Paradigm shift: Home Recording

Topics: OBB/Personal

Are recording studios going out the window?  In a recent article by the LA Times, experts in the recording industry estimate “as many as half of the LA area’s commercial studios have closed or been sold to artists for private use.”  They are seeing a huge trend of people setting up studios at home, and completely skipping out of recording at a studio.  This trend (which most of us probably expected) is certainly going to have an effect on the amount and quality of music being put into the universe.  The art of recording is being taken from professionals and put into the hands of amateurs.   Is it a good thing?  Lets talk about it.

Home/Private Recording

On the home recording hand, we see more freedom put into the hands of the artist.  People are able to go into their own personal studio whenever they like, record for as long as they want, make mistakes and break equipment without having to deal with anyone at all.  A huge advantage of having the studio right at home means the freedom to record whenever a brilliant idea hits.  Some people do their best work at two in the morning, and come up with great stuff on the spur of the moment.  These kind of moments are often passionate and emotionally driven, which can be immediately captured (in spite of heat from the neighbors the next morning!).  It’s nearly impossible to encapsulate moments like those weeks or months after the fact.  I personally like the idea of home recording because you can record the *cough cough* good ideas like “I wanna love you tender,”  as well as the ones that are *actually* good.  As in almost any industry, you want to be able to fail cheap.  Recording at home lets you fail all the time, which will ultimately lead to success.  Understand?  Good.

Studio Recording

On the recording studio side of the fence we get: Quality!!! with a capital Q and three !!! exclamation points.  Recording studios will sometimes spend more than a million dollars on equipment (!), they are run by professionals who often have degrees from prestigious schools and love their work (!), and you have somebody to go on coffee or beer runs for you (!).  Depending on your situation and wants, recording in a studio might actually be cost beneficial, offering you the use of equipment that is far beyond your budget.  Recording drums is a particularly difficult thing to do for  those trying to rough it home studios.  There are many factors that come into play when doing drums – such as mic phase, the resonance of the room, size, tuning, expensive frequency-specific mics, and neighbors – which are problems that lead many people to the front doors of a professional studio.

Many recording studios offer services besides sound recording too.  I visited Side 3 Studios in Denver not too long ago, and (at the time) they offered a demo package which included (1) professional recording, mixing, and mastering of your best 3 songs, (2) HD video-recording of one of your live shows by professional videographers, mastering of that video, and (3) production of 100 DVDs ready for distribution to any venue you want to play.  To me this sounds like a sexy option compared to the fuzz and crackle you might get from a demo you make at home.

Final Thoughts

In light of the many factors that come into account when one desires a recording, I’ve come to a final (but subject to change) decision.  Let’s start with my current situation: I’m a vocal guitarist with a drummer, and we have written a few songs together.  We plan on finding a bassist, another guitar, another vocalist, and want to start gigging and writing songs as soon as possible.  Needless to say, we’re babies.  Even though we’re a small outfit, we feel a calling from God to write music, and will stop at nothing to fulfill that calling.   Owned equipment: a two channel preamp, a crap computer, and a crap PA with 20 year old speakers.  Can anyone say “humble beginning”?

So here’s my plan.  I want the freedom of recording at home, but the experience and professional quality of a studio, and don’t want to pay huge amounts of money either.  How can I get the best of both worlds and cut costs to a minimum?  First, I want to set up a small home studio.  One so small that you might call it a “mini” home studio.  No fancy equipment, bells or whistles, but simply the bare essentials needed for recording.  This probably means midrange or used equipment, free/open source recording software, and second rate mics and speakers.  The sound will most likely be crappy, and I won’t care because that’s not what I’m using it for.  The purpose of the home studio is to simply capture the moment, that special point of inspiration, and help me to remember it.   This moment can then be brought to a professional studio when the time is right, we can play the material, and have a platform where we can easily present what we want.  I feel it’s important to exhibit oneself professionally from the start, so I would like our first demo to be – from start to finish – professional.  Anything distributed to the public thereafter – albums, singles, demos – professionally recorded and mastered.  The price for professional recording might be steep for some (I mean most), which I understand completely (since I’m in the “most” category), but I feel that it’s worth it if you take your music seriously.

So what do you think?  Do you have any suggestions for me or others who are in a similar boat?  Have you been through this process before and have some advice for the rest of us?  If so, post a comment and share your ideas with the world.