‘Made in Heaven’ did not happen overnight. I planned this album many times and it evolved endlessly; adding songs, changing titles, even re-designing album art. And that is why I didn’t even start it for a couple of years- I made plan after plan but didn’t actually get round to recording anything… The opportunity to use it to fundraise for an expedition I’m doing finally gave me the incentive I needed, and I got the whole thing finished in just a few months! Lesson one: scheduling. It’s no good having general ideas or end goals if you have no time frame in which to achieve them! Once I’d decided the date I wanted it to be finished by, I scheduled in time for all the songs, mixing, mastering etc. and I may not have stuck to it like glue, but it did mean that the whole thing was finished remarkably quickly.
The next thing I learned, and probably the most important, is that the more you listen to a particular recording, the less objectively you can judge it. I understand now, why the mastering engineer is usually a different person to the mixing engineer; the fresh pair of ears allows a new perspective and the mastering is able to do the song justice. But unfortunately I was on a budget of exactly £0 so involving another person was simply not an option for me.
This effect was mixed with a heavy dose of ear fatigue, something I only cottoned onto sometime late in the process. This was so extreme for me that by the mastering stage, the songs physically hurt my ears to listen to. I’d been recording/ mixing/ mastering for days on end, with the volume control probably not as low as it should have been, so my ears were just sick of the constant noise. At the time I didn’t know about this, so it was worrying me that I was having to heavily EQ things to get them to sound acceptable to me, because I knew I shouldn’t be having to. And whatever options I tweaked, there was still the harsh tonality that was hurting my ears. Luckily, I realised what was really going on before I ended up with 11 tracks of overproduced rubbish. (Although, I still have a feeling I added rather too much processing, but I was so tired of re-mixing and re-mastering that in the end I decided I’d just have to accept it as it was or I’d be caught in a vicious cycle and never be finished.)
Finally, something that was reinforced for me, and something I think is important to note, is that despite all the stuff we read on the Internet (well, I do anyway), it is NOT necessary to have an expensive load of hardware, all the microphones you could possibly dream of and tonnes of fancy software to create your own worthwhile projects. I think it’s just an excuse we use as to why that thing we always wanted to do hasn’t happened yet. And as much as I’d like to get [insert name here] microphone or amp, not having it does not mean that I can’t use what I have now to create something I can be proud of. Besides, I know that all the professional equipment in the world won’t allow me to make anything that even compares to what a professional engineer can do, unless I invest time in my skills first.
I didn’t spend a single penny through the whole process, I used the wonderful load of free software that’s out there, plus a single microphone and preamp I had invested in a while ago. And okay, so I’m not naïve; I do realise that I am very much an amateur and had the album been made by a ‘real’ engineer at a fancy studio then it could have sounded much better. But had I done that, I would not have had the experience of doing all the stages of the process myself and learning the things I did. (Plus, the bank account would be looking pretty sick right about now!) Nobody becomes an expert overnight, and we shouldn’t let something small, or the next new thing, get in the way of what we want to do now.