I spend a lot of my time at music trade shows, and one of the most frequently discussed subjects is the future of our industry. This is understandable enough in any business, because the participants have to know which way the wind is blowing in order to survive, but it's doubly interesting to members of the music business community because most of them are also musicians or studio owners in their spare time, and they're as curious as anyone else as to what the next big thing will be.
We've seen the meteoric rise of software synths over the past few years, and while there are some great new models on the market, the concept is no longer new, though there are still those who refuse to take them as seriously as hardware synths. For live performance, the hardware synth still has a lot going for it, but in the studio, a soft synth that never wears out and that comes with three or more Gigabytes of wave ROM seems awfully attractive when compared with a hardware unit that offers maybe 256MB of ROM.
Even hardware studios are getting smaller, not to mention more affordable, with powerful all-in-one DAWs being built by just about every major manufacturer, and one of my previous predictions for the future was that users would finally start spending a little money on nice-looking studio furniture and effective acoustic treatment. After all, if you can no longer impress your friends with an old-fashioned analogue mixer that you could land a Sea Harrier on, you might feel inclined to make your setup look classy in some other way. And acoustic treatment makes perfect sense in any system, because if you can't hear what's really going on in your mixes, the end result probably isn't going to sound good when played back on other systems.
It all seemed so logical to me that I was quite surprised to learn from our recent reader survey that almost nobody said they were going to commit much in the way of budget to either studio furniture or acoustic treatment! OK, furniture could be considered a bit of a vanity issue (though a good studio chair is essential given the amount of time you spend in it), but ignoring acoustic treatment seems very unwise, and we continually cite its importance. As our Studio SOS visits continue to confirm, most home studio monitoring environments are far from accurate, yet just a small amount of acoustic treatment will bring about a significant improvement, and if you're prepared to spend a little more still, most domestic rooms can be turned into pretty good mixing rooms providing you choose your monitors wisely. What's more, today's acoustic treatment kits are visually attractive and they also suggest to your clients and friends that your recording setup is a studio, and not just some recording gear piled up in a bedroom. And before anyone else mentions it, you can buy some cheap duvets to hang on your walls — but while they can be useful in some situations, they don't look as good as proper acoustic foam or panel absorbers, and they are only effective for mid-range and high frequencies. I still maintain they make great vocal screens though!
Ultimately, I guess we all have different priorities, which in my own case means buying better mics and preamps, better monitors and sorting out the room acoustics. In my opinion, now that studio equipment is getting cheaper and smaller, it makes sense to spend some of the money saved on making our studios nicer and, more importantly, better-sounding places to work in!
Paul White Editor In Chief