When Inspiration Strikes
It’s 3AM, you’re in bed but you can’t sleep. You just had a great idea for a song and you need to get it down quick before it evaporates. What are you going to do, drive down to the studio and call the engineer out to fire up the SSL console?
Na, your going to go into the spare bedroom, fire up the computer and lay down some tracks while your ‘Chicago Town’ pizza heats up. By the time that bad boy pops out of the oven you’ve laid down 6 guitars and 2 vocals.
Ah the wonders of technology. We live in an age where it’s possible to produce an entire album of high quality music on a single laptop computer. We can even collaborate with people we’ve never met and use loops and samples to save us the time and expense of recording real musical instruments.
But has the traditional concept of the recording studio finally perished?
Let’s look at the comparisons between the traditional recording studio and the more prevalent computer based home studio setup that we’ve all come to rely on.
Time is money
In the past, if you wanted to record a demo of your band you’d book some studio time and a sound engineer (usually the studio owner) with the intention of laying down as many tracks as possible in the fastest time possible. This would cost a lot of money and would often yield piss poor results.
If you had money, there was less pressure to get things finished ASAP and you could focus more on creativity and quality. Sadly however, this luxury was rarely available to new artists just starting out.
Now it’s entirely possible for a band to make a good quality multi track recording while still in the rehearsal room. All you need is a laptop, a multi track audio interface and some decent mics.
The Red light is on
Depending on what type of artist/musician you are, pressure may be something that you relish in order to grind out the best possible performance. Traditional studios would often have the big red light glowing during recording and usually a couple of people hanging around that you didn’t necessarily know that well.
To some, this can be intimidating, to others this can enhance their performance by adding some pressure and excitement to their recording environment.
It’s fair to say that some historic albums were recorded in super quick time under high pressure studio environments. Perhaps those recordings would have been less magical if the artists and producers had unlimited time to tweak?
Most commercial studios can boast an array of expensive toys like high end microphones, mixing desks, speaker systems and amplifiers. Does any of this really matter though?
Well, not really. It’s what you do with it that counts. You’ll be hard pressed to hear the difference between a $1k condensor mic and an $8k comparable. I’ve known commercial studios that spent more money on their wiring loom cables than most people spend on their cars.
In this respect I think the modern laptop studio makes far more sense. Keep your gear minimal but learn how to use it inside and out.
Live Room Acoustics
One area where a traditional commercial studio will utterly crush the home laptop studio is ‘live room’ acoustics. You might get lucky and just happen to have a brilliant sounding live room and mixing room but the chances are you’ll struggle with the standard domestic environment.
This is because traditional studios build their entire live room for the purposes of recording. Studio owners may have spent years crafting the right configuration of baffles and acoustic panels to curtail unpleasant room reflections and enhance desirable reflections.
Mixing Room Acoustics
Again it’s likely that the traditional studio will have spent some money and expertise on creating an acoustically perfect mixing room that has been treated with acoustic panels, soundproofing and soft surfaces. The goal here is to make the sound coming from your speakers pure and transparent without any colouration being added by the room.
For the home laptop studio, this is still totally possible with a small investment and a bit of ingenuity. The downside is that your house will no longer look like your spouses idea of domestic bliss, but they’ll get over it right?
Depending on the type of music you create, it may actually be beneficial for you to learn the art of sound engineering. A typical singer/songwriter recording session in a traditional studio would allow the artist to focus more on performance and writing. By having a sound engineer handle all the technical challenges of the recording process, the artist is free to give their full attention to the song.
If however you are producing totally electronic music, the line between engineer, producer and artist gets a little blurry. Why would you need an engineer to come in and rig up one mic for a vocal take in your electro house song?
Virtual Instrument Luxury
To me the biggest benefit of computer based recording studios is that sampling has allowed us to instantly load up pretty much any sound we could ever want. Being able to access a high quality grand piano in mere seconds is sheer luxury. Imagine the cost of having to house the real thing, tune it, mic it, maintain it etc.
I’m not saying that a home laptop studio could produce the same results when it comes to recording the latest Peter Gabriel album but it’s clear that it would be totally pointless for NERO to book a week in Real World studios to produce their next hit.
While it seems the days of the small commercial studios are numbered, I don’t believe that A-list artists are prepared to give up their high end studio sessions just yet. For most of us the computer based home studio is the only option but I believe the future studios will look more like the impressive home based studio that Imogen Heap created. Drool.