Home Recording, Part One
- 1999 1 Feb
In the last fifty years we have seen the world of recording turned upside down. In 1950 small, portable recording was done on bulky machines using wire as a recording medium. In 1998 we have digital recorders and microphones that fit into a shirt pocket. In 1950 a commercial recording could only be done in a large studio and shipped off to a pressing plant. In 1998 artists are burning CDs in a back bedroom, digital studio. In 1950 we had tube pre-amps and ribbon microphones and now, well, we still are looking for tube pre-amp and ribbon microphones, but you get the picture. The revolution that was sparked by the advent of cassette multi-track recorders has continued to include ADATs, hard disk recording, small digital consoles, and recordable CD drives.
We want to know what is in store for the year 2000 and beyond so we asked some experts in home recording to share their thoughts with us. Our panel includes:
Rick Cannata - Digital Applications Engineer, Fostex Corporation of America
Jeff White - White Noise Marketing
Ken Roberts - Los Angeles based producer/engineer (live recording credits include Oasis, Bush, Foo Fighters and Tom Petty among others)
Paul Youngblood - Senior Product Manager, Roland Corporation US
Kerry Wahla - Singer/Songwriter
Jeff Klopmeyer - Director of Advertising/Communications for Alesis
I asked the following five questions and I think you will be surprised by their answers...
Looking back, what development over the last ten years changed home recording most dramatically?
Rick C: The advent of modular digital machines such as the Alesis and Fostex ADAT machines.
Kerry W: The advent of inexpensive multi-track recording.
Paul Y: The development of affordable digital recorders, first the ADAT for a tape based system and then the Roland VS-880 which was the first hard disk based unit which incorporated an entire studio (recorder, digital mixer, effects) into one environment.
Ken R: I would have to say the advent of Mackie Recording Consoles and the ADAT have made the home recording studio a force to be reckoned with. Prior to that time the only home studios that could be considered seriously were places with two-inch decks and big consoles. I remember recording at Ocean Way Studio with Allan Sides when it was really in his garage on Ocean Way in Pacific Palisades. His mixing booth was only big enough for two people to stand up in and he had a parachute hanging from the center of the room to help absorb the sound. But what a great sound he used to get.
Jeff W: Qualifying within the stated time period only, I would have to say the advances in technology that have brought about the hard disk recording revolution. Developments within just the last few years have accelerated this exponentially. Price reductions coupled with technological advances have brought extraordinarily high-quality potential within the grasp of even modest resources.
Jeff K: Most musicians and personal studio owners will tell you that the Alesis ADAT has had the biggest effect on the way people go about recording music over the past ten years. Since its introduction in 1991, well over 100,000 ADATs have been sold, and the grand majority of those are being used in homes and project studios. The ADAT offered a degree of audio quality that was previously impossible outside of the commercial recording facility, at a price that nearly any musician and recording enthusiast could afford. Over the past six years, dozens of platinum-selling albums and top-ten hits have been recorded on ADATs, with many of these successful projects being recorded outside of traditional studios.
Look across the year 2000 and tell us what development will revolutionize home recording in the next millennium?
Rick C: Total computerized digital control of the entire audio chain, perhaps, in one box!
Kerry W: Computer based home recording.
Ken R: As computers get more powerful and sampling rates continue to increase, hard disk recording will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. But I see the real revolution in the marketing. And it's already here! The internet is instant access to an worldwide audience and the ability to market your product to them directly. Put it on the net and cut the price to a reasonable one.
Paul Y: Very inexpensive hard disk (or another data format) media which will make audio storage and archiving a thoughtless process. Also the interconnectivity of the complete digital domain; digital mic, d. mic pre, d. mixer, d. hard disk recorder, d. effects, finally digital speakers. I also believe the 5.1 standard is very interesting and may impact the way we record, mix, and perceive the process. Video and audio will certainly merge.
Jeff W: The popular trend with many "technologies" is to "virtual-ize" the concepts. As more and more components take position in the virtual domain of software, this again will portend advances previously unheralded. By reducing the reliance on physical device development, concepts take form more readily and flexibly bringing an increasing number of devices into a software environment that encourages integration, systems become more comprehensive, and the diversity of tools at the disposal of the home recordist grows. Virtual devices allow the greater distribution of economic resources where hardware is still the imperative, for instance, microphones.
Jeff K: The continuing decrease in the cost associated with professional-quality recording equipment will continue to have an effect on how people go about developing a home recording setup. Technologically, Alesis feels that the integration of both linear (i.e. tape-based) and non-linear (hard disk) digital recording will grow more powerful and more affordable over the next few years.
Considering the importance of acoustic sounds in music will our concept of room design be changed in year 2000?
Rick C: I believe the sound design in rooms is as state of the art as one can conceive.
