The explosive evolution of home audio recording
by Rob Tavaglione
Last time we spoke in these pages it was the summer of 1998 … Bill Clinton was president, print media was alive and well and I wrote my “Home Recording” column for rebels, DIY-ers and musicians with a punk rock ethos. Today, I’m a writer/columnist for Pro Sound News/Pro Audio Review and my Tangents column would be simply called “Recording,” as home recording singles and EPs has become the norm and cutting full-length projects in proper studios has become the exception.
The entire recording and distribution concept has been turned upside down. “Home recording” has morphed into “self-recording” as legions of of iPhone, tablet and laptop toters are recording their art in all manner of places, under all manner of conditions. These recordings are sold worldwide as downloads and “rented” to the masses as streams, sometimes within minutes of completion. Record labels are scrambling as artists embrace new paradigms and reject sucker contracts. Halle-fucking-lujah! It’s about time that the criminally-asshole labels and their mysterious payment policies (if any at all) are getting nudged out of the picture.
You might think that the quality of self-produced music has plummeted, but that’s hardly the case. The technological gains have outpaced the tumultuous change … the gear grows more powerful and more affordable, musical styles change as new gear emerges (e.g. EDM) and artists find ways to adapt to the new landscape. Increasingly, artists do most all of their own recorded product, with only a little outside help from a pro.
Mastering (the final production step of audio sweetening, multiple file type creation and duplication-master creation) is still almost always jobbed-out and for good reason. Surprisingly, a mastering-Jedi can radically improve upon even an average mix. Such mastery can turn rehearsal recordings into demos and live show board tapes into impressive product … as well as turn decent home mixes into truly competitive product.
Another common practice is recording everything at home, but getting the tracks professionally mixed. I do a lot of this kind of work myself, where I’m expected to correct timing issues, tune vocals, beef up drum sounds and inject character into the instruments before finally mixing. Many artists don’t go this route for fear of tracking bad drums, grabbing poor tones or overdubbing pitchy vocals. Fear not!
The name of the game today is “fix it like a boss” and software is the key. Poorly recorded drums are easily augmented with plug-ins (e.g. SPL’s Transient Designer), or completely replaced by drum triggering, in a process that is fast and easy. Instrument recording is generally quite doable, with only a couple of mics/channels needed for success… but we’ve got re-amping too. Record a DI from an instrument, edit it into perfection in your DAW (digital audio workstation) and re-amplify it to tonal perfection. Vocals? … easy peezy. You’ve all heard Auto-tune blipping and burping in that cartoonish way, but we also use pitch correction to invisibly tune-up the tone deaf and create heavenly walls of backing vocals.
“For art’s sake” is enough reason to begin home recording, but don’t fear that it’s only a hobby. Legislation is before Congress right now that would revamp the royalty structure for American musicians, taking OUR rightful earnings from radio stations, record labels and online streamers and putting them back into OUR hands. The future is looking bright for the tech savvy musician!
For more information on Rob Tavaglione’s Catalyst Recording, which is North Carolina’s most affordable full-service recording studio (which was established in 1995), visit www.catalystrecording.com.