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Prolific Canadian Musician & Producer Greg Arcade shares his thoughts on which method you should choose when it comes to making music...

JAN 26, 2023



We live in unprecedented times when it comes to making music and releasing it to your audience. One of the biggest questions I always receive is, “Should I record at home, or should I record in a pro studio?” I always tell people to record at home, but ultimately it is up to you and what you want to accomplish.

In the two-decades I’ve been playing music, I have recorded in bedrooms, garages, small studios, lofts, massive multi-million dollar studios, and at home. I have worked with producers and I have worked with people who think they are producers, but they pretty much just know how to hit record and screw up a few hours of work… Recording on my own I have learned many lessons. I have blown up connections, fuses, and entire computers with power signals in the early days because I had no idea what I was doing, and I have recorded music that has made it on to national and international broadcast through radio, television, and movies. I have received cheques in the mail from unknown organizations paying me for something I didn’t even know they used, and I have sold guitars to make rent. I’ve recorded albums for myself, I’ve recorded albums for other people as a ghost writer, I’ve helped fill-out people’s recordings with the 15+ instruments I know how to play proficiently. I’ve received grant (singular) and used it with one of my earliest bands. I was approved for grants which I turned down on multiple occasions. I refuse to use public money now because I need to do this on my own. I’ve had people in suits approach me after concerts and offer me faustian deals. Ultimately I’ve built everything I have from the ground up through many trials and tribulations. I’ve been slandered. I’ve been libeled. I have also been praised for the selfless actions and endevours I have undertook. I’ve performed with massive bands to thousands of people, and I’ve performed to empty roadhouses; dark dank shi*tty punk clubs with people trying to fight me. I’ve had essentially every experience someone could have as a musician. In this article I will discuss what I believe is the best way to pursue recording music in several scenarios; the reasoning and rationale behind those beliefs.

First of all I’ll start with this: record at home.

That’s the best option. If you aren’t recording at home, and you don’t know the very basics of doing it, you have no business going to a studio. I started recording myself in my bedroom with an SGH tube guitar head’s “headphone out” to my 486hz computer when I was 16 years old. Because I did this, I knew a little more than the rest of the guys when we went into a professional studio for the first time.

You might think it’s just about playing a guitar, and someone else captures the sound for you, but you, as the artist, need to know that it is being captured in a way which is going to reflect the final product properly. How will you know? Trial and error at home. Even if you’re in a studio with a very competent audio-engineer, it is still beneficial for you to be able to communicate with that engineer. All that time the engineer spent figuring out that “turn it up” actually meant “bring the gain up on the dynamic mic” cost you money. At the very least if you are recording at home you will be able to make the process more efficient, and ultimately come across as more professional.

Studios are expensive. For a fraction of the price of a day-at-the-studio you can get a solid home setup and record a song. The pressure that you will feel when your’e burning 500-800 dollars a day one some mouth-sounds will make your performance suffer if 500-800 a day isn’t something you can really afford. 500-800 dollars can buy you a very reasonable home recording setup. You will need to learn how to use it though… that will take time.

Recording at home means freedom. It is freedom to be able to work on those vocals until they’re absolutely perfect without someone in the control room judging your performance. There is a big difference between singing live, and sussing something out on the mic so it’s recorded the way you envision it. Recording at home also means the freedom to work with anyone whenever you want. You don’t need book in studio time so you can be a featured guitar player on their track; you can sit down in your gitch and rip a sweet lick that you send over to them in a matter of minutes. Your ability to collab with other artists and grow your audience becomes almost limitless. Additionally no government can say, “you can’t record right now you might get other people sick.” That way crazy hey? A lot of other musicians bought into that, and they are mentally crippled from ever working properly again. If they learn to record at home they can recover from the fear of in-real-life-association. I pray they do for their own souls.

When you record at home you can send your tracks to a producer who can finish them for you. I offer this service to people. It’s great. I don’t need to sit around while a person tries to sing a track hitting “record” for them over and over, telling them “you can do better” or “that’s the one” while nodding intensely in agreement. Sure, the extra time on the invoice at the end of the day was great, but doing it this way means my clients get more for their money, but more importantly it means more content can get made which means more results can be achieved more quickly. The goal isn’t to leech funding from other artists. The goal is to create good works which provide our respective audiences with great content that is worthy of consuming. We want to make money selling the product and giving people something to bond with.

