3 Reasons Bands Don't Record an Album and Why They're Wrong

Exposing 3 myths about recording and the industry that wrongly stop bands from recording.

Ultimate Guitar

I go to a lot of gigs in London I have a lot to choose between. It's Western Europe's biggest city and has possibly the largest unsigned music scene anywhere in the world. I talk to these bands all the time, and when they find out I'm a music producer, they say "Oh man, we'd love to record an album, but..."

What follows the "but" is usually one of the following three excuses. All three are nonsense. However, I understand why the bands believe them. There's a lot of misinformation floating around the lower ends of the music industry, much of it put about by people who are either completely ignorant or have something to gain by propagating untruths. The tragedy is that bands believe them and that a lot of great music never gets heard by millions of people who would love it.

So let's destroy some myths here. So, you'd "love to record, but..."

1. "...we can't afford it."

This is the most common problem bands cite. They come to this conclusion either by over-estimating the costs of recording or by under-estimating the amount they can raise to fund an album.

Most bands try to get an idea of how much an album will cost by contacting a producer or a studio and asking how much it would cost. This is the very worst way to do this. The producer or studio will sense a sale and quote for the most expensive, luxury package they have on offer.

Instead, take control of the recording process. Audit your band's skills and find out which parts of the process you can do yourselves. Anybody who tells you that it's not possible to record/mix/master/produce to a professional standard in your bedroom is probably trying to sell you something expensive. It's not that professionals can't help, or that money you spend on them is wasted, it's that you should only be calling these guys in to perform tasks that are not in the reach of your band's skill set, not handing them over a vast amount of money to do things you could easily do yourself. Take ownership of the project and make it clear to professionals who is paying who, the value you expect and what they should, and should not, be doing with your money.

Depending on what you can do in-house, the potential savings from this approach are vast they can reduce the price of a professional quality album from tens of thousands of dollars to just a few hundred.

2. "...we want to get signed first."

Big mistake. But again, an understandable one. A lot of people, especially established stars, turned professional decades ago, when you really did need to get signed by a record label to record, and are offering advice that is no longer relevant to modern unsigned acts. The idea of bands hawking a demo around A&R men is part of the imagery and folklore or rock and roll, but it is at least 20 years out of date.

Most record companies these days will not touch your band unless you have already recorded an album yourselves. That was certainly my experience. I spent 10 years in bands that tried to get signed, firing off crappy demos to record companies who filed them straight in the bin. Then, in 2010, my then band released its first album. A week after the press copies went out, I got a phone call. It was an independent record label, and they wanted to talk about a deal.

Some musicians spend their entire lives waiting for that phone call. They're usually the ones who tell me they want to get signed before they record. It's not the '60s any more. Wake up.

3. "...we're not in that league yet."

Like the second objection, this is a confusion of cause and effect. These guys see small-time bands without an album, and big-time bands with one, and assume that those other bands got big before they recorded. In fact, chances are that the album was recorded while the band was small and played a major part in its growth.

Again, this was something that I noticed myself in my own experience. Once my band had an album, and I had one as a producer, doors opened for us that we never knew existed. Instead of us scratching around for management, record deals, big gigs, tour support, festival slots, those things were coming to us.

Why was that? Well as much as I'd like to say that it was the sheer brilliance of my mixing, it was nothing to do with the music on the album. It was to do with what having an album said to the industry about us as a band and as individuals. Rather than talk the talk as so many bands do, we had walked the walk and spent 18 months of solid work on writing, recording and releasing a full-length professional quality album. We proved that we were willing to invest, and risk, our own time, effort and money in the pursuit of our dreams, which the majority of bands, when it comes to the crunch, aren't. That was more than just a CD, it was a passport to the big time, and it's one that your band could have in a few months from now.

I've put together a free video course for bands and musicians who are thinking of recording. It covers the most common mistakes that bands make, the key strategies that lead to success, and the advantages and disadvantages of the differing approaches. Sign up here and get a step closer to living your dream.


About The Author: James Scott is a music producer in London, UK. He works with unsigned and independent musicians to help them get noticed in the industry.

