I'm going to let you into a secret that could put our entire industry out of business — but trust me, that won't happen because nobody will really take this seriously! For the last decade, and probably longer, we've all had access to all the affordable tools we need to make first-class recordings, yet we keep on buying more stuff. I know because I do it too. But why do we keep buying all this new gear if we already have everything we need to make world-class records? And for that matter why do companies keep coming up with new products that in reality will probably make little, if any, difference to the end result of our recording endeavours?
The answer is that much as we'd like to, most of us don't come up with world-class records and so we look to new gear to solve our problems. In reality though the gear is rarely the limiting factor, as even the most basic budget systems you can buy these days outperform the analogue tape machines used to record all those top-selling classics. Sergeant Pepper was famously made using just a couple of four-track machines, but is widely regarded as a classic album; not because of the gear used to record it but because of the quality of the songs, the quality of the performances and the skill of the producer/arranger, George Martin.
Today even fairly basic DAW software running on a personal tablet such as an iPad far exceeds the capabilities of the leading studios used during the musically productive '60s and '70s, yet most of us fall short when it comes to delivering a rampantly successful end product. If we're honest, it isn't really the gear that needs upgrading. All those great records of old started with strong performances of great songs, and it was the studio's job to capture and enhance the music rather than to radically re-shape it or repair it. In the vast majority of cases it's our songs and performances that are the weak links in the chain, not the recording gear. And that's followed closely by the musical arrangement, which includes the choice of sounds as well as who plays what and when. Then there's the acoustics of the recording space. Once the signal actually hits the microphone 90 percent of the job is already done and any creative mixing work that follows is still much more a matter of skill than of what's in the signal path. At a recent convention I sat on a panel where I was asked what was the one piece of studio equipment I couldn't manage without. My answer, of course, was a duvet, though perhaps I should have said 'a musical brain'! Anyhow, I've got to go now as I've just found this cool new plug-in synth that's going to make my next album so much better than the last one!
Paul White Editor In Chief