Some people will argue they don’t have the space to record at home… My Brother In Art: If you have enough room for a chair and a laptop you can record at home.

What do I need to get started? There are a lot of options, but getting an interface with the cable to connect to your computer, a microphone, an XLR cable to connect that microphone to your interface would be the bare minimum. A microphone stand is probably a good idea… but you do you. Most interfaces will work with your smart phone or your tablet, but I really recommend using a computer because it is generally much more powerful and capable.

When it comes to interface selection, I don’t have any endorsements to share, but I personally would say, “you can’t go wrong with a Scarlett 2i2,” since you can record pretty much everything you’ll need to with it. I own one. It’s fantastic for mobile recording. You can even record an entire drumset with only 2-mic inputs available, if you get creative enough.

When it comes to microphones: do research. I would recommend different brands for different people, but you can’t really go wrong with an Apex 435 as your first condenser mic, or a Shure sm58 for your first dynamic. That is not an endorsement either. That is just from personal experience. They’re not the fanciest microphones available, but they work. If you’re recording at home, I really doubt you’re going for a completely natural-naked sound which captures the beautiful acoustics of your computer desk table while your roommate is flushing the toilet… you will be able to play around with the audio in post, which means editing the audio file (cleaning it, changing the EQ, compressing it), or you will be able to outsource that editing to someone, like me, who has decades of experience in doing it.

You will need software. A lot of macs come with garageband: I have seen amazing recordings come out of garageband. I use Logic. It’s the big-boy version of garageband all-things-considered. A few other options, especially for PC and Linux users are Protools and Cubase, or if you want something free and open source, use Reaper. I know guys with way more money and plays than me still using Reaper. It’s up to you and your budget.

If you do get a small mobile setup for recording, think of being able to take it with you camping and recording a beautiful banjo track in the woods with the animals singing? You could take it to your family gatherings and record something for future generations to listen to. Recording is an awesome skill, and yes you can do it with your smartphone, but even then learning how to sweeten up that audio at the end of the day is an incredible skill with a lot of applications outside of music.

So why do recording studios exist? You used to need a lot more skill to work at studios. Some audio-engineers have absolutely beautiful studios with gear you could only wish to drool-over. Their experience could make or break your album if you don’t know what you’re doing. With that being said, some recording studios offer mastering and do it completely wrong; destroying you chance of actually getting a song on the radio. Some even still offer services that you'll never be able to pull off at home without a bit of extra knowledge such as: cutting tape. The stark reality is though: recording studios are archaic if you are thinking about them in a traditional sense. They are antiques in many ways of a bygone era. They are a wonderful place to go sink taxpayer-dollars allotted to you through the government-granting system. Power to those engineers who siphon that money; citizens are complicit so you deserve it. Power also to the engineers that are able to build and maintain massive beautiful rooms with a steady client base: you are existing in a very hostile world and I wish you all the success. A lot of those rooms wouldn’t exist without the taxpayer-funded arts-granting system. Most artists don’t realize the grant is shooting-yourself-in-the-foot.

Grants mean you need to watch every penny, or at the very least find a place for those pennies to be accounted. This might aggravate you and be detrimental to the creative process. It is part of your responsibility as a recipient though. Another aggravation: grants are awarded to people to “represent the correct view of the approved narratives” based on who works at the organizations that award them. Arts organizations have been infiltrated by political interest groups. This is the reality of the situation. Arts are the gateway to the soul in many respects, so if you control the message, you can control what that person beings to believe. Some organizations that award grants will do so if you agree to work with someone on the voting board… it’s greasy. I’ve seen the receipts. Entertainment can be a very dirty game. What’s the goal at the end of the day for you though? Do you want to make music or play politics?

