Home Recording Reshaped the Creative Process & Challenged the Studio Sector
By Eamon McGrath
If touring is the muscle and bones of a music career , studio recording is its veins and arteries . In the last decade , however , recording technology has gotten to the point where studio-level sound quality has been transplanted to the comforts of home .
“ The home recording thing has been prevalent for a good 10 years ,” says Aaron Goldstein , owner and operator of Gold Standard Recorders in Toronto ’ s east end .“ Maybe the quality wasn ’ t quite the same then , but it caught up pretty quickly . I had all the home stuff myself , and I grew that collection massively into the contents of my studio .”
This is reflected in all levels of the music industry : massive hits such as Gotye ’ s “ Somebody That I Used to Know ,” which is nearing two billion YouTube views , was recorded by the artist at his parents ’ barn outside of Melbourne , Australia . T-Pain famously brings a condensed , mobile recording unit with him on the road and tracks vocals for records in hotel rooms across the world . Outside the world of pop and hiphop , Tame Impala ’ s landmark debut LP was tracked in Perth bedrooms and garages by the bandleader , Kevin Parker . In most cases , all that ’ s missing from the equation is the access to other people .
“ I think it ’ s great that people can record at home ,” says Matt Snell , who owns and operates Genesis Sound , also in Toronto .“ But I think most bands realize that it ’ s more fun to go into a studio and record with someone who is going to experiment . As a producer and engineer , my job is not only setting up mics : it ’ s also encouraging new ideas and different sounds .”
Goldstein adds to that : “ I know a lot of mix engineers who only mix on consoles and outboard gear ,” he explains . “ But the guy I send most of my stuff to , he mixes in the box , and the results are amazing because of his ears . I ’ m hiring him , not his gear .”
The COVID-19 pandemic also allowed aspiring , DIY audio engineers all the time in the world to further establish their recording and mixing skills , creating another challenge for studio owners to overcome . A musician has access to thousands of plug-ins , which can transform any shabbily-tracked audio recording into something sprawling and glistening . With endless hours not spent in vans , on tour , on the road , performing , or rehearsing , musicians were able to learn techniques and methods they might not have had the opportunity to understand beforehand . “ The live side feeds the recording side ,” Goldstein remarks . “ The whole thing is an ecosystem . When the live revenue dollars disappeared , more and more artists were self-funding their records , whereas years ago it wasn ’ t that way .”
For myself , after months of recording at home , I finally understood the nuances of parallel and sidechain compression , routing a patchbay , and reamping DI ’ d guitar signals into fully-fledged , listenable takes . I emerged from the pandemic with hours of new music that I ’ m now taking out on the road .
Of course , the benefits aren ’ t always felt by everyone . “ You don ’ t have access to their mic lockers and boxes of secrets ,” Snell continues , speaking to the hiring of professional producers and engineers . “ I think the biggest thing missing from not going to a studio to record is the direct collaboration with someone who isn ’ t in your band .”
Collaborating in real-time , working with an experienced producer , or enlisting the help of a world-renowned audio engineer is worth its weight in gold . For me , the chance to record at home has even produced a brand-new album called Bells of Hope , but it ’ s taken years of trial and error to get to the point where I feel like my own recordings could hold a flame to my work in well-established studios . When working with an experienced engineer , results happen much quicker . “ If you ’ re in a band with your buddies , and you ’ re going to bring your gear to the cottage and record , it ’ s actually pretty cost effective to come to a place like mine where all that stuff is already set up ,” Goldstein says . “ But I believe that however you make your music , it ’ s the product that counts . If it sounds amazing and it works , then good on you .”
As technology improves , and the fate of large brick-and-mortar studios remains in destiny ’ s hands , at the very least home recording has provided the chance for bands to continue working during the pandemic and stay inspired when they ’ re not on the road , continuing to pump the blood of writing and recording into the live music industry as it rebuilds its skeletal structure . “ I think studios will always be needed ,” Snell concludes . “ At the end of the day , it ’ s always nice to go and track in a big room , and make a great-sounding record .”
Released in February 2022 , Bells of Hope is the latest album by prolific Canadian troubadour Eamon McGrath . With over 300 songs written and recorded , album of the year credits , and multiple continent-spanning tours , McGrath has developed a body of work that could rival that of most artists 15 years his senior . www . eamonmcgrath . ca .
PHOTO : ROBERT GEORGEOFF
30 CANADIAN MUSICIAN