Monday, June 14, 2010

Anyone can make a record now. Yeah, most of us have heard this sentiment banging around musical circles and the blogosphere, but not a lot of people know what this means. First, a very brief history is required.

Magnetic tape recording began in 1949, which could record only one performance, all on the same tape. Multi-tracking was largely developed by jazz guitarist/inventor Les Paul, but was still in its infancy in the sixties. In the mid-sixties the true potential of stacking many tracks on top of each other came into bloom.

In 1966, the Beatles holed up for nearly half a year at 3 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, City of Westminster, London, England and created what most music magazines (including Rolling Stone) call the best album of all time. In creating Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles’ recording team used huge tape recorders precariously daisy-chained together, making it possible to overlap sounds, add lush layers of instruments, and finally painstakingly splice together a masterpiece of unprecedented extravagance. From that point forward, multi-tracking was established as the industry standard for making records. Then along comes digital…

Fast-forwarding through the eighties, nineties and the last decade, we find ourselves in quite a different audio climate. Once digital recording became the industry standard in professional studios, it wasn’t long before any musician with a laptop and a microphone can make a record (I’m not talking about vinyl here. Not yet, anyway). Amazingly, we are not talking about a low-fidelity garage record—clear, high-quality digital audio workstations became available on the consumer level more than ten years ago. A company named Digidesign came out with a computer program called Pro Tools, which quickly became the most popular program on the market. Now everyone I know has (at least) a mini-studio capable of recording thirty-two or more audio tracks and mix them down to a CD-quality digital version. Finally I arrive at the point of this rant: should the new Watha T. Daniel Library be outfitted with a recording rig?

I run a modest recording studio, mostly to mix records of bands I like and my band, which I also kinda like. I recently upgraded to an Intel Mac and set aside my G4 and Digidesign Digi 001 interface for something newer. Now my old rig is just sitting, gathering dust and looking lonely. I’m not going to throw away my old machine. Nobody will want a system that still runs Pro Tools 6.4. I was thinking of creating a program at the new building in which we write, record, and mix a song—the whole process from start to finish—but I have doubts about whether I could get enough participants. What do I do?

Remarkably, despite the arsenal of audio tools available, very few artists have really achieved the level of clarity and perfect orchestration as Sgt. Pepper’s. However, the new generations of young, computer-savvy musicians may be ready to tackle the challenge. At the very least I know they have tons of ideas, and often no way to get them out there. This recording program might help kick-start the process.
What do you think?


Roger G. said...


An In-The-Library Recording Studio!

Great idea!

Since the equipment is portable
it could be set up in a suitable space
quickly by enthusiastic users.

Or set up permanently in a locked
cabinet in a dedicated space ready
for reservation use - like other
Watha T. Daniel meeting space.

It would be another unique community
service for Watha T to provide.

A lot like the idea of a higher power WiFi
antenna that would make the Web
accessible in the homes of near bye
community dwellers.

Have a super day!


Maggie Gilmore said...

I think it is a wonderful idea, as (rumor has it) we are working on one here at MLK as well. If we reach out to schools and classrooms nearby we could use this as an opportunity for outreach. It could be a good way to incorporate music into the public school curriculum without too much extra work from teachers. If we schedule a few classes throughout the year, the recording set up would already be worth it.

Sarah said...

YES! I think the new library should have this capacity and that it is wonderful that you are willing to donate or loan your unused equipment for it.