Here’s another point about grants that nobody talks about, but is very real: I know myself and a bunch of people who buy my albums won’t buy an album that was funded by public money. We already paid for it. Why would I pay for it again? haha. It is literally state-sponsored propaganda. It doesn’t matter if the song says it hates the government: the government is paying for that digital-hypocrisy haha. Real businesses exist without granting money. They attract real customers and build an audience that support-them and their message. Grants aren’t even designed to help the artist: the artist is the product for the industry. Grants launder money through the industry. It’s not like this doesn’t happen in all other types of industry in Canada, so I’m not saying the arts and entertainment industry is the epitome of corruption; why shouldn’t they capitalize on seemingly “free-money” if no one is going to stop them? It doesn’t align with my beliefs though so I don’t do it.

It took me time to figure out how everything works; now that I have I need to do things my own way. Subsequently, this need to exist outside the system is why I have been the target of attacks by the system through libelous articles. People with half a mind can see what’s really going on though… that’s why through all the slander my audience keeps growing. Real fans want authentic people to be brave and follow their passions. This is where patronage comes from. Ask yourself this if you’re thinking about going the grant-route:

Do you want to be a cog in the wheel? Doing system-approved actions, repeating system-approved narratives, and using the proper channels to hopefully one day get a chance at climbing the ladder of success? Or do you want to make music? Do you want to be yourself?

I think if you are reading this article, wondering where you should record, and saying anything other than, “I want to make music,” you might need to reflect on your morality and intentions. There is plenty of opportunity in this industry to do anything except making music… it’s like politics, but everyone who doesn’t “figure it out” gets more frustrated with age and starts lashing out on those who have experienced success. The sad thing is: the more success you see, the less time for making music you will have. I asked this earlier, but what do you wish to accomplish?

Recording Studios do present some interesting opportunities and advantages. One of the big ones is: being able to create a visual story around your brand. After you post a few videos recording at home and release some music that garners some attention, you can start thinking about how to, “sell your story,” to people who are watching. It’s a pretty easy to make people think you’re, “on your way up,” when you’re in a big beautiful room with gorgeous equipment, “writing that next big hit,” after humble beginnings in your earlier posts. It shows progression. You have to ask yourself if you’re at that point though. Are you set up to capitalize on perceived growth? Even then, I feel as though my own personal audience would think I’ve lost my mind if I went to record in some studio without some bigger reason haha. They know I think most everything is a scam, and I believe in self-reliance. It wouldn’t fit my story without a good reason. Does the narrative you are creating fit your brand? Always a worthwhile consideration. Maybe it is worth buying a few hours in there. Most bigger artists I follow record at home in their small studios and only venture to the studio for photo-ops.

This industry can be expensive to participate in. If you don’t adapt to rising costs and just keep dumping money into the studio you are going to get eaten alive. You are the food that the machine eats to survive. Why would it not try and keep eating?

A justification someone close-to-me pointed-out that people-use for going-to-the-studio is, “well my song isn’t that good, so if I go record it in super high quality maybe people will like it.” straightfacedemoji.jpg … Spend more time on the song. You’re jumping the gun. You aren’t ready and you are acting impulsively. Most studios ask artists to provide a demo before going in anyways, but hardly ever do because they’re going to the studio to “record that hit” off the hop. This is a horrible plan. So how do you record that demo? You record it at home. Maybe that demo you recorded sounds exactly like you want it to anyways. Why go to the studio? The studio isn’t the end-all goal of the job. You eventually have to move on to the next task.

The first album I ever put out, which I sold a lot of and dominated the Canadian college charts for months, was 10 home-recorded demos. It was #1 with a bullet in over 10 markets. Most others climbed there within a week or two. I had paid someone to master it for me at the time, and this was before the internet was as accommodating to production and collaboration, but that was all the help I purchased to complete the album. My drums were recorded on a 2-track doing an LR stereo split. I didn’t even have a bass amp. I recorded my bass tracks through a peavy bandit. That is a solid state guitar amp. I used 2 apex 435 microphones for the most part. I mean on almost everything. I think I used it on the bass, which is funny because condenser mics usually cut that low end down quite a bit. It did give my bass a really tight and prominent tone though. Apex 435 microphones are very cheap. That album was at #1 at every college station that played original Canadian music at some point. The songs were good. The brand was on-point. I put the leg work in to get the album charting by calling stations and meeting people. When I didn’t know how to do something I asked for help. I learned how to do it all myself. I recorded that album in my parents basement.

