Gear vs Theory & Experience

Over the years I have recorded music using a variety of equipment ranging from mini cassette recorders to large mixing consoles. My first legit recording devices was a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder that was given to me when my guitar player’s brother upgraded his own recording setup. I didn’t care that it was a hand-me-down recorder. I was too busy being psyched about recording 4 tracks at once. At the time it was the best piece of recording equipment that I had used. It had its quirks. The RCA line outs no longer worked unless you folded up a piece of paper and wedged it under the jacks. Despite it being pretty well worn, I managed to squeeze a shitload of life out of the recorder. In fact, it’s still in my studio today. I use it whenever I want to mix something down to cassette.

Tascam 4-Track

I have always subscribed to the mantra that good gear does not always guarantee a good recording. Although there are times when high-end gadgetry makes a task easier, a lofty price tag does not always ensure that the final product will sound great. Much as ice skates would be useless to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, decent recording equipment won’t mean a thing if the operator has no idea what they’re doing. Understanding of the physics of sound and how it behaves in different environments will help you to better utilize both your space as well as your equipment. 

Whether you’re an aspiring recording engineer or a musician looking to save some money by recording yourself rather than going into a studio, you all are chasing the same thing. You are both trying to capture the best representation of the music because you know that if the audio quality is shitty, people aren’t going to listen. So if you’re serious about recording and want to separate your work from the sea of amateurs that are flooding the internet with shoddy demo recordings, you need to do some homework. Luckily for you, I’ve compiled a list of books that I’ve come across over the years and have been recommending to to up-and-coming engineers. Now before you recoil in horror at the thought of having to fork over some of your precious earnings for this ancient book technology, keep in mind that these books contain everything you need to know to be a competent engineer. Some of these books are used to teach audio production at the college level, and you’re not even required to pay thousands of dollars in tuition. It’s not like sound is a new concept. Once you master the subject you’re pretty much set unless something crazy happens that alters the mass of the Earth… Even if that were to happen, you’d have bigger things to worry about. So quit your griping and let’s talk books.

  1. Audio in Media
    This book is a solid introductory book. When I was teaching as an assistant at Ball State University, this was our go to book. It teaches everything from basic physics to microphone placement. A great resource for anyone interested in audio whether it be for music, radio, or for video applications.
  2. The Recording Engineer’s Handbook
    This is the book that I recommend to anyone interested in recording music. This is a great book that includes information on microphones and interviews with top engineers expressing their philosophies on recording.
  3. Mastering Audio
    I have seen this book in every studio I have had the pleasure of visiting or working in. That being said, this isn’t the first book that I would recommend to someone just starting out. There are a number of heady topics discussed in this book. Pick this one up after you’ve been at it for a while.
  4. On-Location Recording Techniques
    The title is pretty self explanatory. If you plan on running/recording live sound, this book will be incredibly useful to you.

So there you have it, this concludes my list of recommended reads for beginners. Stock your bookshelves and absorb as much of this knowledge as possible. As with most things, books are no substitute for real-life experience but they do make it possible for you to minimize the learning curve. So don’t read the books and start acting like you know everything because it’s annoying and won’t earn you any respect.

Studio Blog: Raising the Bar

Up until this point I have solely been using this website to promote my recording and mixing services to the public. To be completely honest, the blog was just an afterthought. It was something that I would update so that I could promote a new blog and draw attention to the website. That pretty much sums up the reason that any business would put in the effort to maintain a blog, right? Going into a blog with this mentality is limiting and short sighted. A blog can be so much more than an advertising tool. A blog has the potential to deliver a tremendous amount of information so long as the audience has enough interest and discipline to read it. So this epiphany (or whatever you want to call it) that I’ve had made me realize that I’ve been doing the public a disservice by maintaining such a mediocre blog up to this point. I’m going to change that. I’m going to make it a point to utilize text, audio, and video mediums to share my opinions, experience, and knowledge of recording topics with the masses.

That being said, I hope that you’re a bit forgiving as I start this out. I’m not a professional writer, actor, or videographer… You’re going to have to bear with me as I figure all of this stuff out as I go. I mean, I’m not technologically challenged or anything to that extent but it’s still pretty difficult to handle any production as a one-person show. The plan is to stick with it and improve with every blog, podcast, and youtube video. As long as you’re able to take something away from each post, I will feel that it’s worthwhile.

Stay tuned!

Change of Pace

For those of you that pay any attention to the things that I do in real life, in addition to the internet, you have more than likely heard/read something about my wife, Lauren, and I working on opening up a coffee shop in downtown Muncie. This is true. As far as the internet and social media is concerned, my wife and I look like we are as busy as humanly possible. This is also true. I have been running a recording studio, teaching part time at BSU whilst simultaneously attending as a grad student, undertaking a number of significant home renovations (floors, bathrooms, paint, landscaping, and etc.), and doing all of the due diligence that comes with starting up a coffee shop. These are just the things on my plate, Lauren is dealing with her own obstacles. We are just busy.

