Another Way Tech is Important to Instrumental Students

Mike Lawson • Perspective • June 6, 2019

Share This:

It’s an Uber/InstaCart world we live in now. People can self-employ through apps for just about anything you can think of these days. It is no different for musicians.

If you need another reason why your students should have a rudimentary understanding of how to capture their own performances, here is a good one.

I still compose, write songs and lyrics, and record in my home studio. Though I have 24 inputs and could have a lot of musicians over to record, that isn’t often practical, given the expense (for hired sessions), the distance I live from downtown Nashville (about 45 miles), and the time it would take just to stage the session, setup mics, get levels, and all that is involved in preparing for a recording session.

Thus, I tend to begin with a click track or MIDI drum part, a “scratch” guitar and vocal track, then begin building the recorded tracks. As I am arranging them, I know I will almost always need vocals, background vocals, drums, bass, multiple guitars (in most cases), and keyboards. I am partial to Hammond Organs and real pianos when possible. I own the former (an old 50’s era M3 with a Leslie), but I can barely play it. I have a nice 88-key weighted action KORG digital piano. I have multiple guitars equipped with MIDI systems, and smaller keyboard controllers and MIDI drum input devices. These are all great for getting my ideas down, but at the end of it, I want real musicians, real instruments, no matter how close one can get using MIDI sequencing and instrument samples. If I can’t have the performance in the studio of a live band, at least I can try to emulate it by building multi-track recordings around the performances of real musicians.

In the ‘90s, I sent ADAT tapes around, the old Super VHS format that Alesis made to record “CD quality” digital recordings in their modular digital multitrack deck. As broadband increased and computer technology caught up to my needs, I began collaborating with musicians over the Internet. At first, it was with musicians I knew. Then, my needs grew after I moved to a rural property in northern California, and in 2003, I used my first online session players to provide me with multi-track drum parts for a fee. This site, now called, was an amazing resource for me as a composer and songwriter.

What I heard in my head when I compose tends to often go far beyond my ability to deliver the parts I desire. I’ve been working on several new songs that really needed strings. Real strings. I turned to and found a very talented string player in Jericho, Palestine, Mohammad Jamal Rjoub. He helped with my arrangement for four upper and four lower violins, and three viola parts. Within a week, I had high-quality recordings I could drop into Pro Tools. I needed background vocals. I hired Mella Barnes, from Detroit, who gave me four-part harmonies. I hired Richard Jasper, from Oxford, UK, to give me real bagpipes. Students need to know how to record themselves for self-evaluation, and to encourage them to capture their own performances. But in this Internet economy, with a computer, some basic software, a decent microphone and the knowledge of how it works, they can also make real money selling the skills you are teaching them to songwriters and composers around the world who want their real talent, and real instrumental performances.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!