DIY vs. PRO

It’s no secret, the creation and distribution of music today can be done one hundred percent from home – and the means to do so is fairly accessible.

However, this isn’t to say that DIY is necessarily the best way to go. It can be difficult navigating a musical production, so hopefully this article will offer some insights.

Goig Pro – Pros

  1. Specialists: Pros are pros for a reason – what you may be doing for the tenth time, the pro is doing for the seven hundredth time. Pros have the understanding that only years of focused dedication can grant – whether that be in song writing, production, mixing, mastering, editing, or an instrument.
  2. Equipment: Pros not only have the know-how, but they generally also have the tools dedicated to their craft. What you spent on your whole setup, the pro may have very well spent on a single microphone.
  3. Cohesion: Music is one field where the whole can exceed the sum of it’s parts. Something special happens when you put a dedicated producer, a dedicated tracking engineer, and seasoned instrumentalists in a room together. They take things further than what they could have been.
  4. Perspective: It’s nice to get an outsider’s perspective on your project. If you’re involved in multiple parts of the process such as performing and recording, it can become tiresome and uninspiring to also mix and master. Sometimes an outsiders perspective is just what you need.
  5. Network: Professionals usually know a number of people – label A&Rs, managers, other film and music artists. While working through a professional shouldn’t be used as a crutch to get established – it’s another networking outlet.

Goig Pro – Cons

  1. Money: Professionals aren’t cheap.
  2. Let Downs: Not all pros are necessarily good, and sometimes being good for one project might not mean being good for another. In fact, choosing the right professionals can be so cumbersome you may need to hire a professional at doing that (they’re called A&Rs)! Regardless, finding the right people can be tough.

DIY – Pros

  1. Money: It’s cheaper to buy the equipment and do it yourself. $1,500 will get you 2 or 3 days in a pro studio, or it will get you a decent home studio setup. More so, there’s very little pressure in doing a hundred takes in your bedroom, whereas a hundred takes in the studio may come to a sizable bill.
  2. Whenever: In the DIY format you can get things down whenever the moment of inspiration strikes – and sometimes that can be a vital part of a successful project.
  3. Personal Development: DIY time means growing as an artist within humble means. Performing for a record is different than performing live, and doing your own recordings means getting better at being recorded.

DIY – Cons

  1. No Hindsight: One of the major advantages to hiring on a pro is that their hindsight would be your foresight. There are many chances to ruin a great song in the production process, and the DIY guy is likely to run head first into almost all of them.
  2. Self-Contained: Mixing your own production is very much like chasing your own tail. It leads to constant doubt, always second guessing where things should be and how it should sound. This happens whenever two or more separate tasks are performed by the same person (generally).
  3. It still ain’t free: Good home studio equipment can be very costly, with a decent setup still ranging from $1500-$5000 for a start up.

While it’s true that some great DIY music has come out, I still find the best works come from a collaborative effort involving dedicated professionals. Ultimately, there can’t be any weak links in the chain – so being honest about your own strengths and weaknesses may be helpful.

A Pitfall of Pro:

Stretching your money too thin. I hear people all the time trying to get a full LP produced for under $3,000. While that can go a long way, ultimately the results will be middle of the road. Better to concentrate limited funds into a shorter project. A couple of singles, excellently produced, will go further than a full length project stretched thin – though a full length project may feel more satisfying.

A Pitfall of DIY:

DIY means “Do It Yourself”, but a lot of people mistake that for “Do It Alone.” Even if it’s only your buddies next door, put together a team of sorts and hash out your ideas.

What are your thoughts on DIY vs. Pro? Chime in with a comment.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. Credits include Snoop Dogg, Gorilla Zoe, Arrested Development, Dizzee Rascal, Gift of Gab, J-Son and many others. Get in touch at Weiss-Sound.com.
  • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

    I’m a fan of both. I like to track drums especially in a pro studio, then do overdubs at my home studio.

    I highly agree on the importance of NOT doing everything yourself. While it seems “neat” to be able to say that you did ever single thing on the album yourself, but that wears off pretty quickly, especially if you made a bunch of mediocre contributions to the project.

    A year or so ago I sold my bass guitar. I’m not a great bass player, and it was too tempting to try to save a few bucks and play bass myself. My bass parts were lame. Now I just hire a bass player. Much better. And worth the few bucks it costs to do it.

