because why not? But what if someone important heard it?
YC: You know, if that person is any good at their job, they can hear a good song a mile away. I think this one sounds alright, by the way. I think they all sound pretty decent. Anyway, lots of bands record crappy versions of their songs and other people hear them and recognize that the song is good or that they’re talented, so I’m not too worried. That said, yeah, I actually do think this album sounds pretty decent. It could always sound better though. Better equipment, better room, better this and that. But whatever, it’s fine the way it is, I think.
YTMS: How much do you think this recording cost you, at the end of the day?
YC: Uhh.. hmm.. maybe $800? I just wanted to pay Kyle something for helping me, but he wasn’t even that worried about it. I just paid him a certain amount every time I dropped by. Money wasn’t a big thing…
YTMS: Let’s talk about lyrics for a second. Did you have any trouble coming up with lyrics for these songs?
YC: No, not really. I never have trouble writing lyrics. That said, I don’t know how good my lyrics are. I just want something to sing, and I usually just come up with something on the spot, or quickly.
YTMS: For some people, writing the actual song is the hardest part. Getting good songs for their albums. Thinking about what will be the single. That kind of thing. What do you think about this?
YC: Like I said, most of these songs were written when I got to the studio to record them, or they were at least roughed out so I knew what I would do. Things always change along the way. Lyrics might change. A drumbeat might change, or a guitar part might be added. But I think that’s to be expected, as the recording process can be long, and you have time to dream up new stuff sometimes. I’m not that strict, but I do have an idea where I am going with a song. Like, I might really like a melody, and I will fight to keep it in there. I don’t usually let something be the final take if I think it sounds bad. Re-recording of stuff happens often. Vocals, for instance. Anything really…
YTMS: Did you use any apps on this recording? Any new technology at all?
YC: No, not at all. I don’t use my phone to record. My phone sucks. But I did use it to instagram some bits here and there, for fun. Like, if Kyle had bought some new effects pedals I would have put them to use because I like using special effects on songs. It’s fun.
YTMS: Did you guys get along the whole time?
YC: Yeah, basically. We kind of would just hang out sometimes, and get distracted. But we got stuff done. I don’t like to just be such a dictator that we can’t just shoot the sh*t, ya know? As long as I felt like we were making progress, I was cool with that. I will say though that for Man of Interest, Kyle said the song sucked when we started working on it, but I always had that song in my back pocket and loved it, but he was not impressed.
YTMS: He hated it?
YC: Yeah, he said it sucked. By the end, it was his favourite song on there. Go figure.
YTMS: You didn’t have any problems using your DAW during the process, ie. Cubase?
YC: Actually.. now that you mention it, Cubase was giving us problems, but I think it was more to do with the fact that his computer had some viruses or something. Things sometimes just would not work. We’d be sitting around, rebooting and stuff. So kids, make sure you don’t use your computer filled with viruses to record your music. At one point, we lost a bunch of stuff due to some malfunction, and we were freaking out. Some songs just disappeared. We eventually found them, but with Cubase, if you lose any folder or move something, you “lose” the whole song until your computer can find it again. Scary stuff like that was happening. That’s why I just wanted to get it done.
YTMS: A professional producer wouldn’t just lose your tracks, right?
YC: They better not! I’ve had lots of mishaps in the recording studio, even working with more experienced people, like my buddy Jet Black. His rig was immense and like old school analog, so that thing had even more problems, mainly cause it was old, and it had to load up onto this DAW that was a bit glitchy, and everything took a million years. I’d rather just use new stuff, even though Jet’s stuff was analog, and tended to sound way better. He had a total pro studio, that guy. And the stuff he listened too, like Steely Dan and Jackson Browne, and other hi fi recordings with really great speakers. There’s something to be said for getting a really good recording of your own song. It’s thrilling. You definitely lose something just slapping tracks together.
YTMS: Are you changing your story here a bit? You’re saying go for the bigger budget studio experience?
YC: If you can afford it, why not try it? I just couldn’t afford it, but I’m also good at getting the sound I want out of let’s say not the best instruments or other constraints. You just have to have a vision for what you want, and you’ll get something like it in the end, if you try hard enough.
YTMS: The bottom line, I guess what you’re saying is, you can record a rock album at home, and it’s not a big deal.
YC: I mean you have to have certain skills. Writing songs, knowing how to record them, and being able to play instruments. It’s not that impossible though. It can easily be done. Some of my favourite recordings don’t sound that amazing in terms of production values. I like something with a bit of character.
YTMS: Alright, thanks YC for your time, and we’ll post a link to your page at the bottom here.
YC: You bet!