Meet Our Members: Liz Hanks

After Covid struck, freelance cellist and SCG member, Liz Hanks, decided to try setting up her own at-home recording studio. Here she tells us about the process of getting started, and what lockdown has looked like for her.

Photo by @will_takespictures

I am a freelance cellist, cello teacher and session musician. After a few years of quite intense touring, 2020 arrived…for a variety of reasons I had less work commitments and so for the first time in a while I had some time on my hands!  

I had always wanted to try recording my own music and to use technology for live performance but never had the technical skills, confidence or time to try. In January, I came across the Equalize Ableton Live course for women and signed up.

I have to mention at this point that technology generally fills me with fear and I have always seen music technology as a magical art that I would never in a million years be able to learn! I started the course and it was brilliant, the tutors (Liina Turtonen and Emily Johnson) made me feel extremely welcome. For a technophobe like me it was incredibly important to have such a supportive/non-judgemental setting to learn in. We were given time and space to learn at our own paces and doing this course alongside a group of incredible women felt extremely empowering. After a 4-week course I had been given enough technical skills (and more importantly, the confidence) to explore the software and start creating.

Then lockdown struck. As the majority of my work was gigging and studio recording sessions, all of my future engagements were cancelled or postponed. I teach cello and was lucky enough to be able to continue giving lessons on Zoom, but this was a small percentage of my income. I knew I needed to pursue other work avenues and the thing that came to mind was something that had always just been a pipe dream… I needed to make a home studio to record my cello remotely. 

I had no idea which equipment I would need, so I started asking around for advice, either friends or general shout-outs on Twitter. I have realised that when it comes to music technology people are always willing to pass on knowledge, advice and tips! 

A really good piece of advice I was given is to make sure your room is right. I have a small room that I use for working/practicing and spent some time putting up some acoustic treatment to improve the acoustics. For my home studio I needed to learn to use another music software programme (Logic Pro X) as this was the standard for the producers/composers I would be working with. I had a feeling that learning an entirely new music software programme would be a huge mountain to climb, but I soon realised that I have peered over so many shoulders in studio control rooms over the years that I actually knew quite a lot about how to use the programme already! I ordered or borrowed all the other equipment I needed and I was ready to record.”

Liz’s home studio

My first remote recording work was for a composer in Nottingham who I had already previously worked with at his own studio. He was really helpful, offering advice on microphone placement (from reading up on this there are MANY different methods, but actually the best way is to experiment and go with whatever sounds best) and what format to send files in – things that are obvious once you know how!  

I have been lucky that I have had a steady amount of remote recording work since lockdown, working on album tracks, library music and soundtracks. The majority of work has been from people I have worked with previously but some from online directories/websites. I can recommend the Sound Better website, which links up musicians/producers/composers internationally, it’s free to join. 

Interestingly,  I have had opportunities that wouldn’t have arisen had it not been for the lockdown… I am currently recording a cello concerto for a composer in New York which I know for sure would never have happened if life had continued as normal! 

I have learnt a lot in a short space of time, but I am certainly no expert! I can now record my cello parts, edit them and send them, which is pretty much all I need to know for now. However I am looking forward to seeing what other projects may arise from my remote recording and am keen to keep on learning.

So for any technophobes (like me) out there thinking of starting to record from home, here are a few tips:

  • Keep it simple,  you don’t need tonnes of equipment to get started.
  • Do a course! I can recommend the Ableton Live courses run by Equalize
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – I have found people are always willing to pass on knowledge and advice.
  • You will make mistakes! ( I have already made tonnes) but remember they are to be learnt from. 
  • Don’t just think about it….do it!  I now wish I had done this years ago, but there is no time like the present!”