When I put that album out, I was in another band that just burned a $15,000 arts-grant of taxpayer money in the studio, and came out owing another $15,000 when all was said and done. Thirty. Thousand. Dollars. On the recording alone. Not the art or the pressing of the album, or the tours. $30,000 in a month. We were horribly mismanaged and the album was a flop. It was a learning experience for everyone though. Learning is invaluable, but so it not-going-broke. Think about it…

If we don’t count equipment cost, my album, that cost me less than a few hundred dollars to produce, completely destroyed a massive publicly-funded flop. This happens all the time. The lesson I learned there was overwhelming and cathartic: it’s a setup. It’s all a lie. The industry is a fugazi. The lesson was invaluable though…

Everyone who was willing to learn from that experience did. That management went on to be quite successful later in management. So did I, but I was not a manager; I’m a musician with an adept-like ability for acquiring skills. You need to do what you want to do, and you need to acquire as many skills as possible to do it. If you can’t get that skill, find someone who can help you and pay them to do it. In time I learned management myself, and have helped acts, but moreso applied it to my own work. I also learned that the big-fake that is the schmoozing and politics in the entertainment industry was not something I enjoyed, so I disrupted it as much as I could. I am a professional authority disrespecter. If you haven’t figured this out yet there is nothing I can do for you haha.

There is value in big beautiful rooms with wonderful acoustics and massive boards designed by incredible electrical & audio engineers. You might even need to book one to do a big live recording sometime which you can’t fit into that one-bedroom apartment. Everything is subjective, especially the decisions of what path to choose at what time. You will make mistakes, but every mistake can be a blessing if you choose to learn from it. You can learn by working with professionals, but you can also disrupt by refusing to go the way you’re “supposed to.” You will have to make the call that best suits your goals.

That studio might make pristine audio on incredible vintage microphones and run it through one-of-a-king tube gear that gives it a unique harmonic no one else can get, but the question you need to ask yourself is: who is going to care?

Do you care?

Does your audience care?

Are they going to notice the difference?

Will that audio quality matter when you’re competing against someone else who recorded at home on their laptop, spent 10X as much time getting the performance correct and the audio to sound-right, devoid of the pressure associated with that studio’s hourly/daily fee hanging over their head? If you stay on schedule and budget, you might have bought yourself an advantage over that kid learning to mix on their own laptop because the studio provides you with an engineer who is 10X more competent than laptop-boy. You might even learn a thing or two from that engineer your hired if you pay attention. Will you stay on schedule when that engineer takes 6 hours the first day to get those drums sounding “just right?” My drums in my home studio sound amazing now, but they didn’t when I first started recording here. I adjusted them with time and they never move. Maybe that studio has a house kit. Maybe you need to move your own pawn-shop quality gear in. You might need to rush setting those drums up. I don't need to rush setting them up here: they’re just set up. When I have an idea I hit record and lay it down. The most important thing is to ask yourself: what is your end goal?

My goal is making music that speaks to me for an audience who also get something out of my music. I don’t care about the politics. I don’t care about the “scenes.” I don’t care about the cry-baby reddit posts, from people who never amounted to anything, calling me names. I don’t care about the bullsh*t because I’m too busy to have time to care about it. I have too many wonderful fans and friends in my life who deserve my attention to even notice some hearsay, unless someone else tells me haha. I care about my family, my audience and my craft.

I record in my home studio.

You should record at home.

You should work with competent producers, sending them your home-recorded audio to complete works, until you yourself are a competent producer.

Even if you prefer to record in a studio, practice recording at home, because it is an invaluable skill to a musician. It is literally your craft.

If you haven’t: go try-out a studio sometime; it can be a life-changing experience. You will learn alot in a studio which you can then bring home and try on your own. You might even meet a jaded old audio-engineer who bestows ancient-knowledge about audio production to you like I did.

I do feel as though my purpose in this world, divined unto me by God, is to have first experienced these events, both negative and positive, so that I may share these experiences with people. Those people can then choose to repeat my mistakes, walk-the-line with my advice in mind, or completely go it on their own.

I hope this helps you get started.
Thank you for reading.


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