Making records has been both blissful and traumatic for me. I’ve made records with people (and in environments) so un-fun it could make a horrifying night on ayahuasca seem like a family trip to the ice cream parlor. I won’t bore you with horror stories, but my overall point is that making records can be hard on our mental health, and your mental health can deeply affect your ability to make these records. These two are not separate. My goal in writing this piece is to help us all take better care of our mental health while recording. I, jokingly – yet not so jokingly – will tell you, “I put my 10,000 hours into suffering while making records so you don’t have to.” Here’s what I learned.

[Please note that this article mentions suicide. Help is always available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you are having any life-threatening issues. -Ed]

The Recording Studio is a Mirror

The recording studio is a mirror; in that gives us the chance to see who we really are. Who we are in the studio is who we are in life. How we treat ourselves in the studio is how we treat ourselves in the world. How we live is how we make records. If we’re afraid of life, we bring that fear into the studio and play it safe with lack and limitation. When I decided to make a record at home alone, I was conveniently going through the worst depressive episode of my life, battling daily with suicidal ideations. It was nearly impossible for me to focus on anything musical for more than 20 minutes without mentally spiraling out of control. Turns out, I didn’t need a new reverb plug-in, I needed antidepressants and therapy.

Sometimes the most important work you can do inside the studio is outside of the studio. Healing modalities, such as therapy, sobriety, plant medicines, a vacation, or deep work on your belief system are sometimes the best thing you can do to help your creativity and recording work. When I came back to recording music – after taking a step away to focus on my mental health and personal belief system – I was shocked to find my writing got drastically better and my records sounded way better. How we think is how we make records. The quality of our brains, our being, as well as our physical and mental health, determine the quality and depth of our record making. Heal your life, heal your art.

Self-Talk and Self Compassion

What is your self-talk in the studio? When you mess up a vocal take, or are having a hard time getting a guitar solo right, are you a friend to yourself or a dictator? Do you employ a voice of self-compassion and encouragement, or do you beat yourself down? When I hit a roadblock while recording, my brain’s default setting was to become abusive and tell myself, “What’s wrong with you that you can’t do this?” or, “You’re terrible.” or, “Why are you even doing music still?”

Negative self-talk can make the recording process ten times as hard, and one hundred times less fun. It can remove the play, joy, freedom, exploration, and sanctity of the studio, making it a place of terror, perfectionism, and chastisement. This can shut us down creatively and even possibly make us fear recording. In the studio, especially when working alone, we have to make the conscious choice to be our own guardians and protectors, not our own worst enemy. Use mindfulness and presence to notice your self-talk while recording. Be kind to yourself. Support yourself.

We have a unique opportunity for intimacy with self here. Again, being in the studio is the intimate practice of getting to know who you are, how you work, and what you need. Every time we are mean to ourselves in the studio is a chance for us to practice self-compassion and ask ourselves, “Can how I help myself here?” and, “How may I best serve myself?”, as well as, “What do I really need right now?” Odds are you are doing the work of five people. Within all those different roles there are steep learning curves and intricacies in the craft that separately take years to master. It can be easy to get frustrated, so be kind to yourself. What would you say to a friend that is struggling to get a take, or having a hard time focusing? Would you be mercilessly cruel to them in the way that your own inner dialogue is to you? Treat yourself as someone sacred, and as someone you love.

Obviously making records is about listening to tones and sound, but are we also taking enough time to remember to listen to our own inner voice and self-talk? Instead of incessantly fiddling with EQ, sometimes going outside, taking a walk, nap, or run, is what you need. Channel inner frustration into self-care and allowance.

Comparison and Expectations

A friend called me one day bummed as hell. He said, “I spent $20,000 on recording gear, plug-ins, and mics, and the song I wrote, recorded, mixed, and mastered myself doesn’t sound as good as Daft Punk.” “Thank god,” I thought. Comparing yourself, your life, and the records you make with any other artist is usually the quickest way to buy a one-way ticket to Suffer Town. Comparison can destroy your mental health when making records. It usually always leads to lack and insecurity, with thoughts of, “I’m not good enough. This record doesn’t sound good enough.” This can sometimes even lead to abandonment of the project at hand.

Don’t compare your art to anyone else’s. If you have to compete and compare against anyone, do it against yourself. Make a better recording today than you did yesterday. Your path as an artist and creative is unique and different than every other artists’ path on this planet. Respect and honor that. Comparison is a way of rejecting the sanctity of our own path. The record you are making right now is always the record you need to make. The only job you have is to make records that sound like you. Hell, you can’t make anyone else’s records but your own, sonically or artistically. This is reason to celebrate. No one else can be you, and no one else except Fleetwood Mac could have written and recorded Rumours.

The antidote to this is being clear with your expectations for your project. What are your intentions and expectations for the project you’re working on? Are they realistic? Are they kind? Are they focused on an outcome or path? Are they based on exploration and growth, or fatalistic comparison? Listeners don’t care if something was tracked in your bedroom or at United Recording Studios. They only know if it makes them feel something. Odds are you already have everything you need gear-wise to make that journey. Focus on what you have, who you are, and what is here. Not what you’re not.

Mindfulness of Workflow

“Going to the studio” can now mean folding up your mattress in your mom’s basement, throwing the cat outside, and opening up your laptop. The line between work and home life is blurrier than ever. We have potential 24-hour workdays, and we can make records anywhere. Since we are our own boss, it can also be confusing to know what to do and how to spend our time, with burnout being a big issue. You wouldn’t go into a $4,000 a day studio without a plan and set hours, so why would you ever go into your personal recording scenario without these? Treat your home studio, no matter how much you’ve invested in it, like it costs you $10,000 a day. Pre-plan everything. Schedule a set amount of undistracted time, and be sure to separate your tasks. Example: “For the next four hours I write songs only. I don’t record, fiddle with EQ, or check my phone.” If you do want to learn an EQ and become a better engineer, schedule and batch that time separately.

Give yourself the gift of deep work. Put your phone away and turn off the internet. Don’t scroll while working. This is vital for creative focus and mental health. I’ve had so many days where I’ve gone in without a plan, written half a song, poorly recorded an idea, and then berated myself for lack of output. Set realistic intentions before sessions. Take ten minutes before you work in order to meditate and focus in on what you want to achieve. Clarity and clear intentions lead to focus, which leads to freedom from nebulous suffering. Setting time boundaries also allows you to make room for self-care, including a life outside of the studio. For mental health, it’s better to work three hours a day for three weeks than to work 30 hours straight in five days.

Work With The Right People

Your art is sacred. Who you invite to work with you on your art is sacred as well. Songs and recordings are consciousness and energy. Everyone involved puts their energetic fingerprint on the record. It’s so important to work with the right people. Work with people you love. Work with people who champion you, whose intentions are good, who see you for who you actually are. If something doesn’t feel right, address it and change it. Your art is too sacred not too.


Sound is sacred. Music is sacred. Creation is sacred. When we get lost in the abyss of our own unhealthy inner dialogues, our mental health starts to suffer and we forget about this sanctity, which can lead to a miserable time in the studio. At any moment we can use mindfulness and ask for presence to come back to the joy, the fun, exploration, and play that is the journey of creation. Listen to the music you make, but, more importantly, make sure to listen to that deep voice within yourself and honor that. And remember to enjoy the path!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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