Lately I've been working on two projects during my copious free time away from my gig as the Editor of this magazine. (Despite the title of this editorial, neither project involves me disrobing - be thankful.) The first is recording solo classical guitar pieces. The other is recording a Nashville-based singer/songwriter who's sort of in the Tom Waits/Randy Newman camp. In both cases, I'm taking a minimalist approach: mics to preamps to converters to hard disk. In fact, with the classical guitar recordings, I'm bypassing my DAW and going straight to a stand-alone stereo hard disk recorder. The idea is to capture performances without resorting to editing, to use only essential processing (hopefully none), and to avoid employing any "fixing it in the mix."
These efforts at purist recording have brought home four things to me: First, with all the miraculous technology we have available to us, there's still no replacement for a really great performance. Second, computers, software, and technology haven't reduced the need to know what you're doing. Third, no matter how diligently you've practiced your engineering skills, there's always more to learn, always something new to try. Fourth, it's easy to get caught up in the technical stuff and to miss what's truly important: the music, and the sound.
After I finish these recordings, my goal is to take these four lessons back with me as I resume doing projects that require other approaches (editing, processing, using the DAW as creative tool).
Here's a suggestion: Take a look at your own recordings. Are you using techniques and gear because they're "easy," or is there a better way? Are you editing when the music would be better served by a more musical performance? Are you relying on processing to make up for poor mic positions or engineering skills?
As a teacher of mine used to say, "A house is only as strong as its foundation." Give yourself a test: Peel away all the "protective" layers of technology and habit, and examine your bare, naked tracks. Do your recordings still stand up to critical scrutiny? If not, maybe it's time to get back to basics.