Innovation & Creativity Come from Amateurs
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Okay, so I just got back from AES last weekend, and I had a wonderful time. I looked at loads of gear, and talked with many people, and it was just — it was really fun, and I met with Andrew Scheps, and we had a little talk, and a whole bunch of other engineers and producers.
Joe Chiccarelli was there. I talked to him. Of course, you know, I believe he is one of the best engineers and producers in the world, and these are all guys that love their equipment like I do, and so it was great to talk gear. We were at AES, and that was the place where they were presenting equipment and plugins, etcetera, but it really made me think a lot as I went around talking to different gear manufacturers and seeing all the wonderful stuff that was available.
It made me think a lot about what we do, and we have a lot of debates below about different pieces of equipment and philosophies and all this kind of stuff, and one of the themes that I really started to see was, you know, with Andrew in particular, who was talking about now mixing completely in the box, and with Neil Avron, who I interviewed a couple of weeks ago here, and how he is recording, still using class A equipment, but mixing entirely in the box, and neither of them are using summing amps.
Then of course, talking to Chris Lord-Alge, who is using an SSL, and myself, who I mix in the box, or break out in a hybrid fashion through my SSL.
I’m looking at all these different ways. I’m looking at Greg Wurth who is using summing amps, and the thing that seems to be a theme is yes, you can sum, or maybe you don’t need to sum. The way that every single one of these guys is working similar is that they are taking well recorded stuff, and they’re spending a lot of time and effort recording very well going in.
So I really want to focus to be — you know, the recording process. There’s a lot of mix tutorials out there. There’s a lot of — I hesitate to say this, but I’m going to say it, there’s a lot of fix it in the mix mentality. When you’re talking to the top mixing engineers, they are getting a lot of track count and a lot of lack of decisions being made, and they’re even from really famous producers giving them tons and tons of tracks. Then they’re sitting there trying to figure out what the vision was.
So I think what’s great about us and about you guys, you guys out there are the front line making recordings, because let’s be honest, the great music, the great innovation does not come from major label artists. It doesn’t. The Beatles were signed to Parlophone. Parlophone was a comedy label that put out albums by The Goons, and George Martin was the A&R producer of Parlophone, and he was the only guy who took a chance on The Beatles.
The Beatles are the most successful, and arguably the greatest band of all time, so — and they came out on a comedy label, and let us flash forward to Nirvana. Nirvana were on Sub Pop Records, a little label in Seattle, and they did something unique that changed the music industry dramatically, all the way through the ’90s, and yes, Geffen came along and took them from Sub Pop and put them out into a major label system, but ultimately, these were bands — these were artists that were working in isolation.
Even look to Adele. Adele at the moment is the biggest artist in the world, but most of her last album is the demos. Those producers that co-wrote and produced the tracks with her in their own studios got to keep their initial demos, and they came out on that album, and that album became a massive worldwide album, and not only was it great production and great songs, it was kind of something so unique for its time.
So the one thing that I really want to stress is don’t sell yourselves short, because you know what? You guys and girls out there, you are the cutting edge, because that’s where the great music comes from. Everybody always criticizes the label system, and the label system has its faults, and I think particularly at the moment, where pop music has stagnated over the last ten years, where if you take a hit by an artist over the last ten years from ten years ago and now and spun it around and played it to somebody randomly, they might not know what is this year’s hit, and what is ten years ago hit.
The production has basically stagnated. It seems to be incredibly radio driven, but the artists that come out, like the Sam Smith’s and the Adele’s are coming out very left of center by production and song writing done by people that were outside of that system.
Maybe they have some success within it as well, but you’ve got to look at the history of music and realize that The Beatles and Nirvana and all of those kind of artists were not — even the New Wave and 2 Tone, and the Punk Rock from England, and the Punk Rock in America like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground — all of those bands are not products of major label.
So why am I waffling on? I’m waffling on because I want to encourage you guys, because I realize no matter anybody’s process, it doesn’t matter if you’re Chris Lord-Alge, who’s one of the greatest mixers of all time, or Andrew Scheps who’s an amazing mixer now. It doesn’t matter if you’re Neil Avron, or if you’re me, or if you’re anybody, there is no one way to do this.
