Capturing Inspiration on the Fly

caravaggioMany of my best song ideas seem to “happen” during brief windows of creativity, moments where I lose all “thought” and self awareness and just imagine what this unborn song sounds like, trying on different moods, tempos, vibes and vocal sounds. Typically I will have some rhythmic thing or riff on the acoustic guitar, and then just make up vocal sounds that seem to reflect whatever the music is conveying. I don’t bother with real words, just nonsensical stuff, sometimes just vocalizations of syllables.

What I typically do is just let my portable recorder run, and then go off for several minutes on the idea. Stop listen play back see if there are any bits of gold to be found. Once I have essence of something I really like, then I may spend weeks or months trying to polish that vision. But the best part has already happened, the idea has been born, and often times the non-words weird sounds vocal stuff is more appealing to me than actual lyrics, because it is that much closer to pure instrumental expression. But this is coming from someone who hears the music first and lyrics second practically always, and I know there’s a strong camp for the opposite.

Anyway. Not that this is that important. But in the past I would have to setup my laptop to record any small stupid idea I had, and then I bought a crappy dictaphone, which works at least to capture something so you don’t forget the rhythm or whatever entirely next time you sit down to play it. But what I use now is this neat and inexpensive recorder called the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder that I got as a gift for Christmas. It records at whatever level of digital quality you could want, mp3, wav, etc, is super easy and portable, and has great sound quality for capturing off-the-cuff moments of inspiration.

Sometimes I’ll write out ideas on staff paper so I don’t forget them, but this is usually too tedious for me, since my music notation skills are truly rusty and were never that good anyways.

What do you guys use to capture your rough ideas?

How to Maximize Your First Studio Recording Experience


This is a “guest post” taken from an email exchange with Adam von Gootkin, co-owner and producer at Onyx Soundlab.

How to Maximize your First Studio Recording Experience

You have to have a plan going in. Are you recording to put together your first demo to hand out at shows, or are you ready to start submitting material to record labels?  Will you be selling the material, or just trying to get something simple recorded?  Having a good plan going in leads you to putting together your reasonable budget for a project.  Your expectations should match the size of your budget.  I get a lot of clients that call up and their main question/concern is what is our hourly recording rate.  One of the things I try to educate our clients on, is that it’s better to have a budget in mind before you start calling studios.  If you know you’ve got $1,500 and want to do a demo, then we will customize a package based on that price.  

Pro Studio Rates: Value vs. Cost

It is VERY important to understand that cheaper prices don’t mean anything.  I often say, if you’re primary concern is finding the cheapest recording rate, then we will not be the studio for you. You really get what you pay for in terms of recording.  For example, we include a producer with ALL recording packages we offer to independant artists.  That comes included in our standard recording rate, which is very rare.  And our prices are comparable with other high end studios in the area.  An experienced producer can sometimes charge upwards to $250 an hour, so there is a lot of value there and it definitely shows in the end product.  Remember to shop for studios on a value basis, not necessarily price.  If you find a home or garage based studio and there price is super cheap, recognize it is likely the acoustics are not great, the equipment is cheaper and the skill set of the engineer/producer may not be to the level you require.

One Great Song is More Valuable than Five Mediocre Ones

It is important to look at the big picture.  If you’re a young band with no funding, and your intentions are to get a pro-sounding 5 song demo for $300, the fact is that will not be a reality.  So you have to alter your plan.  I always say having one really well recorded songs instead of 5 songs that haven’t been well mixed is a much better way to go….but again, that depends on your end goal.

Have a Plan

At the end of the day, you have to look at pro recording and a music career as a business venture.  You have only one product, you and your music.  If I was getting started in a band or as a solo artist and had a limited budget, I would spend a few months saving and raising money to do a pro recording. I would look for a studio that could offer guidance and help with production in addition to just recording.  That would ensure I could do the recording once, and have some solid material to hand out, shop out, or sell for the next year or two.  It will save you money over the long run and likely get you where you want to be faster.  Have a plan, know your goals, organize your funding, and have reasonable expectations.  Like they say in construction:  "Measure twice, cut once!"

Thanks again to Adam for giving his feedback. As a pro studio owner, he didn’t necessarily agree with my previous post about sticking with my home recordings for the time being because my limit budget has led to some disappointments in pro studios in the past.