The threat of recession seems ever closer, when instead of folding money we have folding banks, but that doesn't mean you can't upgrade your studio at minimal cost — as you'll see from our extensive feature on the subject elsewhere in this issue. In the meantime, though, let's look at some simple techniques that you can use to improve your studio and recordings on a shoestring budget. I recently visited one of the major music companies, and was asked if I'd take half an hour to talk to their salesmen about the recording market in general, with particular regard for what might happen in the future. One of the salesmen kicked off with the age‑old question about whether technology such as Auto-Tune, Melodyne and the quantise button meant that anybody could make good music. My reply was the same as ever: all these tools will let you put a performance in time and in tune, but there's so much more to a good performance. Forcing a bad singing voice into pitch doesn't usually result in a pleasant‑sounding vocal.
Creating a good song and a good performance is just as hard as it has ever been, which is why those making music at home need to be careful not to lose touch with the musical instrument that fostered their interest in the first place. In the studio you may be able to get by being able to play no more than four bars without making a mistake, but in live performance that simply isn't good enough.
To have something worth recording, you either need to be a reasonably good musician or a good composer with worthwhile ideas in your head — which the computer can then help you turn into reality. Trading in all your guitar practice time for dabbling with plug‑ins and loops is not the way to improve your musicianship.
On a similar tack, I managed to upset a class full of music technology students on one of our college visits by saying that learning to manipulate loops of pre‑recorded material wasn't enough to make you a good recording engineer or producer. You should have seen the looks I got! Certainly, being able to do so is a worthwhile skill and, indeed, is necessary for much contemporary music production, but it is only a tiny subset of what music recording is really about. If you're good enough to create loops of commercial quality from the ground up by recording your own instruments and those of other 'real' musicians, you'll be lot closer to your goal.
Having said all that, the future will inevitably see more 'dumbing down' of both musicianship and recording practices. Already we see music shops stocking Guitar Hero‑type musical games, which promote the idea that they'll encourage an interest in playing the real thing. While this might be true in the case of drummers (as you need a sense of timing to play with these things), I can't imagine many people making a smooth transition from a plastic plank with buttons that trigger somebody else's riffs to actually learning the guitar.
So if you really want to learn how to make and record music, do yourself a favour and lock away all those sampled phrases and loops until you've learned to make music without them. Once you can, you'll be able to use them in the right context, rather than as an imagined shortcut to being a 'producer'.
Paul White Editor In Chief