When I recorded my first solo acoustic guitar album in 1979, I had no choice but to work with an engineer in a professional recording studio, paying an hourly rate for studio time as well as tape (yes, reel-to-reel audiotape) costs.
These days, with the availability of great-sounding, affordable home recording equipment, computer software and digital audio interfaces, it is very possible to assemble a makeshift studio in your living room, learn how to use the gear yourself, record yourself, and produce a great-sounding album for a fraction of the cost of a studio project.
I have watched with amazement the advance of recording and sound technology over the past 35 years and the mind-blowing capability it has given virtually anyone who wants to record themselves at home…but when it comes to recording, I have always been old school. My recording method has stayed the same for 35 years and 18 albums: working with an engineer in a recording studio.
There are three reasons:
1. I want the front end of my sound (the pre-digital audio signal that starts with my guitar, continues through microphones and then through the pre-amps in a mixing console) to stay as “analog” as possible for as long as possible before being digitised onto a hard drive, so I like to record with the same classic, warm-sounding analog gear I have always used and am used to hearing, notably vintage Neumann microphones and, whenever possible, Neve mixing consoles.
(There are now devices, computer interfaces and sound cards that “model” the sound of classic analog gear, but I choose to use the real stuff.)
The studio I am currently using, Ca Va Sound in Glasgow, has that gear.
2. I want to record in an environment other than my home, for the combination of freedom and challenge an unfamiliar environment can offer.
What do I mean?
Recording in an unfamiliar environment can initially feel uncomfortable, but it actually removes the familiar distractions of home you didn’t realise were there and can really help you focus on your music.
If you are out of your comfort zone, in an environment you don’t know, it tends to help you reach further into what you do know…your music.
Another point to make is that studio time, even in the digital age of hard drives where there are no longer tape costs, is still expensive.
There is something at stake when you arrive at the studio for a session.
Knowing the clock will be ticking once you arrive motivates you to prepare diligently before a session to maximise your efficiency while in the studio.
It can also help produce that adrenaline-filled “moment of truth” when you begin tracking that can bring out your best playing.
(I played that? Whoa!)
3. I want the advantages of working with an experienced engineer, especially one who has musical ears.
I cannot emphasise enough the benefits of working with an engineer who knows you, your music, and what you are trying to achieve.
Not only will the engineer be running the gear (a total necessity for tech and gadget-challenged people like me) so you can focus on getting the best performances out of yourself, but a good engineer’s insights, advice, observations and encouragement can actually help you make a better record.
The engineer I work with at Ca Va is Geoff Allan (pictured above). I think he’s great.
Even though I am a solo acoustic guitarist who could be recording in a home studio, recording in a real studio with a real engineer is something the digital age has not changed for me.
It’s not for everyone. But it’s the way I love to work…and I believe it shows up in the way my records sound.
How do you like to record?
What is your opinion about using outside studios versus using a home studio?