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"Home Sweet Studio" interesting article in Sunday NY Times

Last response: in Home Audio
March 22, 2005 9:10:20 AM

Archived from groups: (More info?)

this past sunday in the arts and leisure section

March 22, 2005 10:08:58 PM

Archived from groups: (More info?)

Mark wrote:
> this past sunday in the arts and leisure section
> Mark

Here's the article if anyone is interested.


Home Sweet Studio

THERE'S a tambourine in Adam Pierce's bedroom, two upright pianos and
some Balinese gamelan instruments in his living room, a Celtic harp near
his television set. Piled up next to the basement stairs are four drum
kits in their cases. Take a left at the laundry room and there's the
recording studio, a low-ceiling den where drums, a guitar and a
vibraphone are set up and battered amplifiers and reverb units are
stacked against a wall. The control room, where Mr. Pierce records
nearly everything on an old 16-track reel-to-reel tape recorder - 13 of
the tracks still work - is a few steps away. It smells a little dank,
since bathroom pipes run behind the mixing board.

Here, at the house he shares in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Mr. Pierce has
recorded nearly all of the music on the five albums he has made as Mice
Parade (an anagram of his name). "Try not to move that microphone," Mr.
Pierce said, dodging a stand as he showed a visitor around the studio
space. "It was getting a certain sound in that spot."

Mr. Pierce is part of a quiet revolution in music-making: the move from
professional studios to home recording. Making an album used to mean
booking a fixed amount of very expensive time in a well-equipped but
unfamiliar room; now, it can be a matter of rolling out of bed and
pressing a button. Whether it's Mice Parade's indie-rock, Aesop Rock's
underground hip-hop, the twilit ballads of Keren Ann, the mercurial
California rock of the Eels or sweeping Top 40 contenders from Moby,
more and more music is emerging not from acoustically perfect
state-of-the-art studios, but from setups tucked into bedrooms and
basements or simply programmed onto a laptop.

The growth of home recording is a convergence of technology, thrift and
shifting musical tastes that has been building for decades. In 1984
Bruce Springsteen released "Nebraska," with its songs recorded as demos
on a four-track cassette recorder. It had a haunted sound that more
professionally recorded versions of the same songs could not improve; he
had tried. But "Nebraska" was an anomaly.

Then along came hip-hop, and hit songs made with two turntables and a
microphone, convincing musicians and listeners that lo-fi sound has its
uses. And along came digital recording: first in elaborate studio
machines and then, as processor speed increased, in home computers. Now
a virtual recording console, effects and instrumental sounds are all
tucked into software like Pro Tools, the nearly ubiquitous program that
was introduced by Digidesign in 1991. It simulates a multitrack studio
capable of recording, overdubbing, mixing, editing, even tuning up
missed notes or placing a sound on the beat. In the 21st century,
homemade recordings can be indistinguishable from studio products.

"I avoided the computer generation for a very long time," said Aesop
Rock, a rapper who produces most of his own tracks; he made his first
albums with a turntable, a sampling keyboard and a few instruments. But
after he invested some tour profits in a Pro Tools setup, he was hooked.
"The ease of manipulating everything is amazing," he said. Studio costs
vary widely, but can easily run hundreds of dollars an hour. A basic
32-track Pro Tools LE system, to interface with a computer, costs about

Studios still excel at recording ensembles and making them sound
lifelike (or better). Songs with the grandeur of Phil Spector
productions or 1960's Motown hits, which had a full studio band chiming
away, are unlikely to come out of home studios. And musicians working
alone, or mostly alone, can't count on a group's creative friction - or
an engineer's involuntary smirk - to sharpen their ideas. But for music
that can be built by overdubbing - like the intricate patterns of
guitars and drums that Mr. Pierce spins as Mice Parade, or the sampled
and looped riffs of hip-hop, or the layers of synthesizers within Moby's
songs - a home studio is just the thing.

As home studios gain, actual studios suffer. "They're dropping like
flies," Mark Oliver Everett of Eels said mournfully. This year such
well-known studios as the Hit Factory in New York, Cello Studios in
Hollywood (formerly Western Recorders, where the Beach Boys made "Pet
Sounds") and a renowned rock and soul crucible, Muscle Shoals Sound
Studios in Sheffield, Ala., have all closed.

Under the same pressures as any commercial real estate, studio rooms
that can hold orchestras or big bands in prime acoustics are
disappearing. When Jazz at Lincoln Center built its headquarters in the
Time Warner Center, it defied that trend, and ensured itself a place to
record, by earmarking some of its precious midtown space for a rehearsal
room that can accommodate a symphony and a jazz band, effectively
building the first large New York City studio in years. It also wired
its acoustically isolated theater and its club spaces for recording.

Home studios can be shoehorned into tighter quarters. Years ago, Moby
moved his bed into a closet and converted the bedroom of his downtown
Manhattan loft into a neat, skylighted studio full of keyboards, patch
cords and computer gear. Out of it have come million-selling albums like
"Play." Aesop Rock's studio is an alcove littered with cigarette packs
and running shoes, tucked between the living room and kitchen of his
ground-floor apartment in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn.

