I don’t think making art is just a matter of spewing sounds or paint or what have you to convince the world that you’re alive and that you feel, though I have engaged in a great deal of spewing over the years. You have to start somewhere.
I think making art is also a matter of craftsmanship. It’s a matter of learning to use and misuse the requisite tools. At times I’ve been a little too concerned with craft and technique. Until you’ve mastered your tools craft can interfere with your emotional flow and you end up with nothing but a poorly made exhibit of technique—at best, an educational aid, a reminder of what you don’t want to do again.
During winter break of my final year of high school (this would have been December, 1974) I began delving into my mother’s paint box, which she hadn’t touched in over a decade. When I graduated in June of 1975 I started to paint in earnest and began ransacking the Duluth public library for everything I could find on painting and drawing techniques and quite a bit on art history: it was all new to me. This lasted at least a couple of years.
Throughout the 1980s I went through a similar process with books on writing poetry.
In the spring of 1996 I again began this process with books and magazines on home recording.
The one lesson almost all these works omit is the importance of making art. All the gear in the world, all the techniques every master can pass on will not give you what you need to make art. Just get out there and do it. Spew! The people I’ve encountered who are recording their readings on their phone or onto their laptop with the built-in mic are off to a good start. I would urge them to do the best reading/performance that they can (rehearse it, record multiple takes) and don’t get too close to the microphone but beyond that, just keep recording.
That being said, improving your craft will help you offer something more pleasing to your audience. Lo-fi has its charms but, to me, the only redeeming charm is that a great performance was captured despite poor technology. Most of the time the recording is only a tool for capturing and structuring the actual art, which is sound, and should be as transparent as possible. But recording can also be a more integral part of the art, in a sense adding to the flavor or creating a tangible matrix for your words and sounds. Once you have some skill it becomes an esthetic choice and you are a little less a victim of technology.
The substance of this article is minimal, a series of almost random links to websites that discuss some of the basics of home recording. I ran a Google search of “basic music recording” which provided most of these links. Then I ran a search for “basic recording techniques” which was very disappointing: it was almost all adds for schools. And a third search for “home recording tips”.
This article began with someone’s letter to the editor in Tape Op, a magazine for recording engineers, thanking them for opening a new questions page on their website. ( http://tapeop.com/and http://tapeop.com/questions/) I can’t say enough in favor of this magazine, I’m a fan (and I’m not a fan of much that humans have created), and the subscription is free. The magazine on the whole is not that geeky. It’s not really a tech mag with page after page of mic placement and reports on knobs turned, though they have those moments. Primarily it’s a document of the human side of recording. I find the interviews inspiring and informative.
If you’re trying to take the first steps into more serious studio recording, on whatever budget, I don’t know that Tape Op is the place for you. I recommend reading every issue past, present, and future (as I said, I’m a fan) but you could very easily find your eyes glazing over when they do get down to serious discussions of hardware and technique. And when you see the price tags on some of the gear you will sometimes think there’s nothing in it for you. But they, more than anyone, support the just-do-it approach to recording. Use whatever is at hand. It’s the art that counts, not the tools used to make it.
I think I’ve said this before and I know I’ll say it again: if you have a computer connected to the internet you can get almost everything you need to record online for free.
I’m going to supply a rather random list of links I found from those searches. What I noticed is how much most of the authors get caught up in gear fetishes. That’s why I’m putting the dummies.com link at the top of the list. (I generally haven’t gotten much of value from their books, which are too broad and too basic to answer most of my questions. But they might be the perfect place for you to start.) I also liked the quick links on the Basic Home Recording Studio site, which is why they’re second on the list.
Also, most physical book stores and certainly the online bookstores have plenty of how-to books for home recording. I read many that were in print in 1996 or shortly after. They also have a tendency to get bogged down in gear fetishes. As do I, for that matter.…I think you should find the few things that you really need, the best you can afford, and learn to use what you have. Everything else is potential distraction and baggage. (Here is a quick reference as to where you might start looking for cheap and useful tools: http://www.sweetwater.com/c1006–Portable_Recorders.) A portable recorder is a significant step up in quality compared to using your phone or the mic built into your laptop and can be used for recording just about any sound, from your voice to environments to instruments.