In issue #84 I wrote an End Rant entitled "The Big Misconception." In it, I railed against the concept that a computer could replace an entire studio. I still say it can't really do as such, and to claim otherwise is a lie, but I never said it couldn't open up other doors of creativity. Below are some letters we received, as well as some of my thoughts to these responses.
You omit any reference to electronic music. What about that vast area of music that uses the computer to create? And, dare I say it, which has forged a different skill set only partly informed by traditional studio craft?
"drissa" via the Tape Op Message Board
If you are discussing electronic music that is created purely within a computer, then maybe it has no real precedent in the analog/studio recording world that it could be replacing. If so, then this is not what journalists and such are referring to. But consider that electronic-based artists like Kraftwerk, Steve Roach, Larry Fast [Tape Op #38] and many others built their own studios to record in those "pre-DAW" days. And they spent fair amounts of money to do so. -LC
Times have changed. The majority of truly relevant recordings right now are being made in bedrooms, on cheap headphones and without engineers. The world doesn't really run on twee indie pop that is tracked on 1" tape.
J. Infamous <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In my opinion, anyone that records music into some device is "engineering" at some level. Do you mean not "professional" engineers? Sure, this happens occasionally. No problem with that! But even Owl City's first album (an example I used in my initial article), was mixed by John Goodmanson [Tape Op #35] — very much a professional engineer. However, if you are inferring that Tape Op or myself present a Luddite attitude towards recording, I'd say take a far closer look at our actual content.
I understand the point of this article is to say that you can't actually do everything on your little computer that it used to take a whole studio to do, so don't believe it when you read that in some other trade publication. Agreed. Ultimately, however, performance trumps it all in my opinion. The only recordings of Robert Johnson's music come from two sessions: three days in a hotel room in San Antonio in November of 1936 and two days in the back of a Dallas office building in June of 1937, using the most minimal of equipment. These recordings are not technically stellar by any stretch of the imagination — in fact they sound awful. There is even some debate if the speed and pitch are correct. These facts not withstanding, this is considered by many to be the greatest Mississippi Delta blues ever recorded. My point: performance transcends the recording. Period.
Kol Marshall <kolmarshall.com>
Of course. I'd be a fool to suggest that lack of "audio quality" would completely discount any musical performance, or to suggest that audio quality alone would make something worth listening to. But I do know that many of us constantly seek to improve our recording equipment, along with our skills. An excellent recording of a great performance certainly won't hurt! But, on the other hand, show me any record recorded with only the built-in mic on a laptop that might have the lasting importance of Robert Johnson's work.
As a DIY musician and publisher of DIY music, I believe journalists are correct when they enthusiastically state how empowered musicians are today. Whereas I enjoyed bouncing tracks down to make space on my Tascam 4-track, and later doing time as an assistant in a mastering studio, a lot of folks I know only got started once they could buy a $200 interface, a $100 mic and install free or cheap software on their computer. Some of the DIY artists I interview are definitely musicians — not engineers; the barrier to entry simply dropped to the point where they felt confident enough to get started on their own. Discussing this topic is meaningless without discussing the other major lowered barrier; the ease of digital distribution. We wouldn't be hearing much about empowered musicians if it weren't for the Internet and the ability to instantly share midnight creations with an audience.
Sudara Williams <ramenmusic.com>
I never said you couldn't make a record on minimal gear, but I also pointed out that you could do that before and with an investment that was not much different than buying a computer, interfaces, mics, et al. I would never want to be misconstrued as saying, "Don't use what you have available to make records." In fact, I'm sure over the last 15 years I've done a lot to encourage people to record on anything available!
I wanted more info on the $4,000 analog set up you had. What type of gear did you or do you still have?
Josh Minnish <email@example.com>
My home studio of 1996 didn't include any gear I'd necessarily recommend to anyone, though it did provide a great training ground and made me work hard at getting good sounds. My point was you could do that back then! But I'll tell you, any computer-based recording setup probably has higher audio quality than what I used back then!
I do most of my work in film and video. If I had a dime for every clown who claims that everyone can now make feature films or high quality television because we all have iPhones and laptops with cameras built in — as if having a camera is all there is to making a movie. Sure, some artists have made great things with very little. Creative people do that kind of thing. Tape Op readers don't have to be told that the tech doesn't make the art, but it sure seems like journalists and advertisers missed that memo.
Tim Maloney <www.nake
Exactly my point. The technology may change; but the skills needed, as well as the quest for better tools by the obsessed among us, never does.