Music Issue 2010: Home, Sweet Studio

Home recordings are more sophisticated than ever

Major changes in the music business over the past 20 years should be readily apparent to even the most casual observer. The physical record store is becoming an anomaly; a cute antiquated shop with rows of CDs. People are buying music more and more in a digital format, downloading songs from the comfort of home. Not only do bands have less need for record label machinations with the influx of a plethora of do-it-yourself resources, many are choosing to forgo the sometimes expensive and time consuming process of booking time at professional studios. They are choosing to record at home or at the home of a friend. With myriad recording computer programs available, running the gamut from fairly cheap to damn expensive, and from easy to use to somewhat complicated, home studios have popped up in basements, spare rooms and attics across the metro area and the country. Instead of a band holing up in a fancy studio for a week and recording the whole time with a professional engineer and producer, home studios allow musicians to work at a much slower, organic pace; and to work around the always-present scheduling conflicts. And whereas 10 years ago you could tell a homemade release from it’s large studio brethren, those differences are fast disappearing as technology keeps getting better, easier to use and more accessible. Whether it’s using Pro Tools HD in a large basement studio or Logic Express on a laptop in a spare, cramped room, many are choosing to record at home. “Nowadays it just seems like it’s easy to work on a computer instead of spending the money to go into a studio,” says Dan McCarthy, who recorded two McCarthy Trenching records from the comfort of home. McCarthy, who doesn’t like recording on computers, chose to work with a borrowed 8-track tape machine and whatever microphones he could muster. “I like the process of recording at home, plus my piano is at home,” he says. “It’s nice, you can do it on your own time and have different friends come in and contribute. But there should also always be a value on having really sweet sounding shit, which is a good reason to go in and work with a professional. You’re not going to make Sgt. Pepper’s at home. Then again, what do I know, maybe you can.” While McCarthy prefers a bit of an older recording set up, and the process and resulting sound fits well within his McCarthy Trenching projects, many home recorders aim for a more digital approach. They use a variety of computer programs and fancy mixing consoles. Local musician Tom Barrett, who plays in both Blue Rosa and Dim Light, went to an Audio Engineering program in Seattle and when it came time to make a home studio he wanted more of a professional setup. After spending six months converting his basement into a full-on studio (complete with a control room, main room and an isolation booth) and investing roughly $100,000 on equipment over a couple of years, he and friend/musician/carpenter/engineer Chris Smith started Sleepy House Audio Productions (sleepyhouse.org). The pair has done radio spots as well as recording bands including both of Barrett’s bands and Her Flyaway Manner. “If you have a lot of backing, a lot of money, then it would be nice to go into a big studio like ARC and have somebody do everything for you,” Barrett says. “But doing it at home is just more economical for most people; it’s a comfortable setting. When I’ve been in studios in the past, every hour costs a lot of money. So you’re thinking ‘Yeah I’ll take that cut let’s move on.’ At home you can spend more time and not be rushed. I can add as many instruments and layers as I like and really get the sound I’m going for.” So, whether one chooses to take a more rustic approach like McCarthy or a more involved, high-tech approach like Sleepy House, home recording is fast becoming a more reliable and quality way of recording music. Nowadays, just because a record is home recorded doesn’t mean it’s low-fi or of a lesser sonic quality. As the differences between high-priced studios and home studios become less and less apparent, look for home recording to become a trend that sticks around and alters the landscape of how records are made.

posted at 11:09 pm
on Wednesday, December 01st, 2010

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