Over the past several years I have wanted to do a solo multitrack recording of some sort. Being that my income is limited and I don’t really have the capability to build a home recording studio, I often wondered if I could make a full recording project using the GarageBand software on an Apple IPad. I never really thought it could be done, especially since I had heard classmates at Collin College explain in great detail why it was never possible. After unwrapping a brand new 6th generation IPad on Christmas morning, the wheels in my head started turning. Like all types of software, GarageBand has gone through frequent changes since it first launched 15 years ago. I was surprised to find how much the GarageBand app had advanced over the past few years. With this in mind, I decided to explore two questions:
1. Is it possible to make a good quality project on a mobile app?
2. Is it possible to make a recording with absolutely no budget?
After I identified these two questions, I set about determining what kind of recording I wanted to make. I had numerous different ideas, but one had been on my mind longer than most. I had wanted to do a project of all songs that had been recorded by various brother duos in Acoustic music history. I took a survey on Facebook to see how many people out there would actually be interested in this type of project. I garnered many positive responses, but one in particular really struck me. A former professional musician by the name of Charlie Lawson got in touch with me. What I didn’t know at the time was that he happens to be a cousin to both Melvin and Ray Goins, a Bluegrass brother team based out of Bluefield, West Virginia. He strongly encouraged me to record some of their songs. Him and I both feel that they never gained the full recognition they deserved and that their musical contribution needed some serious acknowledgement. I had already been planning to do just that, but Charlie and I’s conversation got me thinking about this project on an even deeper level. My mind immediately went to another brother duo that I’ve greatly admired called The Bailes Brothers, whose career was active from the 1940s-1950s. I discovered them when I was 12 years old through a compilation disc released by Bear Family Records in Germany. I fell in love with their sound, especially the soulful mandolin playing by the great Ernest Ferguson. It’s baffled me for many years why their name doesn’t come up more often when talking about Country music history. After thinking about both of these duos, I decided I would use this project as a way to hopefully honor their legacy and also to bring attention to their music in our modern world. With that being said, let me dig into the questions that surrounded this recording.
MAKING A RECORDING ON A MOBILE APP
As I stated earlier, I made this entire EP on the latest version of GarageBand on my brand new sixth generation IPad. I decided that I would record six songs, three being Goins Brothers songs and three being Bailes Brothers songs. I decided to be as minimalistic as possible with the recording process, only recording a mandolin and guitar track and only recording two vocal tracks, one for the lead vocal and one for the harmony vocal. On some songs, I added an extra mandolin track to add some backup lines and to give the overall rhythm some additional punch, but that was the most I did. I took a big risk by not using much additional equipment such as microphones. I literally played and sang everything into the internal mic that is built inside the IPad. Amazingly it’s hard to tell that this was the case, at least to my ear, but some of you audio engineering aficionados may be able to tell when you hear it. The most I did use was a pair of Sennheiser studio headphones in order to fully hear myself when recording the different instruments and vocal parts. The mixing process is where this project got complicated. I decided to mix all the recordings directly in GarageBand, which made it a little less painful. I didn’t put too much in the way of effects as this is Acoustic music. I wanted to keep it as pure as I possibly could. Once the recordings were mixed, I imported all of them into another recording app called Spire, which a friend of mine named Chris Erickson had told me about sometime ago. While this also a good way to do home recording, I used this app to master the tracks. Now for those who don’t know what that is, mastering gives a recording an even mix so that you don’t have to keep turning the volume up or down whenever you’re listening to it. This was by far the hardest part of the project and one that I still think I could have done better on.
MAKING A RECORDING ON NO BUDGET
There were several different ways I made this on no budget. Recording on an IPad and using only the internal mic was one way, but I also recorded the entire thing in my bedroom. Most recording studios have sound proof walls and panels to block out any external noise. I don’t have that, but my room does have a lot of things hanging on the wall. Whenever I recorded, I would make sure to sing and play everything near the corner of the room that had the most stuff hanging on the wall. While there is some room and external sound still present, I was able to block out the fair majority by using that method. The best thing about doing this EP was that I was able to do it on my own time. I didn’t have a studio charging me for how many hours I used their facilities, I didn’t have to pay anyone to mix or master my project and I could take as much time I wanted. I started recording in late December 2018 and finished by mid January. Pretty much all the songs required two takes, three at most. I got to where I would literally record one song a week, usually on Fridays or Saturdays. On the final session, I spent all day working on two songs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I then took a good bit of time to mix and master it to make it sound as good as I possibly could. I knew the thing that was gonna cost me the most would be releasing the project itself. The first phase of that was designing cover art. Luckily for me I’ve used a website for the past few years called Canva to design promo ads for myself and artists I represent. They have a template to design an album cover. To do a premium design, they do charge a fee. In keeping with my No Budget concept, I did it completely free using one of their standard templates and adding my own elements to it. Once that I was taken care of, I did some research to see where I could release this project. I knew I wanted to release it digitally since that is how most people get their music these days. Since this was just a fun project and I didn’t know how it was gonna turn out, I wanted to release it for free. Also, given that I recorded cover songs I would have to pay royalties which if any of you know about that, you know it can be a pretty hefty expense. Since I chose not to make any profit off this project, I won’t have to worry about any of the legalities behind song royalties. After much research to see where I could release the EP, I eventually went with SoundCloud because you’re able to release a full recording on the site for free! Better yet everyone can access it and listen to what you’ve created.
After all was said and done, here were the answers I found for both questions
1. It is possible to record a good quality project on a mobile app. I personally believe it was because I was recording a minimalist project. I didn’t add too many elements or special effects. I was also playing acoustic music, which in my opinion can be extremely easy to record from home even if you don’t have high quality microphones or certain kinds of paneling covering your walls. Now if you were recording something like Pop or Rock music, GarageBand probably wouldn’t be the best option as those genres are more involved and require a lot more technically. For my purposes though, GarageBand served me well.
2. It is possible to make a recording on no budget, that is if you’re not interested in making any profit from it. If selling your music is the ultimate goal, you’re going to have to sit down and create a budget in order to nail down how the different aspects of your recording are going to be paid for. I would strongly suggest that if you want your music to be a marketable product, invest in time at a recording studio. GarageBand is a good product no doubt, but after doing this project and comparing it to studio recordings I did a few years ago, the difference is night and day. Studios can give your recordings so many things that a product like GarageBand can’t. At the end of the day it may be more sonically pleasing to the ear. Also if you don’t have the time or resources to construct a home studio, paying to record an actual studio would be the best way to go. It’s a pretty large expense, but it will make your product so much better than you could’ve ever imagined. Like I said earlier if you want to do a project of your favorite tunes and just want the payment of a nice compliment from family, friends, social media followers etc, the no budget option is the way to go.
I hope you enjoyed this little behind the scenes look at making this EP. Be sure to give it a listen and pay me a nice compliment while you’re at it!