Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Let's Get Social

When I look at my laptop in the morning, the first things I open are Facebook and Twitter. I’ve got my Soundcloud on the bookmark bar, my Tumblr account is patiently waiting for me to do something, as is my Flickr account. The least said about my Myspace page the better (don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth the effort). I’ve got my Reverbnation account, which I occasionally use, but I only really got because I thought it was necessary, and of course there’s the creeping tide of Google and Google Plus.

Recording Studio Control Room
I must stop wasting time on Pro Tools and do some Twitter

So that’s just me, a whole bunch of social media accounts that I’ve jumped on, to both ensure I have my preferred names, and also just in case it turns out that they are next year’s Facebook and Twitter.

One website suggests that Google receives two million requests for data a minute. In that same time, 42000 statuses are updated on Facebook, 36000 tweets are sent, and a staggering 72 HOURS of content is uploaded to YouTube.

That’s a lot of information.

Then there’s us doing our thing and posting music, or talking about making music. I don’t know how much of the Facebook sharing or tweets are about music, writing a song or being in the studio. In my case, several have been about struggling with software and hardware (thanks Avid).

So who is actually listening? How do we stand out in this utter chaos of (let’s face it) mostly drivel being shared?

I think it’s quite funny that social media has made the world smaller, but for us musicians it’s really emphasised the point that we need to get out and play to our audiences. I feel that we owe it to ourselves to back up the social media, use it by all means, but we can never take our eye off the ball and remember that we actually need to engage with the punter.

If we use our social media properly, then yes we are engaging with our fans and followers. But I just have a feeling that we’re going to go back to doing loads of really small gigs and hopefully they’ll be well attended because of our exemplary social media skills. We used to run a night called Space Lounge, where we’d invite an artiste or two to come into the studio and do an acoustic unplugged set in front of a small invited audience. As an added bonus, we miked them up and recorded them.

A Live Recording Setup
Studio 1 set up for a Space Lounge

These were really nice evenings, we always had a full audience (even though it was only ever going to be a small audience due to the size of the room) and it was a way for the artistes to really engage with music lovers. There’s a not-so-new trend of people playing in other peoples living rooms, and you can’t get much more up front than that. Check out the YouTube vids of people busking on the NYC subway! There’s some great music and some appreciative audiences, especially on the L train stops.

Speaking of YouTube and gigs, I found it interesting following the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' recent request for people not to film the gig on their smartphones. A piece on the BBC website showed that a company called 45sound had developed a brilliant application that could recognise gig video uploaded by fans. Using some amazing mystical dark art technology, it replaces the sketchy audio with professionally recorded audio from the gig. Where multiple footage sources are available, viewers are able to change the camera angle. I think this is yet another encouraging movement, and it appears that the record labels are behind this. It is of course another way for musicians and fans to interact. I wonder though what happens with the footage copyright, and also what happens with editorial control? What happens if someone has their phone right up the vocalists left nostril? Does the band / artiste risk alienating their fans’ goodwill by imposing editorial constraint on uploads, or should they just grin and bear it and bask in having a lot of hard work done for them?

Only time will tell I suppose. But what I think we can safely say is that doing these kind of gigs alongside the usual range of club and bar gigs, and also alongside a social media campaign is a good way forward. You get several bites of the cherry to directly engage with your audience. I guess I would definitely advocate a return to singing songs around a campfire – but someone from Health and Safety would probably tell me it was dangerous or something.

You can see some of the Space Lounge videos here:

One or two famous faces might pop up.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He is personally responsible for a good hard drive's worth of drivel on the net.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Are studios irrelevant these days?

Recording Studio Control Room
It looks just like a real studio

In this day and age, you can see why people would ask this question. Why bother spending your hard earned cash when you can go and buy some ludicrously cheap software and track stuff yourself? We all know people who have (ahem) illicit copies of software that us respectable types have spent thousands of pounds on, who are willing to record for free.

Or of course, why not go the whole hog and build your own studio? If you have the time and resources available, that’s a truly fantastic idea, and one that I would love to do myself. I’ve got a rudimentary understanding of treating a room, and it would probably “do”. I’d probably have a nervous breakdown with all the woodwork involved, as I’m not a patient chap with woodwork. Anything else I think I’m pretty cool with, but woodwork? Forget it…

Even with a good, solid amount of treatment, you’re not going to completely stop sound getting in and out. If you’re building your studio in a house, then even after treating the room you’re still probably going to have to look out for your sound leaking out and disturbing the neighbours. Or you could have their sound leaking onto your tracks. Then there’s the issue of building a treated area for mixing. Even if you’ve had your room calibrated, you run the risk of disturbing other occupants, and having to stop recording or mixing just when things are hotting up is a real end to creativity.

All of this is moot if you have a farm somewhere, and you can convert a barn or an out house. If this happens to be in the Dordogne, I’d be delighted to come and help you set it up and perhaps engineer for you.

The way that things are going, it’s even easier to get hold of some very good equipment for a fraction of what it used to cost. You don’t *need* a huge console these days, although of course there is a time and a place for these. Preamps and channel strips range from the easily accessible budget options to boutique beautiful stuff you’d have to save for a few months for. There are some very good mics out there that can be picked up for around £150, and some that you could buy for the price of a second hand car.

Let me state this case first of all, a great engineer will get a good sound using a cheap mic and the inbuilt preamps on a USB box. But in a studio, you’re going to get a combination that is really hard to beat. You will get rooms that have been properly treated and will sound good. You’ll get some nice mics, hopefully Neumann, Telefunken, AKG, Schoeps etc. You’ll get the more expensive boutique preamps like Neve, SSL, Avalon or Focusrite.

Neumann U87 Microphone
A microphone, yesterday

“But that’s all for show isn’t it Chris?” I hear you cry in despair. Well, no. I've written a bit about this in another blog, but the fact of it is, it's simple. These tools are the tools used by professionals on professionals. If you really want to get the very best sound out of your instrument, be it guitar, voice, sax, tuba etc., then you want to have the very best microphones pointing at it, and you want it going through a great preamp. Besides, you’re paying for it, and who wouldn’t prefer 5* to 1*?

In larger facilities you’ll get options to use different equipment, different drum kits, different amps. Also in larger facilities you will get the big console, and in the top end studios you’ll get Neves or SSLs, and you’ll incur the cost of having someone who can maintain them and who actually knows how to use them!

Wherever you go, you’ll also have an engineer who knows how to use these and get the very best out of them.

The benefits of having an engineer with you are manifold.
They can worry about setting mics up and everything else while you can concentrate on the important bit of getting ready to get the tracks down.
You don’t have to worry about whether you’ve gone into record, or worry about getting levels as they have got it all covered.
They’ll be listening to really make sure each instrument sounds the best that it can.
They’re a good and independent set of ears, and they can act to help you get the most of the session.
They’re also going to be keeping track of your takes.
You’ll have someone who can sort out monitor mixes for you, so one of the band doesn’t have to stop and adjust a (real or virtual) fader.
In many cases, the engineer will take a co-production role with you if you ask them to, and they can help, offer advice, and in some cases they can coach.

This is a simplistic list, I do not mean to belittle the activities of an engineer, they really can be an important but transparent instrument in the band.

But yes. You certainly can record at home, and there’s nothing wrong with this at all. In fact it’s brilliant that we can have such incredible technology at our disposal. It can be such a boost to creativity. But I don’t think it’s going to be replacing the need for a permanent full on studio facility just yet, especially for recording live instruments.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He hates the smell of Rockwool in the morning.