How to record an album without a producer in 5 easy steps
When your last album was produced by legendary Go-Between Robert Forster what do you do next? In the case of Brisbane’s The John Steel Singers, you do it yourself. After a “couple of false starts”, the band recorded their second album Everything’s A Thread at guitarist and vocalist Luke McDonald’s parents’ house on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Keyboardist/trombonist PETE BERNOTH tells us how they pulled this miraculous feat of musical achievement off.
They say just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are wise. I am neither. But you are about to get handfed from my very own sausage fingers (thin beef, not those fat, little pork bastards…) some damn fine tips on how to record an album sans producer. It has taken ages for this to happen, mainly because my mind is filled with so much knowledge and memories and wisdom and cat videos that it has taken the better part of three weeks to sort through and catalogue five tips that I feel comfortable sharing. If you learn from these – which I doubt you will – always remember that I have way better tips stored in my silk-lined brain cavity.
1. Get yourself an aged labrador!
This is very important. You will need a companion when you wake up earlier than the rest of the band (10.30am) and don’t want to be that weird guy sitting alone on a hill by himself with a cup of coffee. Add an old dog to that equation and you’ve turned yourself into some sort of poet or romantic coffee drinker who, in his spare time, takes old dogs for walks and is totally allowed to be hanging out on that Lutheran college’s high ropes course.
2. Read old books!
When you read old books you may find old photos. In those old photos, you may find what microphones were used to record that drum sound that you loved on that recording of that band that your parents loved but you hated for a while, because how could those old people who are so uncool like good music? Then you actually listened to it and realised that good music is good music and your parents may have actually been cool. Although probably not as cool as you are because you can write BOOBLESS on your calculator and they probably didn’t even have calculators when they went to school cause they are dicks and don’t understand you. Or alternatively you could read the text in these so-called books and find out a few techniques or bits of equipment that worked really well for someone who has a whole lot of experience. Then just rip that shit right off!
3. Spend the extra money saved on booze
Lots of booze! Basically, you want the attendants at the bottle shop that you have never been to before in your life to remember your name. That never happened to me but I really wish those bastards were nicer and had better memories. Booze is important as you want to fool yourself into believing that if you just fiddle around with those knobs on that expensive compressor that the band purchased, you will stumble upon that awesome guitar sound that will be talked about for generations. Eventually you will come up with something half-decent but it takes A LOT of time, and time is well spent with booze. Or booze is spent well with time. Or don’t spend all your money cause you won’t be able to buy sandwiches.
4. Fake it till you make it!
Now is the time that you never give up. You now have everything you need to go ahead and do it. You’ve got your semi-professional recording rig. You’ve had your friend, Miro Mackie, come and help set it up for you. You’ve got your favourite YouTube videos that you can watch over and over until you’ve wasted a full night of recording. You’ve got your nice and vibe-y room that has a surprising amount of Balinese flutes scattered about. You’ve got that nice couch that you can fall asleep on for an hour, wake up, hear the rest of the band discussing (arguing) the same eight second part of a song that they were discussing (arguing) when you fell asleep.
This is your moment my sons and daughters! Go out there and spend, say, seven to eight months working madly at all hours of the night and morning and just keep punching and kicking that pile of shit that you left just there on the floor. You may often ask yourself, “Why am I kicking and punching this pile of shit?” But remember the little known scientific fact that I am about to tell you: if you keep kicking and punching a pile of shit it will eventually become an album by The John Steel Singers.
5. Give it to someone with fresh ears!
Not fresh as in, “Damn that dude right there, his ears are fresh!” Although that is probably an added bonus. You need (we needed) someone to come in who hasn’t been in a room with the same people for God-knows-how-long, listening to the same songs over and over again, to have final say in how the songs sound.
This is important! We may have been stupid enough to record Everything’s A Thread by ourselves, but the songs would have sounded a hell of a lot more convoluted, overcrowded, and generally a bit shit if the final mix had been left to us. We were fortunate enough to take our little malnourished, digitised baby and wrap it in some stanky ass stained cloth and drop it on the doorstep of Nicolas Vernhes with a note attached saying, “Niclas ples take Threadie an raze him asif hes ur oown. Wez shudnt b truztd. he wud dye if lef 2 us. Luv Joan Stil Singrs.” The final result should then be claimed as your own genius and then you will get to write an article on how to record an album sans producer.
Listen to Eveything’s A Thread:
The John Steel Singers will perform at next year’s Southbound and Falls festivals.