Hello, and welcome to the very first Western Audio blog! We're going to be talking all things music here; from recording and gear chat, through favourite records, interviews and the wider industry as well. But first, I'm going to try to answer a pretty thorny question...
About 6 months back, I opened my new studio. It was an enormous labour of love, and despite the overwhelming support we received during the process of creating this space there were nevertheless a few people asking a pretty valid question:
"But WHY do people need a super fancy studio these days? Surely you can do it all at home on a laptop now?"
Home recording has seismically shifted the balance of the recording industry. In the last 10-15 years, it has become eminently possible to produce great-quality music at home, with a relatively low set-up cost. Alongside easy-to-access digital distribution models, this has led to a golden age for DIY music (don’t take my word for it - Steve Albini thinks so too!). Do we really still need purpose-built spaces? Is it necessary to pay good money to a producer or engineer when we can do it ourselves?
One of my other great passions in life is food. I'm a pretty good cook, and I enjoy the process of cooking. However, I know I'm never going to be as good as a trained chef!
There's something special about going out to eat. Whether it's a burger with a few mates or a special meal with a loved one, the whole experience is greater than just the act of converting delicious matter into energy. It's more enjoyable, and the service, surroundings and vibe all add value to the experience. Cooking at home just isn't the same.
I think this is a great analogy for recording with a great engineer in a great studio.
I've been doing this for nearly 20 years. I've worked everywhere from bedrooms, cellars, project studios and top pro facilities, with a range of clients from independent artists through to internationally-recognised major-label acts. The one biggest deciding factor in whether I can get a truly great recording is the room. Put it this way - every single record in the UK's 10 best sellers of all time was recorded in a great room. They all sound amazing.
The other factor these albums all have in common is the producer and engineer. These albums have all had the input of some of the recording industry's greatest names. Both the room and the personnel are the added value that makes studio recording special.
Oscar Wilde said,
"...Everyone knows the price of everything and the value of nothing".
So what do we mean by 'value'? To me, value is separate from the financial cost of something. Value is the ratio of what we get for our money. To revisit the food analogy, you can go out and buy a couple of steaks, a nice bottle of wine and have change from £30; alternatively you could eat the same ingredients at a great restaurant. Whilst the core outcome remains the same (you've eaten steak!), only one of these options has the higher probability of creating a lasting, special memory.
THAT'S the recording studio effect. You can record in a great room (which is inspiring - just ask anyone who's ever sang in a church) with a great engineer and producer who will know just how to get your music to sound the way you want, and push you to perform your absolute best. You'll be free to enjoy the creative side, and can leave the technical stuff to the engineer. There's only so much you to go round. The great Ron Swanson sums it up perfectly:
Home recording: I've been there and done it - it's part of my journey and a big contribution to learning my trade. It's fun! And if you're just starting out, it may be the perfect option. But here's a thing: In my playing days (way back when TVs were big boxes and people still bought CDs), I recorded one of my band's most popular songs in our drummer's garage, and sent it out to radio stations and promoters. I heard nothing, save from one radio producer who said it was too rough to put on air... A year later, we re-recorded it as part of our debut studio album, and guess what? Radio play, gig offers, CD sales... Same song. Better production value, better performance. Go figure!
As a final word, I'll address the elephant in the room: Cost. Yes, it costs money to record well (although not too much if you record at Western Audio *shameless plug*). But consider the added value you get. I recently read an article about why people choose things that cost more money, and one sentence leapt out at me (I'll paraphrase):
"In every case, the people that paid for the higher-value product saw that value reflected in themselves. The ones that didn't, didn't. They didn't see themselves as worth enough."
You're worth it.
(Don't miss the next instalment in this series, where we'll look at how to find the right studio and producer, and the sustainability of paying for your recording.)