So the message is how you do things. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t worry about having all of the great gear. I think if I was going to invest in anything, it would be my front end at the moment. Not my back end. Yeah, it’s great to have summing amps, but a summing amp might be really good — summing mixer, I should say — might be really good for you if you’ve used your little interface, and you want to access transformers, and you want the sound of transformers that you get from a mic pre.
And there are things around for like, a couple of thousand dollars that can do that so you can mix through it. But, it might be wise to get one really nice mic pre and one really nice microphone on the way in, and just — you know, use that first. Whichever way you choose to work, whether you’re using a really nice mic pre on the way in, or you’re using a summing amp there.
Those are two big advantages, but let’s be honest, there’s no one way to do it, and even the biggest and most successful people in the world don’t do it all the same way, so don’t let the gear — and I know we’ve talked about this before, and I know I have a video talking about the five key components where I talk about this, but I really do believe this. Don’t let the gear stop you, because frankly, if you’ve written and recorded an incredible song, I don’t care if it was done on a Neve, or an SSL, or an M-Box or a 2i2, or done with an iPhone internal system.
We’re looking at those new Lewitt USB mics and the software that comes in that, and in a future video, I want to do a recording using that. I want to see just how — what we can really do using the most limited stuff. My point is let the music and the creativity speak for itself.
So I think the message that’s really important to me is innovation has always come from amateurs. It doesn’t come from the professionals. The professionals, in the best way can present something that’s an amateur idea in a better way, but sometimes the professionals can homogenize something, and it is important to keep that spark of creativity. That essence of what was great about a song, and not lose it, and sometimes, that initial idea that you have, and that you capture, the best time it’s ever going to be is when you do it that first time. The most important thing is to capture that creativity in the best possible way.
But if you’ve captured it on a four-track cassette and then you transfer it into your DAW, that’s amazing. I have done backgrounds that were sung into the internal microphone of a laptop in an airport. Those were used on a record that sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
So there are many different ways to do things. You can be sitting there with an acoustic guitar and have an idea on GarageBand, and you just record it and put it in. That can be done at any time, and I’ve used those in mixes.
So don’t let the technology stop you. Don’t think that the gear is really important, but you out there now with your DAWs and the technology that’s available can make incredible sounding recordings at a fraction of the cost of a traditional studio.
The creativity, as I always say, is king. Creativity comes first. When I was flying back from AES the other day, I open up my iPhone and I put in my ear buds, and I wrote a beat on my iMachine plugin, which I believe is a few dollars, and that is now a song idea that I’m working on. That is something you can do in any situation and you don’t need to spend a fortune on equipment.
If I was to put my money in anywhere, I’d probably personally put it on the front end with a nice mic pre and a nice microphone, but if you’re just starting off with maybe a little Focusrite 2i2 or any one of those little inexpensive units that has one or two mic pre inputs, you can make great music on that, because you can build a beat on iMachine or a beat in your DAW, and then sing with one microphone and one mic pre.
You don’t need a huge amount of equipment to make great music, and if you do something that’s fantastic and creative, it will always cut through. You don’t need to spend a huge amount of money on equipment, but what you do need is to realize that your creativity is king, and just go and do it. Just go for it. Go and make great music.
So let’s have a discussion. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what you use, and let’s really discuss what the — what your process is, and let’s be supportive of each other, because what I want this to be, and what I really feel like this is is a way that we can break down some barriers, and we can help each other.
I love the way that you guys and girls interact. The comments, 99.9% of the time are supportive and positive, and they help each other out. So let’s get into that. Let’s get into a real sense of community, and let’s talk about all of the different ways that we record, and let’s be supportive of all of those different ways, because as far as I’m concerned, I know that the great, great music doesn’t come from major label world.
Yes, it can take it and give it a platform, but the real innovation is coming from people like you who are at home in their bedrooms, or you know, garage or whatever making music.
Find music. Find artists in your local area. Develop them. Work with them. You know, or record your own music. There is so many avenues now to get it out there. Let’s talk about that. Let’s have a discussion about music, and about how you do music.
So please, as ever, leave some comments and questions below. Let’s talk about what gear you use, and how you get there, and let’s share and really have a discussion about it, and I don’t mind what your DAW is, it doesn’t matter. It seems Reaper is really popular at the moment. Studio One is really popular at the moment, and Pro Tools is obviously there, and Logic is there as well.
Nuendo, Cubase, Reason, whatever it is you use, let’s talk about it and let’s share, and let’s have a real sense of community here and help each other. Thank you ever so much for watching.