This article is geared toward bands and musical artists playing real instruments. The following doesn't hold true for electronic styles of music, i.e. EDM, hip-hop, etc.
I love going to a local show and getting blown away by a band I've never heard before; it's that awe-inspiring, magical feeling that keeps me going to shows. Unfortunately, it seems that roughly 4 out of 5 albums I buy from a local (or local-level touring) band can never hold a light to the live energy I just experienced. Most local-level albums I buy just sound "dead and clunky." I have a collection of CDs in my truck I'll never listen to again because the album just doesn't do for me what the live show did. Why is this so?
I believe with the mass availability of recording technology we've lost the art of performance in the studio. The problem doesn't lie in your lack of technical knowledge, the technology itself, or even the DIY mindset. The problem is we use technology as a crutch. Going to the recording studio is no longer an occasion to prepare for when you have unlimited time to work on it in pieces by yourself. You already (should) work on sounding tight live as a band, why should sounding tight while recording be a different process altogether?
Ever since music has been recorded to tape (or vinyl), the performance an artist gave the engineer is what they got in return. For many years, bands had to make an active effort to know their music and not suck when they went into the studio. Until the mid-1990's, there weren't computer programs giving us the ability to record pieces of a song at a time. Nowadays, it's seemingly customary for a band to crap out a sketchy performance in the studio and expect the audio engineer to make it something it's not. It bothers me that this is the norm. When a well-practiced audio engineer can fix your entire sloppy performance with a few clicks, it has the potential to remove any motivation to be excellent as a musician. What we're ending up with are pieced-together, mathematically perfect, white-washed, dead-sounding recordings. This is the exact opposite of why I bought your album when I heard your band play live.
The video below from Jared Dines both accurately and humorously depicts exactly what I'm saying:
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against using a computer to record music. Pro Tools is one of the greatest advancements in recording technology. I can do on a computer what used to take hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment to do. However, I am against using a computer as a crutch for a crappy performance. This rant isn't about making my job easier, it's about making your music better. The art of your music is in the composition, but no one else can enjoy it unless it's performed by you with excellence. My advice to you, from musician-engineer to musician: regardless of where or how you're recording, be prepared to play your parts all the way through in as close to one take as possible. It doesn't matter if you're recording live or tracked, this level of preparation and excellence ALWAYS translates into better recordings.
If you want real recordings, I can help you achieve them. I'm going to make you work for it, but you're going to walk away with an album you're proud of because you've poured your sweat and soul into it. Your fans aren't going to pop your CD into their car after your show and be underwhelmed. Here's what I do.