Having run you through riveting topics such as: how music is delivered to streaming platforms and how these streaming platforms decide what music to promote, I think that it’s only fitting to finish off my series of ramblings about tech in music by talking about how developments in recording technology have allowed virtually anyone to record their own music.
I’ve left the term ‘music’ intentionally vague because recent technology developments have allowed independent musicians to do everything from produce rap and hip-hop albums to recording seminal alt-folk albums.
However, the scope of this blog post does not allow me to do a deep dive into the rise of MIDI, production techniques and the like, so instead, I’ll focus simply on the rise of USB microphones and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) — two of the fundamental building blocks for the most rugged of recordings.
As with most things, recording music has always been a scalable cost. Famous examples of this include Nirvana’s album Bleach, recorded for $600 in 1988, compared to the bloated studio budget of $13 million for Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, released in 2008, which when factoring inflation is still over 13,000 times greater than Nirvana’s budget.
This also does not include mixing and mastering, which are crucial steps in the production process that take a song from feeling like a disjointed collection of tracks to a cohesive finished product.
However, I’m limiting the discussion to the traditional way of recording music; going to a studio with engineers and recording through a series of microphones that are selected and positioned to capture frequencies that emanate from an instrument in a very deliberate way.
There has been a market for ‘quick and dirty’ recordings for a very long time and as technology progresses, outdated designs become cheaper. This led to 4 and 8 track recorders being a staple of 1980s’ bedroom artists, allowing them to overdub tracks and compose a song relatively quickly.
This was then escalated in the 90s as DAWs came into vogue, allowing more control over recordings without the need for specific education or experience. Then from around 2005 onwards, professional-grade microphones began to appear on the market with USB connectivity rather than just the industry standard XLR.
The combination of these two advancements meant that recording became virtually a plug and play practice. With built-in preamps, internal analogue to digital converters, and almost universal connectivity, USB microphones have reduced the equipment needed to record music to just a computer and the microphone.
DAWs themselves have also come along leaps and bounds, allowing you to use a midi controller to programme in a whole orchestra within minutes, where that same task would take days of programming and rendering in the 90s.
DAWs have also become very cost effective with Garageband and Audacity being completely free to use and the ‘go-to’ options for PC and Mac respectively.
The convenience of this option is also part and parcel of developments in home computing technology. The combined efforts to improve home computing capabilities along with the computing efficiency of DAWs now allows for seamless recording on affordable computers.
And now in 2019, with microphones like the Yeti X, you can get near-studio quality recordings in your bedroom with just a microphone and a laptop. If you want an example you can see what I managed to do with just a Yeti X and a laptop here.