Music Technology: A Level Playing Field

I just returned from the recording studio, a habit I’ve been able to maintain since the 1980s. Being a lover of both music and technology, I am amazed how the field has changed so dramatically in the last quarter century. When I first began recording, I played at a studio in Eliot, Maine run by Steve Buzzell and actually recorded many of the songs I played at my wedding. At that time, analog was all we knew and the click track (the beat that everyone hears in the headphones to make sure timing is on) was actually recorded by putting a mic up to a metronome. Later I spent years recording at Double Edge studios in Haverhill, Massachusetts where Dave Spaulding, now an ISP owner, was one of the leaders in New England in developing digital music technologies. I remember how thrilled he was to be hired to do the digital drums sounds for Boston‘s tour one year.

I recorded a children’s music album at Double Edge in the 1990’s with my buddy Jim Eaves, now a fellow Principal, and the drums, keys, and bass were all digital. Everything else was analog, although in the end, the recording landed on a DAT (digital audio tape) before being pressed to cassette. I also worked part-time for 16 years in radio and while I saw the advent of CDs take over from 45s and LPs, I left the biz just before complete digital studios were introduced.

Fast forward to 2006, and my church group Covenant recorded a live album produced by Grammy Award winning Studio Metronome in Brookline, NH, one of the top studios in the east. This is when I discovered how far digital music had come. It wasn’t just the recording truck that arrived at our concert to record every track….(every singer’s voice, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keys, five or six tracks for drums and congas), but the post-production back in the studio. Using the Mac version of Pro Tools, the industry standard music production software, we could be so precise that if a bass note was incorrectly played as a Bb, we  changed it to a C at the click of a mouse.

To record my monthly podcast I currently use Garageband on a MacBook with a simple Shure SM58 microphone through a M-Audio USB adapter. It is laid out in simpler but similar fashion to Pro Tools and while the features of Garageband don’t compare (GB free with Macs, PT tens of thousands of dollars for full featured) I can easily edit out my aahs and lip pops with a mouse drag and click.

My buddy Mitch has built his own recording studio, The Tracking Station, in New Boston, NH that I reference at the beginning of this post, and he is able to compete with some of the more expensive studios due to the level playing field that technology has created. He also has Pro Tools, some great microphones, and enough space to make it all work. He doesn’t have the band apartment for rent or incredible view in the country that Studio Metronome has, but at the end of the day, the sound quality doesn’t vary dramatically. iTunes has exalted the single song over the album and unknown bands can become famous through digital downloads, without a major recording contract. Technology also allows teachers, students, and the rest of us to express our artistry with quality and minimal expense.

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