One Size Fits All
Once a recording studio was a large room lined with futuristic acoustic tiles and filled with impressive equipment; now it could be the corner of a bedroom - it's all a matter of size.
SIZE ISN'T EVERYTHING, I'm sure you'll agree. In fact, there are many occasions when a substantial lack of size is a substantial asset.
Turning our attention to the inexorable march of technological progress, it's generally agreed that its greatest single benefit to us impoverished musicians has been that of "more for less" - that is, more facilities for less cash. While this is undoubtedly an important factor when it comes to the ways in which technological advances have affected the working environment of the musician, there is another, less well-recognised spin-off whose effect has been almost as important. You've guessed it - space.
So why is space such a big deal? We all know microchip technology allows designers to get a lot of electronics into a small box these days, but does this offer us anything more than convenience? I think it does.
Before we consider the implications of space saving, let's take a look at what we can do with some of today's gear. Let's see how close we can get to setting up a small MIDI studio in a 19" rack. Better still, we'll try to keep every unit down to a single rack unit high.
First of all we'll need some sound-generating modules. What about a Kawai K1r and an E-mu Proteus for "modern" sounds, a Cheetah MS6 for a few old analogue tones, a Roland S330 (or Cheetah SX16 if we're strapped for cash as well as space) for samples and a Roland R8M for the drums. A 1U-high mixer would present us with a bit of a problem if it wasn't for Simmons old SPM8:2. Signal processing is easy - an Alesis Quadraverb or ART Multiverb III, say, while MIDI patching and merging could be entrusted to Audio Architecture's Function Junction.
Now there's the small matter of sequencing to arrange. Tricky this one, as most sequencers take the form of software for a computer (computers can be racked up, but not in one "U" of rack space) or stand-alone units like Roland's MC500 or Alesis' MMT8. But if, in the interests of this exercise, we accept limited sequencing facilities, we could entrust the task to a MIDI data recorder such as the Alesis Datadisk or Elka CR99.
We could argue about the choice of specific units, but that just about covers what we set out to achieve in around eight units of rack space. The greatest failings of this "solution" are the lack of a keyboard (don't even think about it) and the inconvenience of working with the SPM8:2. Neither can we master a piece of music to any unit currently in the rack or monitor on anything other than headphones. Relaxing our 1U height rule, however, would allow us to bring in a DAT machine for mastering and even a multitrack cassette unit for the addition of acoustic sounds and tape multitracking. But even with the addition of a keyboard, tape recorders and a flat-bed desk, we're looking at a powerful music-making system that would fit into the majority of bedrooms.
So what have we achieved? Well, just that really - fitted a facility that will allow you or I to use quite sophisticated methods of making music into a space that would previously have prevented us from doing so. Another practical hurdle has been removed from the path of making music. And the effects of that on the music being made shouldn't be under-estimated. The next time you hear a pro musician talking about "pre-production done in a home studio" he or she may be talking about a soundproofed room filled with racks of gear and a 40-input desk. On the other hand...
Editorial by Tim Goodyer
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