Kerry W: Not that much - a good room will still be a good room.
Ken R: You know, Abbey Road Studio B is exactly as it was in 1963 when the Beatles first walked through the front door. Sun Studios is about the same. The importance of proper acoustics will never change. Bathrooms can still be a great place to cut a vocal.
Paul Y: I don't see acoustic recording changing that drastically. It either sounds good or not.
Jeff W: Not likely. We still design large acoustic environments patterned after designs resembling those employed in ancient Greece. Advances in acoustic treatment technologies may continue to evolve, rooms are in some ways like roses.
Jeff K: The main factor which may influence room design is the proliferation of surround-sound recording applications. Once just the realm of video and film post production, the 5.1 surround formats will see an increased level of importance for music production as well. Acoustic design for studios, which has been based around two-channel stereo playback for the last 30 years, may need a new look to accommodate the multi-channel formats.
In 2010 what will the role of analog recording be?
Rick C: Simply for old time flavor or retro type sounds.
Paul Y: Reserved for purists only.
Ken R: Well I'm definitely a purist when it comes to analog. In my home studio I still have an old Ampex
MM-1000 that is my main deck. Sure, I have digital recording gear, but for my money, nothing sounds like the 2 inch16 track. I had a conversation with mastering engineer Stephen Marcussen (Rolling Stones, REM, U2) a couple of months back and he said that if he was building a studio for himself, he would go with 2 inch 16 track and 1/2 in mixdown Cut to the chase - I don't think analog will go out quietly. Not while there are still audiophiles who know that records "sound" better than CDs and that manufacturers are trying to sell all the tube outboard gear they can to "warm up" the digital sound.
Jeff W: Until digital implants are developed to feed the cerebellum, it is likely that analog will remain as an imperative in recording audio. The thing that is classically mis-understood or discussed out of context is unless the tone is generated from a digital source and transmitted over a digital medium, it is an analog signal. it may be captured on a digital medium after undergoing some conversion but ultimately it is returned to the analog domain. It must, we hear no other way! Analog is not likely to disappear from the recording world, but it's perception is likely to change and evolve.
Kerry W: Virtually non-existent.
Jeff K: Although there are some strengths in analog recording, it's hard to imagine that any home studio will be using it eleven years from now. The cost of digital equipment at several different levels (MiniDisk, low-cost hard disk, ADAT and so on) has dropped to the point where any home studio can already afford to make the transition. Also, higher digital resolution (as evidenced by the current group of 20- and 24-bit recorders) is making it difficult for even die-hard analog fans to dispute the subjective sonic quality of the old digital vs. analog argument. Plus, there are dozens of indisputable advantages that are inherent to digital recording. The only place in which analog recorders will probably continue to be seen is in high-end commercial facilities that want to give their clients every possible option in recording.
If I gave you one wish for home recording in the future, what would it be?
Rick C: Easy to own, operate, and repair for a reasonable cost outlay!
Kerry W: A digital format that would duplicate the emotional impact that the best analog recordings convey.
Paul Y: Real expanded bandwidth in the Internet so the distribution of music is more democratic [See Ken Roberts statement in question #2 ].
Ken R: I would wish that the manufacturers would upgrade their equipment by leaps and bounds rather than trying to pass off a new version of a minor upgrade every year. No one likes to purchase equipment for hundreds of dollars just to be told that it is obsolete the next year. And I wish manufacturers would stop releasing new equipment before it is truly tested and market ready. They should "get the bugs out" before selling to the public.
Jeff W: Increased education! As tools and technology become more affordable and employed by those who have never had them before, overwhelming options present bewildering arrays of capabilities. Professional recording and mastering engineers spend years, if not lifetimes, acquiring and honing the skills that make them who they are. Just because one wields a formidable toolbox does not establish they know which end of the tool to operate.
Jeff K: Keep it great-sounding, inspiring to my creativity, and affordable.
The final word comes from my friend Bruce Berger, a Los Angeles based musician, who sat quietly until he heard the final question and I could not find better words myself to sum up this discussion. Bruce writes, "The one development I would most welcome in home recording in the future is that the fascination with looping, sequencing, quantizing, et. al. will be supplanted by a renewed appreciation for the chemistry between musicians playing together in real time. Unlike the Portastudios of old this new technology will put within reach the ability to record live drums, horn sections, whatever, in a digital domain where you can't run out of tracks or faders. It will free people up to record live on a scale once thought possible only in a commercial studio. I wonder how many will take advantage of this greatest of all studio features: the ability to capture the live performance of living, breathing human beings." To that I can only say AMEN.
Ralph Sappington is the Director of Music at American Lutheran Church in Billings, Montana. You can contact him at RSAP@aol.com.