With New York-based band We Are Scientists currently in the middle of making their latest album, frontman Keith Murray has vowed to give Q readers an insight into recording process by writing us a series of missives straight from the studio. In his fourth instalment the singer explains why recording at home isn’t always as simple – or as cheap – as it seems…
In this day and age, when new laptops come with relatively high-powered music recording software as a standard feature and the average smart phone has a microphone capable of capturing a damned respectable vocal take, you might wonder why on Earth any fiscally-conscious band would ever consider recording in a studio, when they could simply invest the often-substantial studio day-rate on a grip of professional-grade gear of their own and make an album in their bedroom.
The answer, of course, is that a lot of bands do take that tack, to (occasionally) great effect. In my case, though, the argument against such an approach goes something like this: thinking about musical recording gear makes me want to stick my head into the chomping gyre of an industrial fan.
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier installment of this column, I’m a technical idiot. My demos sound like garbage, and I consider a home recording session a smashing success if it ends without my having accidentally dropped my laptop into a full bathtub.
I’ve got no real aptitude for differentiating between discrete pieces of gear, and I’ve got a history of making equipment purchases so ill considered that they might almost be considered admirable if they weren’t also financially tragic. Back at the turn of the century, I spent a small fortune on a 16-track digital hard-disc recorder that seemed to me – having just graduated from a cassette-based 4-track – to be the future of home recording.
Of course, today, the thing is a dinosaur – cumbersome, gigantic, possessing of software so archaic that its commands might as well be delivered via semaphore. Suffice it to say that I haven’t touched it since I (finally, pathetically) purchased my first laptop back in ’05, marveling at my newfound ability to both record music and play Mine Sweeper without having to switch devices. Goddamned magic.
Having recently come back around to the idea that I really ought to suck it up and try dipping my toes into the old gear-acquisition game, though, I learned one new valuable lesson the hard way – asking one’s gear-savvy friends for advice on where to begin thinking about compiling a respectable home recording set-up is, simply put, asking for a gigantic headache. Enthusiasts will be effusive and, ultimately, exhausting, with conversation inevitably veering toward an extensive dissection of the minute and arcane differences between two pieces of gear that are fundamentally indistinguishable to the uninitiated, disease-free mind.
When I asked Max Hart, former touring keyboardist for We Are Scientists and current member of the Katy Perry onstage ensemble, for some modest recommendations, he replied with an email that ran upwards of 700 words, heavily annotated and peppered with links to helpful websites. One laborious paragraph was dedicated to dissecting whether I would prefer a Universal Audio LA-2A compressor over a Universal Audio 1176, before ultimately conceding that: “both are so good it can be hard to differentiate.”
To be honest, I knew what I was getting myself into when I asked Max for his advice. While we toured together, Max spent an inordinate amount of each day online, manically perusing what he referred to as “gear porn.” That designation that might initially seem fanciful, until you consider that one of his favoured sites – a bulletin board dedicated to impassioned and overheated conversations about, say, tube microphones – is called Gearslutz.com.
So, yeah. After crunching the numbers on a slew of pre-amps and waxing rhapsodic about one piece’s particular efficacy at “employing a high-pass filter to cut that low-frequency rumble,” Max wrapped his email up by saying, simply, “I’m sorry.” Not nearly as sorry as I am, Max…
Look out for the next exciting instalment of Track Marks next month, but get your fix in the meantime at Wearescientists.com.