In my last post, I talked about how different the process of getting a problem fixed is today compared to when I first started recording in the 1980s, now it's easy, in fact in many cases so easy people abuse the places created to help us.
Way Back When...
There is something else that is even easier today than it was in the eighties and that is making a decent recording.
In that era, most of us were using either an eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder or a cassette based four track 'Portastudio,' the market was dominated by two brands Tascam and Fostex. My first home recording device was the Tascam 244, the improved version of the TEAC 144 Portastudio and when the Portastudio arrived on the scene, it was a revolution. Suddenly we did not need tape machines the size of a fridge, a console the size of a door and a wiring loom to hook them all together. These four track marvels were self-contained recording and mixer in one, and they sold like hot cakes.
Who wouldn't pay £1000 for 4 tracks of recording on a cassette tape (TDX SA was my weapon of choice) a 4 channel mixer with bass and treble controls and the 'incredible' DBX noise reduction? I say incredible with a huge dose of sarcasm, it sounded like sh*t, but as we were recording onto a cassette, it was the lesser of two evils, more hiss than a bouncy castle with a leak or noise reduction that sounded like a compressor/expander having an asthma attack.
If you had walked out of the many record labels with a suitcase full of cash from a three record advance (it did happen in those days), then you could splash out on a Fostex B16 and a SECK 1882 mixer and have a killer recording package. The Fostex B16 was the king of home recording for some time, it was not the quality of the Tascam 38, but the combination of a B16 and SECK 1882 was unbeatable regarding price per track count. If my memory serves me well (it rarely does these days), I think the deal from places like Turnkey was £3500 for the pair. Another bargain.
Now thus far I've talked about home recording, not professional studios. They used the real gear, top of the line tape machines and a real analog console, but you wouldn't get much change out of £100,000 to buy a decent 24 track and mixing console.
So now let's turn to plug-ins... are you f**cking joking? The closest thing to a plug-in in the eighties was the patchbay. For effects, you had to trust hardware.
So back to the home studio revolution, us budding songwriters had a few choices for effects in those days. In many cases, the budget stuff was a Great British Spring Reverb for our reverb send. The GBS looked like a large black drainpipe, there was a reason for that, it was a large black drainpipe with some long springs inside it and connections for the send and return. For many this reverb, selling for just shy of £300 in the early eighties was great, that was until Yamaha released the R1000 digital reverb at just shy of £600 and was mono in and mono out. For compressors and EQs there was the likes of Accessit and Vestax (not the dried curry meals) but part of the Vesta Fire products. All of these were pretty basic, but we made do.
We've not even touched on microphones, headphones, speakers and all the other stuff you needed to record. If you wanted to use synths, then you needed a MIDI sequencer, and if you wanted to lock those to your audio tracks, then you required to use a SMPTE hardware unit. One like the XRI System XR300, that was £300 and took up a track of your copious 4, 8 or 16 tracks, not to mention that when used with narrow formats like cassette and 1/4" multi-tracks bled onto at least the next track along. We did not have the luxury of keeping the adjacent track empty as you did in the larger studios.
To summarise, to make any demo at home would cost anything between about £1000 to £10,000 (35 years ago) and had many technical limitations.
With all that said I still think I wrote some of my best songs on my Portastudio, some of them had around 30 tracks at mixdown - done with some smart bouncing around, which took some pre-planning even before you recorded the first track.
What also helped were magazines like Home Studio Recording, I wrote some reviews for the guy who edited that magazine, his name is Paul White. Yes, the same Paul White who has been faithfully imparting wisdom from the pages of Sound On Sound for decades. If we wanted to learn more about recording we had a couple of magazines or the user manual, that was it.
Easy Compared To What?
Now you might be thinking this whole article is all about how hard it was to make music during the early years of home recording. Setting aside the cost and technical limitations I think it was a fantastic period for music making.
This article in not about how hard it was then like Monty Python's Four Yorkshire Men sketch, it's not even about how easy it is to record music now compared to then. This article is about how easy it is to make a high-quality recording period.
If you are just starting out then I'm not talking to you, you've only just got going so welcome to the world of recording. There are plenty of articles on this Pro Tools blog to help you get the most from Pro Tools and all the other hardware and software you will use to make your music. This site has thousands of free articles offering tutorials and Pro Tools tips and tricks. And we are only one website of the thousands of blogs, forums and other websites offering free training resources, so you should find what you need somewhere.
If starting out in the eighties cost thousands then what about the cost of entry now? If you own an Apple Mac then the free application Garageband offers you more features and better quality than anything I've already mentioned from the early days of home recording - so if you have no money to buy the Software, then you have Garageband - and a multitude of other free DAWs like Pro Tools First.
Add to this the almost limitless supply of Pro Tools free plug-ins effect and virtual instruments, and nothing is stopping you from making great recordings.
Today it is a case now of 'just add talent.' The process of making a high-quality recording is easier and cheaper than any other time in history, as long as you can sing or play there really nothing stopping you from recording a high-quality song.
So Why All The Complaints?
But hang on a minute, is there nothing to stop you?
Read the social media posts of many, or comments on blogs like this and forums, and you would think otherwise. There are endless complaints about the cost of products, missing features and almost everything else.
It seems there are plenty of people who believe that they are capable enough to code a plug-in, after all adding 'that' feature is 'simple' isn't it? If they are not the world's next best plug-in developer, despite never having coded a single thing in their lives, then they are the leading authority on recording technique, critiquing the methods and choices of everyone from Grammy-winning producers to someone just starting out. Although one has to wonder when they get the time to record and mix all their amazing work when they spend 8 hours a day in forums.
And don't get me started on the complaints about the cost of gear this day. Equipment is cheap... period.
You can get a fantastic sounding plug-in collection that will deliver professional results for less than the price of the latest games console. But if you've spent your money on the games console then you've made your priority choice, and it wasn't to make better music, it was to chase around looking for zombies instead. So quit moaning about the price of gear if you've made choices to buy other things instead, why should someone else subsidise your recording aspirations because you made some choices to spend your money on other stuff? How about you try asking Nintendo for a free console, I guess we all know the answer.
Even if you have no money then you have options, you can use the plug-ins that come with Pro Tools or augment them with some fantastic free Pro Tools plug-ins. Both of which will give you great results.
You Have Everything You Need, Just Add Talent
So in summary, if you've got the talent then nothing is stopping you from making great recordings. Have you no money? No problem, there is plenty of free stuff out there. No knowledge? there's plenty of websites, blogs, forums and friends who can show you how to use this stuff for free.
Talent, time and the right attitude are all you need.
If you've tried all that and you still can't make a decent recording then give up.