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20th September 2018

DIY music: Who needs record labels?

Writing, recording, producing and releasing your own albums is creative, fun and needn’t cost the earth, writes Callum Lunn.
DIY music: Who needs record labels?
There’s little more satisfying than holding something you made from start to finish. Photo: Callum Lunn

When I talk about DIY music, I’m not talking about the music video for ‘Satisfaction’ by Benny Benassi; I’m talking about writing, recording, and releasing your own original music, and it needn’t cost the earth.

DIY music is something I sort of fell into. A couple of years ago, mid-way though a boozy night at my house, a few friends and I decided to write a song, using only what we had in my house, and before the night was over. Using a cheap Argos guitar I received for a twelfth birthday present, a piece of wood for percussion, and an old Casio keyboard, we wrote a song. I didn’t have any recording equipment, so I used my computer headset. While what we ended up with on that night wasn’t exactly a musical masterpiece, it had a cool lo-fi sound. It became the start of an interesting, fun, and at times educational project.

The next time we met up I’d studied a little bit more on audio production techniques. I had both learned the ins and outs of the free (yet immensely powerful) audio production software, Audacity, and basic acoustics and recording techniques. As a result, the next song we recorded sounded far better (even if the equipment does limit just how hi-fi we could sound). While having a good recording setup is beneficial, you don’t need expensive stuff; with the right settings, even your phone may be good enough to have a good time recording.

What we ended up finding through successive sessions is that making music in this way allows for a level of creativity one might not find if they were writing with the aim of being professionally recorded. It allows you to experiment, unburdened by the considerations of a studio, or even a traditional set of instruments; we used clocks, ratchets, and sweeping up brushes throughout the album.

Once we had an album together, entirely decided by whether we liked the tracks or not, we had to figure out how to package it. Even if you’re not the graphically creative type, designing your own album art is incredibly fun. It allows you to express the feelings of your music even beyond the tracks themselves. You want hidden tracks or other novelty? It’s your call; nobody is going to stop you; that’s the beauty of doing it yourself.

The easiest (and cheapest) method of release is a digital only, online. Sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp allow you to upload your music for free; Bandcamp even allows you to set a price. There are also services that allow you to upload your music to Spotify, iTunes, etc for either a cut of your takings or a fee.

More fun than just releasing online, however, is making some physical copies. While vinyl may be the dream, it’s expensive to get made. However, tapes and CDs are dirt cheap these days, and there’s something oddly satisfying about recording on to tape in real time. When you finally take the tape out of the deck, you’re holding something that you made from start to finish; that’s definitely something to be proud of.

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