Confessions Of A Home Recordist
Confessions of a home recordist. Stephen Bennett on the delights and dangers of bedroom recording.
When I were a lad (he says, putting on his best Northern accent) I used to dream of having my own recording studio. Of course, back then in the mid-70s, this was impossible. Even a basic 8-track system was too expensive because it required 1" tape, microphones, Hammond organs, drummers (aaaarrgh), bands, real musicians who could play... you know what I mean. So I played about with my magnet, iron filings and valve radio, and continued to insist that I was making experimental music (read 'bloody awful racket'). I used to make tape loops of bits of other people's records and dub them together because I had no instruments. But I stopped doing it... I knew it wouldn't catch on.
In the early 80s, drum machines, small 8-tracks, and all the modern recording technology we know and love became available. OK, it was still expensive, but if you didn't eat for a couple of years... well, it was within reach. I could see that soon I'd be able to make my own music of a quality comparable to that from commercial studios, without selling my soul to the Devil (or 'Record Company Executive' as he is more commonly known).
I, and many others, found this an exciting prospect. Magazines raved about the chance for readers to produce CD-ready material in their own bedrooms. It's still relatively expensive, but now you simply have to give up your car. Distribution is still a problem, of course, but small labels can take more of a chance because they don't have to pay the horrendous cost of recording in a commercial studio.
What about commercial studios? Over the same period, these bastions of all that is new and shiny got more expensive to use. Their belief that they always have to have the best in available technology has forced them into high pricing policies simply to pay for the SSLs, digital multitracks, and reverse-thrust-polatrons demanded by the stars. Is it any wonder that up and coming musicians have deserted them in droves when they can buy their own equipment for the cost of a couple of days in a London studio? And of course the stars have all got their own SSLs anyway — and much bigger bedrooms to keep them in. The expertise of the engineers in commercial studios is certainly valuable, but on the other hand you can devote a whole week of bedroom studio time simply to getting the bass drum right. Tips in Sound On Sound can also help!
So now we have what we've all been waiting for — the ability to produce and record potential hits at home. The charts are full of singles that have been recorded cheaply. And are we ecstatic? Well... no, we're complaining.
The reason is, I guess, is that so many of these records are dance-oriented, and they sound cheap. Just listen to the chart rundown on Top Of The Pops to see what I mean. Number ten... sounds as if it was recorded on an Akai 4000DS. Number nine... ah yes, that was done on some iron filings and a magnet... hey, that was my idea! And when the single recorded at an expensive American studio plays at Number three, it makes the others sound even worse.
Of course, dance music doesn't necessarily need hi-fi sound, and it is intended to sound better on the dance floor than on my TV... come to think of it, the dance floor itself probably sounds better than my TV. Me, I love all this newfound musical freedom, and accept that I won't like all of the music that results — you probably wouldn't like all of mine.
I've heard a lot of commercial studio owners whinging that people aren't using their studios enough, or aren't taking any care with their 'home' recordings. One even says that some recordings in the charts aren't economic. If they had been recorded in his studio, perhaps not, but they probably were if they were recorded in a shed!
To these people I would say: "Ha! Ya boo sucks!" My group, The Fire Thieves, has produced an album at home for less than the cost of a Citroen 2CV... and it's easier to use and twice as nice smelling (hmmm — 2CV-owning Ed.). We tried to get a production that was more Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears than Vanilla Ice, and it's not bad considering it was done in my bedroom rather than at the Wool Hall.
I've also recorded singer/songwriters, progressive rockers, punks, some just plain weirdoes, and even some dance music. I'm sure there's also lots of New Age and rock music being produced out there in the comfort of its own home. However, I guess there's not much music for fuzz box and 104-piece orchestra being done in bathrooms (Bennett awaits reply: "Sir — Re. your article in SOS. I am at present recording a 104-piece orchestra in the outside toilet..." There's always one, isn't there?).
The biggest problem for all we stay-at-home types is isolation. Playing with yourself all the time can make you blind and deaf. I avoid the dangers of audio masturbation by interacting with others at every available opportunity. And don't get me wrong — I love well recorded and expensively produced music. It's just that music doesn't have to be sonically perfect to be wonderful to listen to.
Distribution is still a problem, though. We have a CD-ready product but as it's not dance music it is difficult to get a distribution deal. But we still manage to let some people apart from parents and lovers hear it. It may get easier when we've all got tired of dancing. To all of you out there producing epics in the comfort of your own home — don't despair... your time will come.
Opinion by Stephen Bennett
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