Digital revolting

As I sit to write this blog I’m not at home. I’m sitting in a little holiday cottage in Suffolk enjoying a well earned break (well I think it’s

Deepest darkest Suffolk church near my holiday cottage.

well earned anyway). So you may be forgiven in thinking that I’m closed for business, but you’d be wrong. This opportunity seems as good as any to write a bit about the digital revolution.

Once upon a time if you needed to produce audio you had to go to a studio and work there because the machinery you were about to use consisted of large tape machines and huge amounts of outboard rack gear. Mobile studios came in the back of lorries and making phone calls was done by plugging something into a wall and being tied to that location so the number would work. Over the last 20 years technology has changed and this has meant that things have become more powerful and more portable. So I can sit here in my cottage with my laptop and phone and still work (alright, so the phone reception is a bit iffy but you get the picture). All I would need to do to do some recording is plug in my usb audio interface and a mic into that, and I’m a functioning recording studio as much as I am at home. Every generation of computers and every new development of technology make this more and more possible and the results we can achieve on the road become better and better. Digital technology has also massively reduced the financial outlay we need to commit to be able to make the best quality recordings, and things keep getting cheaper. This sounds great, but it’s not as simple as that. More than ever technology is advancing faster than people’s ability to use it properly. Yes we can buy the gear for a few hundred pounds that will be capable of producing music just like our favourite artists, but we still need to know how to use it. I could plug a mic in to my laptop right here where I sit and record a voice over now, but what would it sound like? I’d sound dreadful. The room is all hard surfaces, so it adds a good second of reverb to everything, I can hear birds singing outside (blackbirds, wood pigeons and a wren since you ask), there is a snoring dog at the other end of the room and someone is mowing the lawn a few doors down. If I wanted to record a voiceover here – which I don’t by the way – I would need to know how to deal with all those problems. On the whole it’s a case of waiting until the noises have stopped, but how to kill the reverb in the room? Some clever deploying of duvets would be in order, but you need to know where to put them for greatest effect. You need knowledge and experience to overcome such problems, and only then does such portability become truly possible.

And what about the software we can buy? For a few hundred pounds we can kit our home studios out with professional software and start creating the next number one in our bedrooms, right? I use ProTools. I find it very user friendly and intuitive, it does what I need it do and them some and I can get brilliant results from it. But I’ve stopped recommending it to people unless I know that they will be able to cope with it. I’ve seen too many people totally phased by it and heard too much dreadful audio that has been produced with ProTools by people who don’t know how to use it. It is such a powerful program that the breadth of its functions can completely

Laxfield museum, near my cottage.

outface people. It does so much that it can become user un-friendly to people with less of a background in sound engineering. It is a fully equipped recording studio in a box. Many people who buy ProTools would never consider walking into a recording studio and trying to operate it, but they will attempt it in a software environment. Wonder why the results sound bad?

So the technological revolution has totally changed the landscape for audio recording and production, but more than ever a sound engineer is needed to make the most of the revolution.

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