Picture a guy from Boston who encompasses everything you know or think you know about guys from Boston. That’s Dan. You’re picturing Dan right now. I used to work with him at a guitar shop when I was in college. One morning before opening the store, a rep for Jackson guitars gave a product demo and Dan skipped it. Later the rep approached him and said, “I noticed you weren’t at the training today, here’s my card if you have any questions about Jackson guitars.” Dan slid the guy’s business card back to him and said, “Yeah I don’t sell those pointy fuckin’ guitahs.” The guy asked why. “You don’t have to fight ‘em, so there’s no tone. Plus, you know, just fuckin’ look at ‘em”.
Limitations engender creativity. Always have. Whether you feel limited by your lot in life; how others perceive you; or how many strings are on your pointy fuckin’ guitah, you’re going to be more prolific and create objectively better art if you embrace the limitations around you. This is particularly true in the studio where anyone can now buy a multitrack DAW with a zillion tracks for next to nothing.
I’m not going down the path of “brah, let’s just get an old 4 track cassette recorder and head to a cabin in the woods!” extreme. If you want to intentionally limit yourself like that, fine, but for better or worse you’re going to end up with something highly stylized. I’m more interested in discussing the perfect album.
Any engineer who’s been at it for 10+ years has known someone trying to make the perfect album.1 This is a record that takes between two and infinity years to make, and instead of not seeing the forest for the trees they’re not seeing the trees for individual blades of grass and tiny pellets of ladybug poop.2 Obviously the performances and recordings have to be on point, but when you have the options at your fingertips to redo everything an infinite amount of times an infinite amount of ways with an infinite amount of whatever3 (money; time; tracks; takes; friends; outboard gear…), what you wind up with is at best Steely Dan, at worst Chinese Democracy. While I can appreciate the artistry and detail that went into records like that — no way do I connect with them on an emotional level.
So try and get stuff live off the floor and see what happens. Audition an unfamiliar guitar rig and see how you respond to it. Use 4 mics on the drums.4 Print the reverb. Record drums outside. Chances are your first impression was spot on, and you don’t ever get that back. And when it’s done, it’s done. That’s who you were that day and tomorrow you’re someone new so why not own it and make more music. Maybe you made the perfect record, maybe you didn’t. Who cares. A Love Supreme was recorded in one day. Oh Comely was a scratch vocal. Sgt Pepper’s and Pet Sounds were recorded on 4 tracks. The point is this: by allowing yourself to get bogged down in options, redoing and reworking things, you can wind up cheating yourself out of what comes next.
1 I’m going to keep italicizing that because it pleases me. Perfect album. Hehe. See?
2 Yup, they poop. I looked it up.
3 Rick & Morty, S1E6 18:23
4 But not that Glyn Johns thing you read about in Tape Op or Gearslutz. Seriously.