I have now reached a point where I can no longer take on any additional projects without reaching a breaking point. Having so many projects going on at a single time is definitely rewarding in a lot of ways but it adds a ton of unnecessary stress. Stress is something I’m not fond of and in an effort to keep it from reaching undesirable levels I have decided to make a few changes before things start to ramp up with the coffee shop. I’ve already implemented a few changes but I figured this is as good a place as any to unveil my master plan to consolidate and alleviate. My first step was to take a pass on renewing my graduate teaching assistantship at Ball State for the time being. There’s just no possible way that I can manage teaching 20 hours a week on top of being a full-time grad student whilst managing the coffee shop. For one, there aren’t enough hours available in a day for me to make this work, and two… I simply wouldn’t have the energy to do so even if I wanted to. So yeah, it has to go. So basically, I’m going to put graduate school on the back burner for the moment. The sad part is that I’m pretty damn good both teaching and being a student. During my two semesters of grad school I nearly pulled off straight As with the exception of a single B (which I think is total bullshit). All is not a loss though, I learned that teaching audio production is something that I enjoy and if I choose to finish out my Master’s Degree later on, it will be an option so long as I do it within the next 3 years.

So in one fell swoop I have eliminated two enormous burdens from my schedule; teaching and graduate school. But I’m not going to stop there. Nope. As of this moment I am currently planning on the coffee shop being open from 6AM until 7PM Monday through Friday and from 10AM until 2PM on Saturday. Lauren and I will be dividing these hours up amongst ourselves but due to her busy photography schedule during the wedding seasons, I will be working the majority of the hours during those times. What this all boils down to is that I will have to drastically cut back on booking recording sessions at the studio to being nearly non-existent. Up until now my schedule has largely been determined by scheduled recording sessions. There are times when a single band will book full 10 hours days for a week straight and I’ve always made it work. Even when I was teaching and attending grad school I was still able to schedule around everything without too much difficulty. Alas, with the coffee shop up and running, the only way I will be able to schedule a recording session that spans multiple days is if I coordinate with Lauren to cover for me at the shop. So while I’ll still be able to maintain my studio work, it won’t be without its scheduling obstacles. All is well though, to be honest, recording work in Muncie has been particularly slow this past year and a half which is one of the main reasons that I decided to open a coffee shop. There are far more people that consume coffee than there are that require professional recording services. This realization has caused me to make a choice… I could either let the recording studio, that I worked so hard to create, sit and collect dust or I could give it new purpose that was more compatible with my new schedule. Collecting dust is not an option to me so that left me the task of repurpose.

It is important for me to note that the need for professional recording studios has been experiencing some shrinkage. This is due to a wide range of factors including, but not limited to, the recession/depression, the decentralization of the music industry, and the advances in home-recording technology that are making it increasingly affordable for musicians to record themselves. While Reber Recording has been self-sustaining, it is by no means a cash-cow. Recording is a labor of love for most recording engineers and if you are someone that chose the career to become one of the rich stereotypes portrayed in music videos, the odds are stacked against you. The majority of records that I have had the pleasure of working on were not paid for by wealthy record labels. Rather, they were paid for with money saved by the members of the bands. In a few rare instances, the session was paid for by a kickstarter campaign. The point is, there’s not a lot of money to be made in this profession. I do it because I enjoy the role of historically preserving the music of my time. But I digress… If I am only able to record a select few bands per year, how can I best utilize my skills and facilities to better the music community as a whole?

I have decided to repurpose my recording studio and its internet-presence to serve as an educational entity. As I mentioned earlier, the year I spent teaching audio production at Ball State University opened my eyes to the impact that my words could have on much larger body of work than I would otherwise be able to produce on my own. The most efficient way for me to disperse my knowledge of recording is to make a series of YouTube lectures, demonstrations, and recommendations aimed at helping home-recording enthusiasts and aspiring recording engineers to achieve the best possible results with the tools available to them. This would eliminate any scheduling conflict that would arise with teaching a traditional class. Plus, I can break down my 2-hour lectures into topics that fall between the 2-10 minute range. This effectively combines my passion for teaching and recording into a single attainable goal. I figure I might as well embrace the changes being brought on by the industry rather than pretend that they don’t exist. It would be much easier to cater to the increasing number of people preferring to record themselves rather than to try and convince them to go into a studio proper. It all boils down to the intended audience…. but that’s the topic of a future video. I have already began making notes for a couple of episodes in addition to creating the following channel:

©2010 Real to Reel, LLC (Reber Recording)