Its an ordinary living room. Its decor of floor lamps and flower stands is augmented with microphone stands and amplifiers. The floor is covered in a carpet of microphone cable. The cables can be traced to the dining room where they are spilling from the back of a USB recording interface perched on a table more often used for eating, drinking and conversing. The interface is plugged into a computer humming with the power needed to drive the memory sucking recording software that is currently registering the conversation being had back in the living room between the musicians. In the adjacent kitchen a brisket is braising in the slow cooker; a reward for an afternoon of work. Welcome to today’s recording studio.
Not too long ago, if one wanted to record some music the options were limited. They were limited by budget, time, and studio availability. A musician would have to pinch his or her pennies or seek financial backing from a record label or some other investor. Studio time was/is not cheap. Home recording was often out of the question. In most cases a home studio would have been far more expensive than booking a few days at a professional recording studio. One would have had to build what amounted to a small professional studio. Such undertakings are typically outside of most musician’s budgets. So, the recording musician would hunker down in a windowless room at odd hours frantically recording to the best of his or her ability against the ticking of the click and the draining of the wallet.
With the ever quickening pace of the evolution of technology yesterday’s pipe dreams are quickly becoming today’s reality. Today’s home computer generally has enough memory, processing power, and storage to accommodate comprehensive suites of recording software. Large recording consoles have been replaced by 24” monitors and USB recording interfaces that are no bigger than a DVD player. Add to the mix (no pun intended) some outboard gear and accessories such as compressors, eqs, mic preamps, microphones, cables, and stands and what you have is a fully functioning recording studio.
The home studio brings a certain degree of freedom to the recording process; the freedom of knowing that one has all the time needed to execute a given creative idea without going broke or compromising on the idea. It is amazing how much more creative one can be when every hour passed is not another wad of cash that may have paid for groceries. The fact that the music isn’t being recorded to expensive recording tape means that a musician can record numerous takes. Not sitting in an expensive rented room means the musicians can discuss the take in depth and make necessary changes to the music as needed without fear of running out of time or money. Gone are the days of taking a gamble on erasing the take that was just recorded in hope of the next one being better than the last. The number of takes are now limited by hard drive space and the breaking point of the musicians who have been playing the same piece of music over and over.
Now that all of that music has been recorded and satisfactory takes have been registered the music needs to be edited and mixed. This is another function that can now be performed on a home computer with some good software and quality outboard gear. This can all be done when its most convenient for the artist (and for those of us with a day job that usually means some time between 10pm and 2am). The time can be taken to get the mixes exactly as intended without rushing to beat the budget or the clock.
Some musicians will choose to do their tracking (recording) in a professional studio and do their mixing on a home computer. After all, recording engineers are trained professionals and will often have better gear than the musician will in his or her home studio. In addition, pro studios do have rooms that were specifically designed for recording music. I am pretty sure my living room was not designed for getting a great drum sound.
The home studio has been a game changer. Many musicians who never would have had the opportunity to record because their music was too weird, marginal, or commercially doomed now have the opportunity to record their music on their terms without anyone telling them what to do or how to do it. For a small investment one can build up a decent collection of high quality recording gear. There are plenty of books on recording techniques available as well as online forums to guide someone through the process of making a record. Even if basic tracking is done in a pro studio musicians still have the freedom to take the tracks home and work on the final mix to get the recordings to sound exactly as intended.
The cables have been wound up. The interface and the computer have been pushed across the dining room table to make room for people to sit. The computer is now playing back the days work. Six hours worth of music have been registered onto the hard drive. There will be more work ahead in mixing and editing but that will be a job for another day. The brisket is served. Not a bad way to work.
Chris Cretella is a guitarist, composer and improvisor working out of New Haven, CT. He holds a BA in music from Southern Connecticut State University and a MM in contemporary improvisation from The New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with Joe Morris and Anthony Coleman. Chris has performed in the United States and Europe with Joe Morris, Anthony Coleman, Mary Halvorson, Gary Lucas and Rhys Chatham. Chris has released several albums over the past few years as a leader or collaborator. Most of these were recorded and mixed in someone’s home. To listen to these recordings go here: http://chriscretella.com/mystore/