It seems that we've turned the music creation and audio production into a combat sport rather than a creative art.
There are endless discussions on social media about what the best DAW, reverb, or compressor (you fill in the blanks, but you get the idea) is. Blogs like this have to shoulder some of the blame with our Top Five (or whatever arbitrary number) something kind of posts. Every year we see various publications asking readers to vote for their top DAW, and again we've also entered into the 'product of the year.' articles too.
Let me be clear; there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, in many cases, they have a valuable part to play in helping us determine what products to consider when making a purchase.
We start a new kitchen project this week, and so I'm equipping us for living without one for a couple of months. I had to buy a hotplate, and so I searched for Top 10 hot plates, I went on to Amazon and sorted the list into 'most popular.' If nothing else it's helpful to narrow down our search for something and at least get some ideas of what our peers, or let's be clear, random strangers think of a product. After all just because Sally in Settle and Bob in Boston like the hotplate it doesn't mean it will be the one for me.
In reality, our world is no different from the rest, we like lists, there is even a word for these lists on blogs and social media - listicles, and we value the opinion of others, even if they are random strangers. In some ways should we really take notice of the reviews on shopping sites? If someone has the time to leave those reviews, and some of them on Amazon are lengthy tomes, one has to ask with that much time on their hands do they have friends or sex life?
I have to say the same about forums, some people are prolific in places like the DUC and I can only conclude from the amount of time they spend posting and arguing with other people that they have no clients or work. The people whose opinions I value the most in this industry don't have time to post in forums.
So I want to take a moment away from the world of making everything into a competition, where we have winners and losers, away from the discussion about 'best' and focus on the two most important studio equipment choices you can make.
You might think I'm going to say the DAW you use; it's not that. Truth is when push comes to shove they all do much the same just with the focus on particular features. Every modern DAW from the ten or so market leaders offer us fantastic quality and features; if you can't record a great track with any of them, then you might want to consider taking up golf or basket weaving.
The first of the two most important pieces of equipment in your studio is your monitoring system. I'm not here to argue the merits of which is best (wouldn't that be ironic?) but to underline that unless your monitoring system is reproducing the audio fed into it correctly, then you are effectively working blind.
Are your speakers giving you an accurate representation of what you are listening to? If they are not then you are fighting a losing battle, monitoring is the most crucial link in the chain, without exception.
Last year I invested in new studio monitoring, it was the single most costly investment I have made in my studio... period. The minute I heard them I knew I had found something exceptional, the speakers revealed things I had not heard before and surprised me with their attention to detail. I decided to purchase them and know that I made the right decision as since I did I've not had a single mix sent back to me asking for changes, it's essential I can trust the sound I am hearing.
The other crucial studio choice is the other side of the same coin, and that is your microphone/s.
Yes, it is true that you can get some great recordings with some average microphones, but that is the exception and not the rule. You can't record what the microphone is unable to capture via its frequency response, sensitivity or dynamic range. If the highs are not captured, or if the mic is unable to tolerate loud SPL, for example,, you are not going to get the best sound, and no amount of fixing in the mix is going to help. You might be able to fake it to some degree, but why do that when the right mic choice can make the world of difference.
I think of microphones like camera lenses; we know that you can get a great shot on an iPhone, but when the same shot is taken with the right lens then you suddenly see the difference. I have the new iPhone with portrait mode that fakes depth of field to try and give you a shot normally only possible with a prime lens. It's OK, but having been on shoots with the real lenses, it doesn't even get close.
This argument is less about the cost of microphones, although one can't argue that can make a difference, and more about the choices we make when capturing a sound. Using the right microphone matters as much as using the right lens, yes you will capture something with any microphone, but using the right one can make a world of difference.
Like speakers hearing a high-quality microphone for the first time being used for the correct application and it can take your breath away.
So, in essence, the two most important choices we can make when choosing studio equipment are the transducers, the speakers and the microphones.
You can't mix what you can't hear, and you can't record what isn't captured in the first place.
So in true modern blogging style I'm going to finish with a list; here are the two most important choices you can make for your studio;
Get those right and then everything else is down to personal preference.