  • http://metalliclounge.com Paul Schaefer

    One other con to the DIY is that if you play every instrument the projects tends to sound vanilla. Bringing in a friend that is good of a bass player or guitar player as you will add some additional color and texture to the tracks simply because that person will probably play differently. They will add some extra dynamics to the songs. We have a ton a great musicians here locally so I always tell my clients its just worth it to bring someone else in. Let the song talk, and your ego walk I like to say :-) Nice write up!

  • http://www.masteringmastering.co.uk/onlinemastering.html online mastering

    We do indeed live in a DIY culture and that has some great aspects related to it, people can make music at home and that time freedom and pressure freedom is very liberating. However engineers and producers have often worked for years building skill sets to great effect and application It is a shade naive that you should be able to DIY everything as well as a professional. Same applies for many professions.

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  • http://lets-go-digital.blogspot.com Mario

    Agree! Go pro if you have the means. I think the main reason you’d go DIY is because you don’t have the means, closely followed by the desire to learn. The pro’s are good at what they do and they may damn well get paid good for it. They put in the time AND money to get where they are. But they also had to start at the beginner level. So it’s just a matter of time for the poor DIYer to improve his craft.

    It doesn’t mean we DIYers can’t get to that level. Technology is moving at a very fast pace that one can produce NEARLY the same pro results for a lot less money. I say nearly because I think the average listener will not be any wiser if he was listening to an amateur or pro production. Provided the DIYer put in the time and effort to make the product as best as he could. Only trained engineers will raise the flag.

    So what matters is the intended audience. Yes, do your best to make it sound good but in the end, you have to make your intended audience hum along no matter how crappy the “sound quality” is. That’s where good songwriting and good arrangement comes into play. I still listen to old un-remastered Beatles songs and they still make me sing along. They never get old.

    Thanks to informative sites such as this, Tweakheadz, Home Recording Show, Joe Gilder, Graham Cochrane and everybody else who are willing to spend their precious time to educate people like me most of the time for FREEEEEEEE!!! (or for a nominal fee) You guys are a source of inspiration and you make the learning curve easier to overcome.

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  • Sean Linfoot

    A pro doesn’t mean they are good.
    A pro audio engineer means simply they get paid to be an audio engineer. A wise audio engineer once told me that “its not the equipment that makes the mix, but the person who plays that instrument.” Long story short, you can have amazing gear and crap experience and you mix sucks. You can have an amazing audio engineer paid nothing and given borderline flea market equipment and they still make a great mix- THEY are the experts!

    • Matthew Weiss

      Not all Pros are good, not all amateurs are bad, absolutely! In fact, the concept of “good” vs. “bad” is making it too black & white. Some Pros are excellent excellent excellent at Classic Rock, and terrible with EDM. Some Pros are great at both, somehow. Some Pros its almost a wonder how they stay in business.

      And conversely I’ve heard some amazing producer references. I just mixed a full length album and one of the songs I just couldn’t top the producer’s reference! I was able to put the record in a different light that the artist also liked, but both my mix and the producer’s mix are going to mastering.

      All that said, most of the surviving professionals are very good. If not excellent. Music production is extremely competitive, and home setups are so affordable, 90% of the guys who stay working are top notch.

  • 7notasestudio

    Excellent article Matthew I would say that you should only chose the DIY path if you consider you’re going to enjoy it because it’s full of frustration and failures.

    On the other hand you should consider thoroughly the reasons why you want to hire a professional to do some given job. For instance if you are an amateur as a musician who wants to stay that way you probably shouldn’t spending thousands of dollars on the production of a record.

    That doesn’t mean that you’re not entitled to do it if you have the means, but maybe is not the best financial move.

    However I would like to add that there are many reasons to take the DIY path, BUT if the only reason in your mind is money you’re making a HUGE mistake, because when you realize the real effort behing becoming even slightly good at it, it’s already too late to do something about it.

    I also agree with the part that if you’re a musician you should be worrying more about the performance than about the mic or preamp you’re going to use to record it.

    Finally I would like to tell you that I wrote an article on my blog about the DIY philosophy regarding building your own studio equipment. The article it’s in spanish but maybe you have some hispanic readers that may want to read it:

    http://blog.7notasestudio.com/el-diy-en-el-estudio-de-grabacion/

    Thanks again for the article, I just discovered your blog and I have to say its really really good.

    Greetings