While technology continues to march ahead (or should that be sprint?), the cold reality is that the musical hardware and software available five years ago almost certainly already did everything that a talented engineer/producer actually needed to create great recordings. What technology has given us more recently, though, is the ability to set up a seriously high-performance studio based around a laptop, a multi-channel audio interface and a pair of monitors, which means that you can record anywhere without having to haul too much gear around. Today's laptops can run a huge number of plug-ins without breaking into a sweat, and there are also external DSP products when more esoteric plug-ins are required at the mixing stage. When you're back at home, you can plug in a large monitor and a control surface to give you all the familiar 'big system' benefits. While good monitor speakers haven't shrunk much in size, you may only need headphones at the recording stage, in which case you can carry your studio in a briefcase in one hand and a bag of mics in the other.
From a commercial viewpoint, such a portable system makes it possible for you to offer recording services at live gigs or rehearsal rooms rather than trying to cram an eight piece soul band into your bedroom. For your own recordings, it opens up the possibility of taking the studio to the most acoustically appropriate spaces rather than trying to do the impossible with a tiny bedroom. A prime example is that it's much easier to get a great drum sound in a large room with a high ceiling than in a small room with a low ceiling — although, having said that, sometimes even a small room will surprise you by being useful in creating a certain type of recorded sound. However, unless you are able to pack up your gear and go there, it may as well not exist. The moral here is that it pays to be on good terms with any local service operators that may have useful rooms — youth centres, schools, venues and suchlike, all of which tend to be used for only part of the day and so are potentially accessible at other times.
Returning to the 'march of technology' thread, I commented in a leader column some five years ago that: 'The mobile studio of the future may well become part of a new generation of multi‑purpose MP3 player/web browser/telephone/sat-nav package'. Well, that seems to have come to pass, as you can now put a 48-track DAW on an iPad or make more modest multitrack recordings on an iPhone. But in the same issue I also pointed out that while the recording gear continues to get smaller, the bag of mic stands, mics, cables and DI boxes that you also need to take to recording sessions doesn't get any lighter, so it begs the question of whether putting your studio on anything smaller than a laptop really has any practical benefits. After all, when the audio recorder looks like getting smaller than the XLR you need to plug into it, isn't it time to call a halt?
Paul White Editor In Chief