Let’s not get all idealistic here

Keeping a band together can be a real challenge. Especially for us working stiffs who know good and well we need to keep our day jobs and try to do this as a semi-serious hobby or else risk starvation.

There’s the chore of finding others with similar musical tastes, ability, age proximity, and commitment levels. There’s dealing with personality types and communication styles that are different than yours. There’s aligning work and weekend schedules for practice and gigs and commuting distances. The bigger the band, the more of a challenge it becomes. A lot can go wrong on the road to becoming a paid band member, even if it’s just beer money.

But every now and then the planets align and you find a group of people where it comes together pretty well. Keeping that going however, is also hard work. Even if it looks good initially, the opportunity for a band-ending kerfuffle is right around every corner.

Let’s say you work up a couple of sets with a new group, it sounds pretty good and you think you might be about ready to take your show out to the local watering hole. You soon realize you need some demo tracks for potential customers. It’s nearly impossible to get a paying gig without giving a customer who is not familiar with your work something to listen to. The group gets together and decides the solution is to do some recording, put tracks up on Reverb Nation or SoundCloud and link to them from your band’s new Facebook page. How does one go about that?

Studio time is great but bring your wallet. Recording live in your garage probably isn’t going to yield a quality level you’ll be comfortable giving to a customer. The recording process takes time, patience, skill, technology, and smarts.

It’s the last one that eludes a lot of prospective bands in this writer’s opinion. It’s easy to become impatient and post a low quality recording because everyone just got burned out on the recording process and wants to move on. But smart bands know the quickest route to getting those tracks up is to record one instrument / voice at a time and mix until you’ve got what you want. Forget the live recording idea. Someone might go to jail before you reach consensus on enough tracks to release. It’s the story of the tortoise and the hare all over again, with different players.

The last band I was in had the debate about recording live vs. laying down tracks. This turned out to be a real fork in the road. I knew it was a huge mistake at the time but couldn’t convince my peers to layer and mix. One band member in particular was on this idealistic “No False Advertising” campaign and wouldn’t consider mixing tracks because “Then our customers will think they are going to hear one thing when they listen to mixed tracks, but will then be disappointed when they hear us live.” To that I say bullshit. If you can get pretty close, you’re golden and the customer won’t give a damn. They aren’t that stupid as to not know the difference between live sound and a recording.

I do sympathize with the position however if what we’re talking about is mixing in extra effects that we can’t reproduce, or screwing with the features of Pro Tools, or Garage Band (pick your tool) to where you are essentially in the role of song manufacturer vs. recording your musical abilities. That part I get and agree with. I think sometimes band members get so caught up in the bells and whistles of the tools that they forget to play the song.

Anyway, having said all of that, real fork in the road. There were only 3 of us, but the probability that we were all going to play (6) 3-4 minute songs from start to finish with no mistakes, with the right mix of voices to instruments and to the quality level that we wanted to release was next to zero. Take after take after take we struggled to keep our patience with each other and find some half ways decent. It damn near killed the band right then and there. We played the songs so many times we now hated the songs and didn’t want to play them again for 6 months.

Laying down tracks could have been done separately, in the comfort of our homes without the pressure of screwing up and having to start over when everyone else’s part was perfect. And it could have been done in one-third of the time and without the battle scars of trying to record live.

Next time someone says “Let’s record our demo tracks live”, don’t listen to them.

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