When I moved to California in the mid 1970s, the technology used to make records was very different than it is today. Everything used to record, mix, process, and deliver music was done using analog equipment. And the places that records were made…the professional recording studios…were elaborate architectural and technical institutions that required lots of money, expertise, and expensive equipment.
I have never been in a professional studio in the Midwest. The closest I came was a disc mastering facility in downtown Detroit. It wasn’t until I arrived in Southern California that I got the chance to visit a real recording studio…the famous Sound City in Van Nuys. Unfortunately, I was more interested in being a performing musician than an audio engineer at that time and I didn’t fully explore the place. I was in awe of the whole process of recording and stayed close to my host Larry Carlton, one of the finest studio guitarists and a solo artist in his own right.
Then I got the chance to enroll in a studio engineering program taught by Brian Ingoldsby and I jumped at the opportunity. The classes were held at Conway Recording in Hollywood. Today, Conway is one of the best studios in Los Angeles. They have multiple studios on the property including a few that look out onto lush gardens full of palm trees and native foliage. I can remember being absolutely enthralled by the console, the outboard gear, the live room, and tape recorders.
Since that time, I’ve been in lots of world-class studios and I’ve seen the changes that have occurred, as digital technology has become a dominant part of the studio equipment arsenal. The introduction of MIDI, personal computers, sequencers, drum machines, samplers, digital signal processors, and digital audio workstations all happened during my career in audio. The transformation has fundamentally changed the way recordings are produced. And where they are made.
It isn’t necessary to book time in a fancy studio in order to make professional sounding records anymore. A basic computer, some input and output hardware, Pro Tools, a good microphone and a direct box and some select pieces of software are all you need. There’s a guy renting a 100 square foot space in the front half of my building that is churning out great sounding commercial tracks everyday. The room has a little sound treatment but otherwise it’s very basic.
Monitoring is done on headphones, plug ins have replaced all of the equipment we once had in the outboard racks, and a virtual instruments have done away with real musicians. All you need is a good vocal mic and melodyne (the autotuning software) and the next step is fame and fortune…or at least Bandcamp or YouTube.
Professional studios are struggling these days. The record companies don’t care where the records are made anymore. They’re looking for results. If they make available a small budget, smart bands and artist are purchasing their own gear and making their masters in their living rooms.
Music making has become democratized and that’s largely been a good thing. Real professionals can still produce records that stand well above the output of the beat machines but there’s a whole lot more music being written, produced, and offered up on social networks etc.
I’ve lived through the change. I can’t imagine a better time to be part of the recording industry…to know and appreciate analog and digital formats has been a rare opportunity. And to finally see the potential of high-resolution audio caps it all. All we have to do now is get the artists and engineers to explore and adopt the technologies…and the potential they offer.