It seems like everywhere I look, people are interested in learning more about Stoner Rock or its many cousins—Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock, Desert Rock, Doom Rock, and Grunge. Stoner Rock is notable for its combinations of riff, tempo, and groove, but there’s much more to it than that.
Much of what we associate with Stoner Rock begins in the recording process. For songwriters intent on writing awesome Stoner Rock records, crafting an album is sometimes easier said than done, especially from a financial perspective. Collecting the correct pedals, for example, can be an expensive pursuit.
With that in mind, let’s discuss the best strategies for recording a Stoner Rock album on a budget.
Understanding How Classic Rock Bands Recorded
Before we get to Stoner Rock, let’s start by understanding how traditional Rock bands (insert your Sabbaths and Zeppelins here) recorded their albums using analog musical gear.
Now, what do we mean by analog?
Analog is a fancy word used to describe equipment you can pick up from a music store, take home, plug in, and use.
Electric guitars, electric basses, vocal mics, guitar amps, bass amps, instrument microphones, outboard gear, preamps, monitors—all of these are analog.
This is the type of gear your favorite Classic Rock bands used in the recording process.
These bands would book studios, and then they’d hire engineers to record, mix, and master their music to make records.
It was great.
And it was expensive. Even in ‘70s dollars.
The entry point was steep because of the technical skill required to execute the process. I’m told that in the early days, recording engineers actually wore white lab coats and had the technical skills needed to repair and calibrate sophisticated electronic equipment.
This expertise would instantly rule out most of us today from making records—myself included (and I’ve recorded a few of my own). I’m not a technical animal. Everything I’ve learned has been simply to accomplish what I needed—to efficiently record my music in a way that didn’t drain my bank account.
Enter the Computer
With the passage of time and the advancement of technology, the entry point into recording has become way more accessible for us. Praise the Stoner Rock gods.
A typical budget recording system these days could include the following:
- guitar/bass/vocal mic
- audio interface
- DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
- headphones/studio monitors
For those of us who prefer a more academic breakdown of the situation, I submit the following:
- Input Source – the sounds you make when you play your instrument or sing
- Interface – converts your sounds into green matrix numbers for your computer
- DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) – here you arrange and mix all music ingredients into a musical cake
- Output – takes matrix numbers and reconverts them into music we hear with our ears
There you go—technical science explanation complete.
Capturing Tube Distortion/Tape Saturation For That Stoner Rock Sound
“Wait a second,” I can hear you saying. “Where’s the Marshall guitar stack? Where’s the Sunn Bass rig? Where’s the Bonham drum kit and the haunted mansion to create the ambiance?”
“The rectifier, man – we need tubes! The harmonic distortion and transistor saturation impart even-order harmonics into the sound spectrum that make it pleasurable to listen to!”
I’ve heard it all. And yes, you’re not wrong.
“It’s not real music unless it’s pure analog, brother!”
This argument has been hanging around since computers entered the recording space, and it’s truly not something I subscribe to.
Analog’s great, but there are other strategies today.
The One Truth For Recording A Stoner Rock Album
Every single component in this signal chain affects the outcome. If you have the right components (not necessarily the desired components), you can come away with a great Stoner Rock record. Never underestimate the power of your determination and resourcefulness when it comes to making things happen.
Regardless of success level, we need to remember the one true golden rule of recording: Once your song is recorded, no one can ever take that away from you. It’s there forever on your computer, on the web, on the disc you burnt for your car CD player. It cannot be undone and it is a supremely satisfying thing. If this is your bag, come on down and play The Price Is Right with me.
Stoner Rock Gear: Getting Ready to Record
Let’s get into specifics of what I use and a few alternatives. Many of you will already know where I’m going with, this but some of you might now be starting out, so let’s keep things simple.
Your guitar is a unique component to your sound and style. You probably already own one. In that case, you don’t need another one. We’re going to get heavy—this means fuzz and distortion. I recommend something with a humbucker pickup in the bridge. This pickup style will minimize hiss and unwanted feedback noise when you’ve got the overdrive cranked to 11—critical when your goal is to record Stoner Rock.
Up here in Canada, $300-$500 is a good price range for an Epiphone Les Paul or SG. While I’ll admit I haven’t purchased a guitar in a while, you pay for quality. Early bird hawks quickly scoop up the best deals on Kijiji and Craigslist, but you’d be surprised what you can find if you do your research and check out the used market.
I like the Fender Precision sound myself. It sounds like a huge guitar string with plenty of top-end cut in the mix. But, honestly, bass is bass is bass. Just use the one you can get your hands on. (Bass players are gonna love that one!)
With a bass, you can expect to spend $200-$400 for a Squier Precision (again, those are Canadian dollars).
If you absolutely have to sing, get a condenser mic. If you want to record your instrument amplifier, a dynamic mic will suffice. I myself have recorded vocals and guitar amps quite adequately with a Shure SM57.
Microphone prices vary wildly, but decent condenser mics often start between $50-$100. The Shure SM57 is one of the cheapest, most utilitarian dynamic microphones in a recording engineer’s arsenal. You’ll usually find these used for about $80 CAD.
Now we’re talking! This component takes your instrument or microphone signal and converts it into the digital domain. Initially, I started on a Mbox, but I currently use a Focusrite 2I2.
It supports two mics at once and has monitor outputs for speakers and a dedicated headphone output for when you’re recording and want to hear yourself without the speakers being on. There are tons of tutorials online on how to use audio interfaces, so look around for one you like best!
Brand new, something like the Focusrite audio interface will set you back about $250 CAD.
These help us hear what we’re working on, be it the recording, mixing, or playback.
When listening back on your playback system, I tend to go for clarity, transparency, and simplicity. Active speakers negate the need for buying a speaker amp, so I recommend that. Some respectable brands that are also affordable would be Event, Yamaha, and KRK. Start doing your research.
How much you spend here really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re a musician, you probably already have a good set of headphones hanging around. A great pair of monitors can easily run $1,000 or more, but you may find them used for less.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
This is the software you use to arrange, mix and tweak your tracks to create your final music.
Back in the day, Pro Tools was the main contender, but that’s not the case any longer. If you’re an Apple user, GarageBand and Logic are more than enough. If you’re a PC purist, I suggest looking at Reaper. It’s free to figure out and then you pay for it once you’re satisfied with the product.
What happens if we want to simulate the tone of a specific amplifier—you know, to get in the ballpark of the real analog amps we hope to someday own? Well, the good news is there’s an app for that. It’s called a plugin.
Welcome to the rabbit hole, folks. The audio plugin is a piece of software we use to virtually simulate an analog piece of gear. I use them frequently.
There are plugins to simulate guitar amps, bass amps, and even drummers and drum sets.
If you’re interested in this type of solution to start making some music, then go for it.
DAW prices vary wildly. Purchasing a lifetime subscription to Pro Tools can set you back $600, and a monthly subscription can run about $25/month. A standard copy of Logic Pro X, meanwhile, will set you back $200. Look into academic pricing if you’re a student.
Pulling It All Together
So, what does everything sound like when you use it together? Here’s a song from one of my albums to show you just how professional the above equipment can sound:
Pretty clean, right?
In my next piece, we’ll discuss strategies for capturing specific tones.