To begin with, there are many things that you cannot do in a home studio. A competent recording of a live band - still the mainstay of the recording industry - is usually impossible in your bedroom. Fitting an orchestra in there is also challenging.
And even though the topic of this piece is whether award-winning (i.e., Grammy) music can be conceived, recorded and mastered in a home studio, there’s nothing to indicate that any such recordings actually have been.
What is possible theoretically is not always possible in practice. That being said, however, amazing things can be done in home studios, and it’s an interesting topic for recording enthusiasts to ponder.
Can all of the semi-pro equipment that promises great results actually deliver a recording that rivals the “majors”?
A Bit Of History
Making a record used to be a complex task, requiring engineering by highly trained technicians using specialized equipment in a large, dedicated facility. There were also many other people involved, each with a specific contribution made to the process. Musicians, vocalists, songwriters, arrangers, producers, publishers and engineers all had their own areas of expertise; each did a job and that job only.
As the business matured, these jobs started to blend, and recording technology also advanced. The equipment became smaller, cheaper and less complicated to operate. By around the mid-1970s, it was possible and practical for recording artists to purchase home versions of professional recording equipment in order to produce and record themselves as well.
In the last 20 or so years, the wide availability of low-cost, high-quality digital recording technology has greatly narrowed the price and performance gap between pro gear and semi-pro demo making tools.
There has been the rapid, massive evolution of the digital audio workstations as a primary recording medium. Further, it’s now possible for anyone with a computer, whether used mainly for word processing or surfing the Internet or whatever, to access the same technology that professional recording engineers, producers and artists currently use.
But back to the intriguing question: Is it possible for someone to actually record a award-winning product with a desktop, laptop, or any other currently available type of dedicated home recording device?
Let’s put it all into perspective. I contacted some of the most respected engineers in the industry, all of whom have worked on award-honored projects of their own, to get their thoughts on this topic.
After all, they should know what makes a great recording.
Grammy and TEC Award-wining engineer/producer Ed Cherney works in all genres of music; the only common denominator among his diverse credits is quality. As a recording engineer and or mixer, he’s worked with - to name just a few - artists from Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Wynonna and Poe to Jackson Browne, Keb’Mo, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.
“Yes, Grammy projects can be done in project studios, if you have a nut behind the wheel who knows how to drive,” Cherney says. “The one thing I’ve noticed, though, are a lot of really great computer and software manipulators that edit, tune and fix, but have very little knowledge about good audio, never having the opportunity to listen to music through Class A gear, great acoustical spaces and great microphones.
“And don’t forget that most contemporary music projects are conceived in home studios and then maybe expanded in commercial facilities.”
George Massenburg’s engineering and producing credits include Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins, Journey, Madeleine Peyroux, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Little Feat, Michael Ruff, Tot, The Dixie Chicks, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Linda Ronstadt, among many others.
“Of course you can make a recording of a terrific piece of music anywhere, anytime,” Massenburg states. “To the degree that you as an artist/writer are unprepared, insecure, unready, unclear on the concept, unenlightened, unimaginative, lazy and/or uncommitted, you may need more technology, groovier decor, bigger crews and other artificial supports to prop you up.”
Hewitt owns and operates Remote Recording Services, and besides being a Grammy winner, he has done things like engineering for the Concert for America in Madison Square Garden, Woodstock 1999 and the 2002 Academy Awards.
“Can you make a Grammy-winning recording at home? Sure, as long as you use my mobile recording truck!” Hewitt remarks with a laugh. “Seriously, it’s really all about the music, artist, and the song; if it’s a worthy piece of work, why not?
“It could be done. Not to underestimate good engineering and good equipment, though. We have recorded albums at people’s homes with our truck. We did an Aerosmith album that way.”
“In the late 1970s, for Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, Greg Ladanyi and I recorded it using the old Record Plant remote white truck for all the stage shows on the tour, but some of the songs were done on a four-track in hotel rooms along the way,” he continues. “One was even recorded on a two-track in the back of a bus somewhere in New Jersey, with cardboard boxes used as overdubs for the snare and bass drums!”