This article on creativity and recording first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk! PS: you may find affiliate links in this post and I may get a commission if you buy something. 🙂
Long ago, in wood-paneled control rooms and expensive cathedral studios far away, there was no way to make a record without gaining access to a top-notch facility. Home recording wasn’t a thing in the beginning days, save for a few absolutely awful sounding demo tapes circulating around. Fact was decent recording technology for every person just didn’t exist. Now it does.
But that doesn’t stop some of us from getting caught up in “I need this before I can start” syndrome. Some of our would-be recording brethren even wait years before they flip a switch, for fear that the gear just isn’t enough (or expensive enough).
Vocalists can be found shopping for the perfect microphone, even saving for months and selling off prize possessions to try and get a $20,000 U47. Drummers pine over interfaces and pre-amps. Guitarists have more pedals than finished songs. Bassists collect world class cabinets and don’t record any licks. Beat makers spend more money on plugins than their kids’ educations – never to release a track.
If this is you (and in truth, hasn’t it been all of us at least a little?), our message is simple: Don’t wait. Create!
It’s a trope at this point, but it bears repeating: now is the most exciting time ever to be a musician! You can get started with a funky old laptop and some free software. If you have even a little spending money, even the most inexpensive interfaces do an amazing job, and if you haven’t shopped for microphones lately, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. You can do quite well for under $100.
Back in the digital day…
When the infamous ADAT first appeared, a major debate came up. Analog vs. digital. Can you possibly get great sound with digital recording? No no, no way, the pundits and experts said. They had a point – there’s just something about analog tape, and digital recording at the time was in its infancy.
There were even articles about famous artists using ADATs and the question was “can you possibly make a hit this way??” and of course – people did. Not surprisingly, genres like hip-hop were at the forefront there. Those genres and artists who were barred by resources from stepping into a $200 an hour analog studio turned to this new, cheaper technology.
Remember “Regulate” by Warren G. and Nate Dogg? ADATs. Outkast’s “Players Ball”, “Pork Soda” by Primus – Allanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill”. Yep.
We don’t have to pretend these acts didn’t have some pretty serious resources but at the time, ADATs were considered by some to be way too cheapy to do anything good. In truth, it’s the art and the craft that made those records.
And tech has come a long way. No doubt you’ve heard that pretty much everything Billie Eilish has done with brother Finneas was recording in his bedroom in the family house. Like the ADAT pioneers above, those aren’t just hit songs, they’re beautiful works of art.
And yes, Billie Eilish records now are mixed and mastered by high falutin engineers – but they weren’t always, and the point is – it doesn’t take much outside of some fun recording and creativity to make great records.
The golden age?
So, are we living in the golden age of affordable recording tech? Maybe. Certainly, tech will advance, get smaller, get cheaper. But we may see new formats and expectations from the market that are only doable in expensive facilities.
That seems far off, though. In the meantime, it’s getting easier and easier to record with great quality, so this may be only the beginning of a long golden age.
Now does that mean every song you record will be gold? Sorry. You’ll still have to work your creative muscles. And now you have a lot more competition. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean you can’t just throw money at a recording project and expect it to kill. All the expensive gear in the world won’t make a record on its own (although it might inspire you).
Now’s the time
By now you see the point. We love toys, and you should get what inspires you and you can afford. After all, outfitting a studio is fun! But time comes to create, don’t sit around pining over gear you don’t have. Just create! Right now! Because you can!