Over the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time pushing my limits in recording. If you listen to some of my stuff, you’ll notice it’s nowhere near studio quality. But to me, that’s not what’s most important.
The most important thing to me is that I can see growth from where I was to where I am. And as long as growth is happening, then I’m doing it right. Maybe I’m not using EQ “right,” maybe I’m not doing mic placement “right,” but as long as I’m trying to better each new song sonically, I’m on the right path to getting to studio quality.
Life is a process, not a destination. You are always moving forwards or backwards, depending on your perspective and what your goals are.
You should always be pushing your limits in areas that you want to move forward in, because that’s the only way growth happens. If you stay where you are, in your comfort zone, then you’re going to stagnate and die. Living creatures operate on this principle too – if they don’t change and adapt, then they die out.
The best way I’ve heard to understand this idea is to pretend life is a river, and your goal is upriver. You have to paddle against the flow of the water to get to your goals. If you paddle hard enough, then you move forward towards your goal. Any time you’re not spent paddling, the river is taking you back to where you were.
Doing something is like paddling at pace with the river. You’re not moving backward, but you’re not necessarily moving forward either. If you want to move forward you have to be pushing your limits, finding ways to overcome the obstacles around you.
Limits are not Boundaries
I feel that it’s worth making this distinction for your benefit. Too many people look at their limits as boundaries: something that they can’t move, can’t change, can’t get past.
But your limits are not boundaries. Limits are only permanent if you don’t push against them. When you’re trying something new and paddling upriver, what you’re doing is breaking whatever permanence your limits had.
A good example of this in recording terminology is your
digital audio workstation DAW. Garageband may not have the capacity that Logic, Pro Tools, or Cubase has, but that doesn’t mean it can’t produce music that is just as good as music made in Logic, Pro Tools, or Cubase. Because it’s a free, dumbed-down version of Logic it’s assumed that it can’t produce anything good.
That’s a limit that people push all the time – just check out Sunshine Superman or Daniel Hemingway’s work with Garageband. If you gave a beginner a $30,000 studio, their mixes and songs would still sound amateur. *90% of the time it’s not about what your tools are capable of, but what you do with those capabilities that makes the difference.
Boundaries are not Limits
With all that being said, there are boundaries that people mistake for limits. Like a beaver dam in the river of life, you just won’t be able to get some places with the tools that you have.
Boundaries are not meant to be pushed, shoved, or changed unless they are precipitated by something drastic. Take relationships as an example – you can push the limits of a relationship and still be friends, but if you cross boundaries then 9 times out of 10* you will lose a friend. That doesn’t mean that boundaries can’t change – if your girlfriend/boyfriend says no sex before marriage, then the marriage precipitates the boundary change to having sex.
From an artistic perspective, there is no such thing as a boundary. From a technical perspective, there are tons of boundaries, but they’re a lot further out than you might expect. Some examples include:
- The number of tracks you use in a song. There are settings that limit how many tracks you can use, and while you can turn those limits off, there may come a point where your computer physically cannot compute a certain number of tracks.
- The frequency performance from your mics. Inexpensive microphones can be used to get great sounds, but what they cut in the price makes a physical difference in the spectrum of frequencies they can pick up. For example, my AT2020 USB physically cannot record frequencies above 20K.
- The sound quality you get from your headphones/speakers. The headphone jack on my computer is physically damaged, so the signal that comes in my right headphone is significantly weaker than the signal in my left ear. Plus, the materials in your headphones/speakers can only physically do so much.
Push your limits until you hit boundaries. When you hit boundaries in recording, it usually signals that you either a) need to change your technique and explore new limits or b) that you need to upgrade your gear.
The example with my headphone jack on my computer is a great example of this – a) I’ve started mixing by using the headphone port on my UX1, which plays the signal evenly to my right and left speaker and b) I’m saving up my moolah and hope to get a new laptop in the fall.
It’s also a good example of doing what you can with what you have. It doesn’t matter what challenge you are facing, there is always something you can still be doing to reach your goals!
* I make statistics up 87% of the time, so don’t take my numbers too seriously, please. Also, all links are to websites/resources that I use personally. No affiliate links.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. You can always send thoughts, suggestions, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!