When I take bands into the studio or help them record at home, I am continually surprised (and a little bit depressed) at the number who have one or more members with no experience recording themselves at home. "I don't know about that man, I just play guitar in a band" is the usual excuse. Well the fact is that learning to record yourself at home is cheap and easy (more on that later), and that recording yourself playing will bring you massive benefits as a musician, whether you intend to record your band or not. Here's why:
1. No Place To Hide From Sloppy Playing
My rhythm guitar playing used to suck donkey nuts, and I didn't acknowledge the problem for years. Oh sure, my drummer used to complain about it, but, like most drummers, he complained about everything pretty much all of the time, so I ignored him. Then I started recording myself on a regular basis as I put our demo together. My rhythm playing improved more in six months than it had in the previous ten years and it was recording myself that made the difference. Why?
Because it's very hard to both play and listen carefully to what you're playing at the same time, especially if you're pushing yourself technically (as you should do when you practice) or if you're unfamiliar with the material. In a rehearsal room, everything is far too loud and your brain is busy remembering what you should play, listening to the other band members and throwing cool poses to give any objective though to the sound of your guitar. Even when practicing to a metronome, unless you're well within your comfort zone you're more likely to be thinking about what you're playing than listening to how it sounds.
If you record yourself, you can focus 100% of your attention on the quality of what you play. This goes for more than just timing. I realised my phrasing was nowhere near as good as I thought it was when I listened back to my improvisations, which were boring and riddled with mistakes that I never realised I was making when I played. What may be fun to play is not necessarily fun to listen to, and if you're having a good time your brain will ignore goof-ups that are really obvious to everyone else but you. Recording yourself will give you an opportunity to hear what your playing really sounds like and take corrective action.
2. You Can See Problems As Well As Hear Them
Do you know who doesn't like fast guitar playing? People who can't play fast guitar AND NO-ONE ELSE. Speed is awesome, but once you get some serious speed going, you'll start to come across bigger problems then just pushing your technique. You'll hit a stage when you can hear that something isn't right, but you're playing too damn quickly to isolate the problem.
Let's say you're sweep-picking an eight-note arpeggio at 600 notes per minute. That means you'll be playing all eight notes in 0.8 seconds. If note number 7 is slightly late, how are you going to tell? Can you count to eight, in time, in less than a second? If you can, I for one welcome our new cyborg overlords. Otherwise, at best you'll be able to tell that something's wrong, but not which note is the problem one, let alone whether it's too fast or too slow. The brain just can't keep up with that kind of calculation.
But if you record yourself into a DAW, you can look at the waveform (especially if it's clean) and clearly see the times at which you struck the strings as notches in the signal. Line it up to the grid and you'll see what is in time and what isn't. Many DAWs even let you slow down playback so you can be certain which note is the problem.
3. You'll Open Up Your Options
Once you start recording yourself regularly, you won't need a band to start creating your own music. With an inexpensive hardware and software setup, you'll be able to, with practice, create professional-quality recordings, whenever you like and without a bunch of other musicians arguing with you. Of if you do have a band, you'll be able to put together demo recordings of your songs for them to listen to and learn, rather than go through the excruciating process of teaching them your new tune in the rehearsal room. The other members will be able to practice their parts at home rather than in the studio. The amount of money you'll save in rehearsal costs will pay for the recording setup many times over.
Once you start seriously getting into recording, you'll be an even stronger musician. The ear for frequencies, timing and balance you'll gain from messing around with recordings will do wonders for a band's sound. Or if you don't have or don't want a band, you can create a whole album in your bedroom, or create backing tracks you can take with you and play anywhere.
I've put together a quick e-book that takes you through the basics of recording guitar, including recommendations for hardware and software, and a few more tips and techniques, including how to sync video to your recording.
About The Author: James Scott is a music producer in London, UK. Sign up to his newsletter for more recording, songwriting and production tips and exclusive free recording resources that you can't get anywhere else.