36 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Leather Sleeves
    Great article dude!
    Sadly, I don't have any instrumental background but I write really fun dance and pop songs with the melodies. I contacted a few music producers and 2 of the three want a cut of the songwriting credit for generating a track and performance royalties (I was told that a 2-3% cut is normal for artist royalties for a non platinum producer. My favorite of the three has worked with a huge star and does amazing work. What is a reasonable arrangement in this scenario? Thanks James for all the great info. posted here.
    Right on, as a fan of DIY punk and someone who likes to record music for a hobby (as opposed to a vocation); I've never understood why a career musician would abstain from making a record. I still don't really understand, but atleast I feel validated Nice work.
    Hell, I don't intend to go pro (because I'm essentially a 1-man band). I'm just learning how to DIY record because I've reached a point where I either record my stuff or I get bored with it all and say, "F*ck music!" Recording is just awesome.
    Great article James and some great inspiration for unsigned bands to get out there, bust down all the barriers and make a record !
    Sandie Nielsen
    Very good article, very helpful! Just what many of us need to hear in the process of figuring out how to record an album for ourselves! Thank you very much James!
    Pretty good article, but I have an issue with this point:
    Anybody who tells you that it's not possible to record/mix/master/produce to a professional standard in your bedroom is probably trying to sell you something expensive.
    Um, people trained and paid to do a this regularly are guaranteed to do better than you It also helps that this is the only thing they do. They don't have to do it on top of all band responsibilities.
    James Scott
    Not necessarily. I only became a professional producer after building my skills up as an amateur until I could work at a professional level of quality. I know dozens of other guys who are putting out the most amazing quality production whilst still having day jobs, just like there are loads of guys who can play guitar to a pro level whilst not paying the bills with it. Whether you have a skill at a professional standard, and whether you actually make a full-time income from that skill, are different things.
    Well, yeah. However, by recording everything yourself, you can still make a good quality demo-album.
    No one's saying they can't do it better. Of course a trained professional will almost certainly produce better quality work than an amateur, but that doesn't mean you couldn't/shouldn't try to do some of that work yourself, particularly when you can't afford said professionals.
    The Gallows - Orchestra of Wolves album was recorded in a bedroom and sounds better than their followup album which was recorded in a studio.
    Greaser James
    That's a very nice article James. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm ready to start recording again!
    Dude, not only did this give me hope, but it also made SENSE to someone like me who is still you know in the process of getting a band together to make that perfect sound! Thanks! Definitley take this into consideration
    This article has made my day a lot brighter - I allready have a ton of songs I've recorded together with others, but we figured that we'd first record an album if we got signed - Now I think we'll record first, then see what happens...
    www.facebook.com/Censory7 Look it up. Like it. Love us. Thanks for the article James Scott.
    Great article, I agree 100%. My band was struggling to get gigs on the local scene, so we decided to record a six-track EP with a local engineer/producer, and whilst the quality of production and the music wasn't 'professional', it really helped us both book gigs, as the venues could hear what our music would sound like, and helped us get gig offers from other bands and venues - that's where about 75% of our gigs come from now. Plus we learned a lot through the recording process, and I'm confident that our next EP or album will be better and result in more gains for our band
    This is a great article. My band released an 8 song EP last summer and it really helped us get going. We did everything but the mixing, mastering, and CD printing. If anyone's interested, PM me and I'll send you an iTunes link.
    Can you make a great quality set of recordings on a shoestring budget, mostly at home? Yes. Can you make a professional quality Album the same way? No. I refuse to record a complete album on a low budget on the basis that it won't sound as good as i know it could - and that if i ever had the opportunity to re-record the tracks professionally i would, meaning a total waste of time and money. Doing an EP through a mix of home recording and studio time is a great idea, but theres no way i'd consider doing a full length album the same way
    James Scott
    That's a shame, because I know people who have done precisely that and got full professional quality.
    It does make sense. My band recorded our EP in a studio that sounded professional compared to our homemade recordings. Since then we've had a lot more places opening up for us to play. Before that they would probably just hear our crap recordings and dismiss us like others that probably did the same thing.