Long ago, Albert Einstein was correct when he told us about relativity and the various relationships between energy, matter, space and time. But back then, nobody realized that he was actually talking about audio!
It’s all so simple. Matter is all that junk — er, gear — that we accumulate to create and capture sounds. Space can either refer to the acoustic spaces for recording or the constantly expanding/shrinking universe known as the control room, the size of which is governed by the amount of matter we accumulate. Time is something we’re constantly concerned with, whether it’s checking phase for mono compatibility (something we used to do before surround systems became standard in every consumer device), dealing with latency issues with software synths, or watching the taxi meter run in a commercial studio while the bass player complains on and on about a slightly anticipated 1/64 note in the middle of a 128-bar solo. Energy? A few minutes with a prima donna vocalist, a helpful A&R guy with some new “ideas” or a Russian/dragon drummer can quickly drain anyone’s energy reserves.
Unfortunately, after spending a lot of time earning the dough to buy all of that cool matter to fill up your space, you may not have enough energy to record anything. This brings up a major flaw in Einstein’s understanding of the cosmos: He forgot to mention money, which, as everybody knows, is the force that makes the world go ’round.
Given these infinitely complex relationships, what can the creative producer do, faced with a limited amount of time, matter, space, energy and…money? Assuming you don’t have a rich uncle or a generous sugar daddy to fund your projects, a sensible alternative is the desktop studio. Here, for a relatively modest investment — at least compared to the big-ticket version — your dream studio can become a reality.
Once in the virtual confines of your PC, Mac or stand-alone DAW, you can have rooms of multitracks, a console of astronomic proportions, libraries with performances by top session players, and plug-ins offering the finest acoustic recording spaces and expensive, rare signal processors. Instruments? No problem with easy disk access to thousands of sounds via samples and virtual instruments, with re-creations ranging from electric and grand pianos, combo and tonewheel organs to classic and exotic synths of every style. Even the most mundane performance glitches don’t present an obstacle. A slipped note, vocal-pitch problem or tempo irregularity may be just a mouse click or two from perfection. Clams are so passé.
Does all of this virtuality make big studios, great acoustic spaces, real players and collections of classic instruments obsolete? Hardly. Creativity can’t be canned, bottled or looped, and virtual tools are simply another way to work. For example, in my studio, we route a Native Instruments B4 Hammond clone through a multimiked (real) Leslie and return that through the analog desk on its way to Pro Tools or multitrack. Sometimes, we use the B4’s simulated rotor, which leaves us more time to ponder queries such as what kind of slammin’ grooves Einstein would have tracked if he had had a PC and some hot loops.
Too bad we’ll never know…
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