You are probably too young, dear reader, to remember the ‘home taping is killing music’ labels that started to adorn LPs in the late seventies (I can just about remember them, along with Sealink ferries and blue and grey trains). Well, despite the scary warnings, music did actually survive the rise of the cassette (not to mention CDs, MP3s and streams). But there is a very important part of the music industry that is in the process of being killed – and no, I’m not talking about the quaint idea that people should get paid for making music. I’m talking about the professional recording studio. Every week seems to bring news of a well-known studio being forced to shut its doors for good; this is a real pity, because in general (and this is going to be a slightly controversial statement, given the prevalence of bedroom-recorded music currently available) there is nowhere nearly as good as a recording studio for making albums.
The death of the professional recording studio is down to the fact that over the past 15 years or so, we all seem to have got it into our heads that the home is the de facto place to record music (or at least a good place to record music); so much so that it may well be time to design a ‘home recording is killing studios’ sticker that can be placed on recording equipment.
I am totally guilty of being a home-recording-believer myself over the years (it’s only recently – having spent more time recording in proper studios – that I have changed my view rather a lot on this). And it is easy to see why people want to record at home: cheap tech means everybody’s got a 128 track recorder and thousands of plugins in their toilet (or on their iPhone). Why spend £300 a day in a professional studio when you can record all your music for next to nothing at home? Well, there are several important reasons why it might be worth thinking about leaving the confines of your bedroom / garage / cellar / shed / bathroom (delete as applicable) when it comes to making your next record.
1. You are missing out on a truckload of amazing equipment
In most cases, comparing a good recording studio to a home setup is like comparing a Porsche to a Fiat Punto: there is barely a comparison to be made at all. Recording studios come with an armoury of mics, instruments, preamps, digital converters and mixing desks that will easily outclass whatever you have at home – and generate much better recordings. You simply will not have a U87 mic, a Hammond organ or a Steinway grand piano lying about at home; but you’ll find all these (and much more) in many professional studios.
2. The acoustics in studios are much better than in your garage
Even if you dismiss the gap in the quality of equipment between a home setup and a professional studio, you will find it difficult to ignore the fact that the rooms in proper recording studios have been designed to simply ‘sound’ better than a garage. Not entirely surprisingly, you will therefore end up with a much better sound from a professional studio, particularly where recordings of acoustic instruments are concerned.
3. You are not a trained recording engineer
Just because you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools at home does not mean you are a recording engineer. It means you have an audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools. A house engineer in a professional studio will have been trained to capture sounds (through use of good mic selection and placement, or correct use of outboard equipment) in a way that you will struggle to. Not only that, but they’ve been trained to process recordings in a way that the home recordist might not understand terribly well. Advanced use of EQ, compression, gating and effects can transform recordings; the professional recording engineer will have an arsenal of tricks up their sleeve that the bedroom musician is very unlikely to be able to match. At this point I’ll draw an analogy with medical care: sure, thanks to the internet you can google your symptoms, find a potential diagnosis, and sort of be your own doctor…but how confident would you ultimately feel about the results? Just as you’d entrust your health to a doctor, entrust your beloved music to an engineer…
4. You are not a producer
If you are lucky enough to work with a really good producer, you are in a sense working with every other artist they’ve ever worked with, because that producer will have taken some interesting ideas away from every previous studio session which he or she may then be able to add to yours. That could be anything from a simple-but-effective string arrangement to a very out-there backward drum part. Something, in effect, that you would possibly never have thought of – because you’ve only ever produced your own music. Because professional producers work day-in, day-out with a multitude of different types of bands, they can apply much more creative ideas to your music than you are ever likely to. OK, so a professional producer could in theory come and hang out in your house and produce your music there…but they’ll tend to push you to go into a studio every time (because they know that that’s where they’ll get the best results for you).
5. Recording studios save you time
So long as you are well-prepared when entering the studio, you should find that recording studios help you get your music down faster. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, because the rooms are designed with recording in mind, you’ll spend less time trying to iron out a sound (because you won’t be dealing with the sonic challenges and compromises that invariably come with recording at home). Secondly, because you’re likely to be working with a professional engineer who really ‘knows’ the studio, he or she will be able to get things sounding good quicker. And finally, the fact that you are paying for studio time means you are much less likely to take regular breaks to check your Facebook stream instead of recording.
6. Recording studios inspire creativity
There is something about studios which just makes you feel more inspired. It may be that the simple act of leaving the house gets you into a more creative zone, or it might be that working in a room where Dark Side of The Moon was recorded helps you to aim for similar artistic heights, but either way being in a studio can press creative buttons that a boring old bedroom can’t. Meaning your music gets more interesting (read better).
So what has all this got to do with music promo?
Yes, this is a music promo blog – supposedly offering tips and advice on how to promote your music. Surely waxing lyrical about how great recording studios are has nothing to do with music promotion? Well, actually, I’ve always found that the whole music promotion process begins not with a Facebook ad campaign or a well written press release, but the music itself. It is infinitely easier to promote – on every level – a well-recorded and produced album than a record which, even if it contains a lot of good ideas, sounds a bit half-baked because it was recorded in a garage.
Recording studios, when used well, offer you the best opportunity to do your music justice and create albums that have the potential to sell themselves (even before you approach a music PR company). There will of course be exceptions to the rule and fantastic records produced at home, but next time you are tempted to be your own engineer and producer, or are trying to record a complicated drum part in a shed, remember where most of the great albums you’ve heard were made: in a recording studio. There are good reasons for that.