Why make your own ramshackle recording studio?

With cheapening equipment and a proliferation of recording software more and more artists have made their own recording studio. Chloe Hamilton explores the ins and outs of this venture.

Picture a recording studio. What do you see? For me, a self-confessed amateur when it comes to the music world, a recording studio is synonymous with complex looking machines with a billion different buttons. The odd chair, preferably swivel, also resides in my imaginary recording studio. And the walls are padded. It is very shiny and very expensive.

However, this is not always the case. The majority of Bon Iver’s album For Emma, Forever Ago was recorded in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. Radiohead recorded Climbing Up Walls in a mansion. What makes an environment suitable for recording and producing music?

I am lucky enough to have a number of friends studying music at university who were able to talk to me about where they record. I wanted to know whether recording in different locations produced different types of music and how different environments can affect levels of creativity.

My first port of call was Steffan Davies a singer/songwriter who studies Popular Music at Goldsmiths. Over the last year he has set up his own home studio, quietly gathering all the bits and pieces he needs to record his own music from the comfort of his own bedroom. His microphone stands next to his overspilling wardrobe, his speakers balance precariously on a tiny desk and there is not a swivel chair in sight. On the surface, Steffan’s bedroom studio seems limited. But when I asked Steffan about the benefits of a home studio, I discovered that this was not the case.

“I find I can really knuckle down and get lost in the world of mixing and arranging sounds in my little home studio. I find that I can try out different things and experiment a bit more. I do things like place a duvet over a door to absorb some of the sound that would otherwise bounce right back off, completely changing the sound of the take.”

Steffan’s studio gives him the privacy he needs to experiment with his music. It allows for a creative freedom that he might not find elsewhere. It means that he can record whenever he likes. Rather than being tied down to someone else’s schedule, he can make music any time of the day or night in his bedroom.

My second example of an unusual recording space is the home of Ben De Vries. Ben is studying Music Technology at Leeds College of Music, but was brought up with a recording studio attached to his house. I asked him what it was like growing up with recording equipment readily available to him and how that has effected him as a musician.

“I know the software pretty well. Being able to work in a studio from a young age influenced my compositional style more than anything else. It meant I’d compose straight into a sequencer rather than on an instrument. So I guess my arrangement skills could develop in that context.”

Being introduced to the software at a young age has heavily influenced the way Ben makes music. He veers away from a traditional singer/song writer approach and leans heavily toward the production of music. Like many music students Ben has the equipment needed to record in his bedroom at university. However, he can see some limitations in a bedroom studio.

“The spacial characteristics of the room will play a part in shaping the sound captured by a microphone. Certain locations have technological limitations – for example recording with a smaller desk in a home studio environment will limit the number of tracks available at one time, more than on a large desk in a real studio.”

However, the necessary equipment does not come cheap. A good computer, microphone, sound card, and speaker set alone can push a budget up to £2,000. Add to that software and instruments and it’s easy to see that the essential kit is a serious investment, and one that might be too risky for musicians who are just starting out.

Finally, I asked the big question. Is there a right way to record? According to Ben, there isn’t.

“There are certain techniques taught in the formal education of production, tried and tested if you like. But ultimately if the product comes out sounding good then it doesn’t matter how you got there.”

The selling point of a bedroom studio is the freedom that it provides musicians. An artist can express themselves better without such strict constraints upon time and money as would be the case in an expensive ‘professional’ studio. It also allows artists to make music without the backing of a label, which allows them to fully control the creative process. In introducing people such as producers, engineers and song writers, the artist will lose a degree of control on the final product. However, this is not an issue when using a bedroom studio and the musician can maintain complete creative control over their own work.

Which brings me to my final point. When I told a friend of mine that I was writing this article, he said that haphazard or not, it was personal choice that was essential to recording music. Like Ben, he said there is no right way to record,  just different ways to record. Be it a fancy, wall-padded studio, a bedroom strewn with dirty socks, or a recording studio in the garden, all that matters is the end result.

Although I still like the idea of a large swivel chair.

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