Recording a Demo Song: Recording Studio vs. Home Recording

Does home recording replace the time spent in the recording studio?

Thick curtains in front of the windows. Egg carton on the ceiling. There is a worn-out couch in one corner and a desk from the pre-IKEA era in the other. The screen on it is one of the very first TFT monitors ever. Due to the little light which gets in due to the thick curtains, a non-professional needs some time to recognise it: between a lot of junk and a little empties there are real treasures. High-quality monitor boxes, an analogue mixer and thick condenser microphones. So many microphones. Most rooms where bands record their songs look like this or similar, somewhere between home recording setup and recording studio. Have big recording studios had their day? No, many artists think so, but their function today is different.

The Advantages of Homerecording: Time, Authenticity, Learning Effect

I admit, it just feels good to sit in a real recording studio. In one of these rooms, where even the big ones record their songs. Eating a delivered pizza next to a EUR 90,000 mixer. When, if ever, should a band dare to make this investment? For Nils Wittrock, expensive equipment is nice, however, a secondary matter:

Nils Wittrock from The Hirsch Effekt

With The Hirsch Effekt, we realized very early on: doing it yourself is good, but you need at least two external ears for it. However, it does not mean that you have to go to a huge recording studio. Get a musician friend or the band from the rehearsal room next door. With my band I had before The Hirsch Effekt, I have already taken advantage of one of these studio weekend offers: the band pays an all-inclusive price, can be in the studio for exactly one weekend under supervision and gets a CD at the end. This has never led to good results. You cannot develop a common sound with the technician, even if he or she is a technical genius.

For really good recordings, you need a lot of time and someone from the outside who can provide the ears. Only then comes the great room with perfect acoustics and super expensive equipment. Especially for the drums it is important to have a room that is big enough and has no hard stone walls. However, this can also be achieved without a recording studio. Only if these conditions are met, we can have a look at expensive mixers, the excellent microphones, the perfect acoustics.

All this is provided by a studio. However, this is secondary. Many bands save at the wrong end: they book a studio with great technology but only for a few days due to the costs. However, it is much more important to invest time without (cost) pressure.

Tammo Reckeweg from the band Lenna finds recording experience valuable for all bands:

Tammo Reckeweg, guitarist and vocals with Lenna

You do not need to know how to perfectly operate a mixer. However, I think it is important that bands have a basic knowledge of what is going on there. For example, on the way from the guitar to the amp, through the interface, into the mixer, to the PC and then to the monitor boxes.

If a recording studio takes over from the beginning, it will costs the musician's independence.

Consider before you want to record a song: for what purpose do we record?

Thesis: it is not really easier to record a good demo nowadays. It is cheaper, no doubt. It is great that anyone can record their own songs with a computer and their guitar. However, there is a price to pay: there is a flood of recordings and releases, musicians have to dare more and more to attract attention. Our expectations of demo recordings are different nowadays. This particularly applies to the expectations the record companies have, says Tommy Newton:

Tommy Newton, former guitarist of Victory and cult producer

There are no more demos. Not as we know them, anyway. The level of sound and sound overall has increased due to good technical possibilities which even beginner bands have nowadays. You have to deliver a finished production to a record company. They only know the great productions because that is all they hear nowadays. With 'roughly' produced home recordings, it is increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. It is actually sad that the people who are in charge of the label are sitting around a table, listening to spotlessly clean productions and decide who gets a record deal. In the past, talent scouts used to go to the rehearsal rooms and listen to the songs live.

Therefore, I tell all young bands: put a microphone in the rehearsal room and press REC. This is also important to listen to yourselves in a relaxed surrounding.

Demo songs are no longer just for record companies or the general public but they have to convince promoters and bookers. In the past, bands played for concerts and booking agencies. Nowadays, club owners book many bands without having spoken to them beforehand, let alone seen them. For Sebastian Dracu, the feeling of the demo recording is what counts most:

Sebastian Dracu, guitarist and singer

The recording must deliver the core idea, the idea that drives and defines the song. Sometimes a mobile phone recording can do a better job than any studio recording with the greatest microphones. Some songs are then shown to its best.

Then, it is not the good sound that makes the music, but the environment, the passion or simply the time we take for the song.

I basically do not think it is wrong to go outside, even with DIY demo recordings.

Hence, the demo for the club owner, the booker or even a booking agency is something different than the one for the record company. Think about whether you should even have different songs for different purposes: a rather good DIY recording of your most energetic songs for the booker and for the record label, rather short and perfectly arranged pieces, recorded as high quality as possible.

The recording studio is above all an experience for the band

All in all, the big studios have a completely different right to exist than just recording. They are also fine tuning for your own sound, motivation boost and key moment for the band.

Tammo Reckeweg, guitarist and vocals with Lenna

It is simply a strong feeling to come into a real recording studio for the first time. The moment you see all this: the old microphones, the expensive equipment, a mixer which is bigger than a kitchen table. You are just amazed and it will be a joint memory for the band.

I think the step into the studio is almost indispensable for advanced bands. But there are two sides to this.

On the one hand, you can do things that DIY can only do with great effort. On the other hand, if you are a musician and you go into the studio, do not think that you can live into the day and work on your art for hours. You start in the morning, you want to finish quickly because the whole thing is very expensive. You start a tightrope walk between 'fast' and 'with lots of love'.

An absolute prerequisite for the studio is: know your songs by heart.

Apart from the effortless play, the sound concept of the band is another dimension: you should only go into a studio if you are sure that the result will make you proud and takes you to the next level as a band, Tommy Newton thinks:

Tommy Newton, former guitarist of Victory and cult producer

The own sound counts. It definitely counts much more than just a supposingly 'good sound'. Your style is your right to exist as a band. Listen to your recordings so far and ask yourself honestly: are you a copy? I do not think it is bad to get associated with other bands. But in the end, your own mixture is important. And do not orient yourself so much on other people's technology or equipment.

The sound of a guitarist does not only come from amplifiers, pickups or guitars, your fingers are important, too.

Forget about effect devices for now. A pedalboard does not make a style. I have no sense of humour if a pedal is supposed to hide something.

Max „Kesh“ Meißner, rapper

There is a lot to be said for having this studio experience once, if possible. For one of our EPs, we have worked together with the trombonist from Seeed. However, for such a collaboration you need a well produced demo first and have to go to a big studio. It was incredibly cool to work with such experienced musicians. For 5 songs, it was all about the horns. The guy from Seeed brought two more colleagues and recorded the parts in about 3 hours. It would have taken us more than a day. That is what I call experience.

In a good recording studio you can sometimes realise your own vision much better. That one movie you make when you imagine your own music. However, it is very important:

You need another person than your mixer to master your stuff. This has absolutely nothing to do with the abilities of the people. However, it has to be another set of ears.

The decision as to when bands go into the big studio is an individual one. If you want to make music professionally, it is hard to get past the big recording studios with the mixer bigger than a kitchen table which I have mentioned before. However, the step into the recording studio should be well prepared and well-considered and is a thing which usually comes at the end of a long finding process.

Photos © The Hirsch Effekt