Friday, 26 April 2013

Multi-track Recording On A Small Budget

Although the digital recording of music can be traced back to the late 1970's, good quality consumer grade hardware and device drivers for home computers did not become available until the late 1990's. Until the 21st century, creating and distributing music was in the hands of large music publishing organizations.  You had to be "discovered".  You needed a producer ... someone to financially back this commercial enterprise.  It was, after all, big business.  As with any big business there were political as well as financial overtones.  The key goal of business is profit so you could not just record whatever you wanted, it had to have the potential to be a "commercial success".

You needed access to a commercial sound studio and thousands of dollars to pay for recording time.   These studios consisted of a "live room" where musicians played, a control room with the mixing consoles and sound engineers and sometimes a "dry room" or vocal booth.  These tended to be fairly large buildings and recording time needed to be booked well in advance.

Prominent bands in the '60's like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones could eventually afford to build their own sound studios.  They still had to hire staff and bring in talented people (keyboards, horns, backup singers, etc).  The Stones had their own mobile sound studio built inside a semi-trailer so that they could record almost anywhere.  For the most part, they recorded their songs based on recording sessions at established recording studios around the world. The Beatles created Apple Records and had their sound studio in London, England.  This was a place for musical talent to flourish.  Actually, this is how James Taylor was able to launch his musical career.
Me?  I purchased a few pieces of hardware (some new, some used with a total cost of around $200), some free software, the Internet and a little free space in my house.  Technically, my sound studio is portable: the software is on my
laptop.  My mics are also portable (have their own carrying case). The MIDI (analog to digital) device is not much bigger than a soft cover book easily attaches to the computer via USB.  I had envisioned doing all this some 45 years ago when I bought a Roberts reel-to-reel tape machine for $400. In many ways, all my dreams are coming true.

Today there is an abundance of free and/or relatively cheap multi-track recording and editing software. Install this software on your favourite computer, tablet or phone for that matter.  No more physical knobs and slides in order to get specific pan, EQ or effects.

Websites like YouTube and SoundCloud allow free space to upload and share recorded music.  Gone are the days where you needed financial backing in order to create physical media (vinyl, tape or optical disc) and distribute through multinational chains of music stores.  No longer is there a need to pander to radio stations and hoping to get air time and hopefully, grow a local audience.

Much like early rock and roll music, the music recording world is in the throes of a revolution.  A very large part of the world's population now has the ability to create a digital master, convert it to MP3 (or other music formats) and store on the Internet for everyone in the world to enjoy, or just share with their friends.  This new medium now opens up the opportunity for musicians to collaborate with other musicians around the world.

In closing, I quote Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the message. This new music medium truly shines a light, thus creating an environment, where none existed before.