The music world is full of talented multi-instrumentalists, and many of them are capable of building entire arrangements and recording their compositions all by themselves.
For them, the best way to realize your idea 100% is to write everything down yourself. And when you have the skills, there’s certainly a temptation to try it at least once at some point in your career.
Surely at least some of your favorite musicians are multi-instrumentalists, and it’s no wonder that at some point they’ve indulged in completely solo recordings.
Some of the greatest in history, who we associate with their involvement in iconic bands, have gone off the road to record on their own.
And often their courage has led to brilliant works. Other musicians have taken the stand-alone approach from the start and stuck with it throughout their careers.
Today, we’re looking at seven great examples of the DIY method of recording an album that prove just how successful this method can be in the hands of the right people.
Of course, first of all we associate the legendary McCartney with one of the most influential bands in history.
But at the very end of 1969, when the breakup of the Beatles was already inevitable, he began work on his first solo album. Paul decided to record all the vocals and instruments himself – acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, percussion, mellotron and xylophone – because “I think I’m pretty good”, as he admits.
At the same time, the tension in the Beatles was unbearable and the group had a hard time reaching an understanding about anything, so McCartney found it great to work alone.
“I had to ask only myself before making a decision and I generally agreed with myself,” he rejoices.
His debut album received a lot of criticism on its release, but it went to #1 in the US and #2 in the UK and started McCartney’s long career outside of the Beatles, which continues to this day.
In his third album, Something/Anything (1972), the American composed, arranged and performed most of the songs all by himself.
He was then only 23 years old and could not write or read music, but he had a phenomenal ear and musical memory.
His modus operandi is to play the drums first and then build other instruments on top of them, often coming up with the melodies of the moment.
Something/Anything contains some of Ründgren’s finest songs such as I Saw The Light, It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference and Couldn’t I Just Tell You.
The musician has every right to be confident in his abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, as the album stayed in the charts for 48 weeks and reached gold status.
In September 1977 in Minnesota, the still unknown Prince began work on his first album, For You.
This album features the now iconic label on the cover: “Produced, Arranged, Composed and Performed by Prince”.
Although still not yet 20 years old at the time, the brilliant talent is already a detail freak and about making every record happen exactly according to his pre-vision.
When Prince is asked how many instruments he can play, he says, “Thousands.” Well, on his debut album he played “only” 27 instruments, but apparently that’s not enough for him and he continues to develop in the same direction.
Subsequently, the legend maintains this way of working for almost all his albums, although for the concerts he gathers a significant line-up of incredible musicians. For him, the studio remains a place where he makes his own decisions.
The great bluesman was part of several very influential groups in the 60s and 70s such as Traffic, Blind Faith and the Spencer Davis Group.
Towards the end of the 70s, the Briton started recording a solo album. There he collaborated with quite a few other musicians, but when it came time for his second album Arc of a Diver, Winwood took a different approach.
He sets about playing all the instruments in the studio he built on his farm in Gloucestershire and alternates between electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass, drums, percussion, drum machines, synthesizers and organ, singing himself and backing vocals.
What’s more, Steve Winwood also handled the further processing of the seven tracks himself, including his first solo hit, While You See a Chance.
Both the song and the album entered the top 10 in the States and proved that Wynwood could be successful not only as part of a group, but also on his own.
Another famous musician who knows all too well the pros and cons of being part of a band – and at some point reaches a stage where he needs to do it all on his own.
Collins admits he was going through a rough patch when he set out to record Both Sides in his home studio. The album began to take shape at the beginning of his second divorce, and working on the songs was a necessary solace through the problems that had piled up.
Best known as a singer and drummer, Phil Collins even learned to play the bagpipes (after taking lessons from a Scottish bagpiper) to complete the album on his own.
The result was a hit, reaching #1 in the UK and a hugely successful album tour later.
Years later, Collins cites Both Sides as a favorite album from his extensive catalog. “It was a completely solo album, I played everything myself and the songs just flowed out of me. That’s what you dream of as an artist,” admits the former Genesis star.
Many may not be aware that the Foo Fighters project arose out of a personal impulse by Grohl following the death of Kurt Cobain and the painful breakup of Nirvana.
Until then known only as a drummer, the American went into a studio and recorded a series of songs completely by himself without planning to release them – but simply because he needed to somehow continue his musical pursuits after the period of mourning.
This turned out to be the Foo Fighters’ first album, and on it the musician recorded every single instrument and all the vocals himself (except for one guitar solo played by Greg Dooley of the Afghan Whigs).
Fortunately, someone is found to convince Grohl to release the material, as well as assemble a band to begin performing it live. Thus appeared one of the most prominent rock formations of the 90s and 2000s.
Grohl himself made an impressive transformation – from being the drummer of a legendary band, creatively led by another frontman, to himself standing at the front of the stage and declaring himself as a singer and composer.
The frontman of System of a Down also deserves to be mentioned as an example of a musician who broke away from his band to realize a solo project in his home studio and achieved dizzying success.
When System of a Down went on hiatus, Tankian set about recording his debut solo album, Elect the Dead, and it gave his solo career a great boost.
Serge already has the necessary experience and skills to arrange and play everything, and apparently working alone is good for his creativity.
The artist announced the album with a sarcastic video in which he played the roles of not only several musicians, but also a studio engineer, a producer, an interviewing reporter, a label president and even… a pizza delivery boy.
Several more Tankian albums followed, but Elect the Dead remains perhaps the best.