When a musician lives in the studio, family and neighbors have to adapt.
"The neighbors prefer I don't do vocals at night," admitted Aesop Rock.
"It gets a little iffy when I'm screaming."

Songwriters have always recorded tales of their romances. Now, they
might be doing it with their subject nearby. Mr. Everett records while
his wife, upstairs, tries to ignore what he calls "the constant thumping
and banging from the basement." Speaking by telephone from his home in
the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, he deadpanned: "She's not even a
fan of my music. If the song's not about her, she doesn't care. I've
started telling her they're all about her so she'll like them."

Home recording is subject to interruptions not generally found in
professional quarters. During one Eels session for "Blinking Lights and
Other Revelations" (Vagrant), which is due in April, Mr. Everett's dog,
Bobby Jr., was sprayed by a skunk. "And I'm the one that has to give him
a tomato-juice bath in the recording-studio bathroom," Mr. Everett said.
Bobby Jr. actually appears on the album, howling what Mr. Everett called
a solo vocal.

Mr. Everett works with a recording engineer in his home studio because,
he said, "It's too advanced for me - I don't know how to turn some of
the stuff on now." But many other home recordists work entirely alone as
performer, producer and engineer.

"It's so nice not having to wait for other people to show up," Moby said
by telephone from Amsterdam. "It's a very lonely process, and you miss
the gregarious interaction you'd have with musicians. But the flip side
of that is your equipment doesn't argue with you, so it's easier being a
megalomanical home studio despot."

Working in solitude can nurture more eccentric, more private songs.
Keren Ann recorded the hushed ballads of her new album, "Nolita" (Metro
Blue), in two private studios: her soundproofed apartment in Paris and
one in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood that gave the album its
title, often working in the predawn hours when the city was quietest.
Guest musicians could drop by after the last set at a jazz club.

"Going back and forth, I often arrive here jet-lagged, so I'm awake at 5
a.m.," Keren Ann said in an interview at her loft, where tom-toms sit on
a kitchen shelf above pots and pans. "It happens that I have this idea
on an instrument or an arrangement, and I'll wake up and turn everything
on and record. It's also different when you can record your own vocals
and nobody hears you. You can confess more. If I had not done 'Nolita'
this way, it would have been less intimate, less naked."

When it's easy to record at any time, musicians don't hold back.
"Because I work a lot," Moby said, "I figure I've got four or five
thousand unreleased songs. A lot of them are not very good. If you're
trying out a new idea in front of your friends or your bandmates, if
it's a terrible idea they're going to throw stuff at you. I have a lot
of terrible ideas. But working at home, you can be as embarrassing as
you want, and you'll be the only person who will ever hear it. And
sometimes the really dumb idea that you had could be a good piece of music."

Home recordists still venture out when they need improved equipment and
acoustics: a $10,000 vocal microphone, a specialized guitar setup. It's
a relief, they say, to have someone else responsible for the technical
details. They also take their songs to full-fledged studios for final
mixes to try out the music on speakers and systems that are too big for
a basement.

While working in a rented studio can mean pressure, working at home can
mean procrastination and endless second-guessing, and some home
recordists appreciate the sense of urgency that the clock brings. "When
I record in a studio," said Aesop Rock, "I know that on Tuesday at 3
o'clock I've got to go be creative."

Mr. Pierce said: "At home I don't know what I'm going to record before
I'm about to record it, or how the pieces of the song will be put
together. But in a studio, the way a transition is going to be made has
to be decided in the next 30 minutes."

Although computers can mimic the reverberations of anything from a
cubicle to a stadium, there's still no substitute for physical space.
Mr. Everett compared his basement studio to a vintage keyboard
warehouse. "It's so annoyingly small that it's gotten to the point now
where I can't even buy another guitar. Every time I want to play an
instrument I have to move another five instruments to get to it." So
when he needed a string section for an Eels song, he went to a
professional studio. "I could fit 32 people in the basement," he said,
"but I'd have to stack them all on top of each other, and it's hard to
play the violin like that."

Moby's new album, "Hotel" (V2), simulates concert halls and pulsating
clubs, although nearly all of it came from a space he describes as
claustrophobic. "I'm a small person, and the studio is built to scale,"
he said. "Occasionally I'll invite friends over, but it's a place that I
spend so much time in by myself that when anyone's over I feel like the
moment they leave, homeostasis has returned."

For musicians who record at home, the studio becomes a sanctuary: part
sandbox, part confessional. "One of the greatest luxuries is having a
permanent small studio space that's always waiting for me," Moby said.
"It's secure when I leave, and it sits there waiting patiently for me
when I get home. It's the perfect companion."

And there's a certain symmetry in the fact that the music that emerges
from home recording is increasingly heard by one person at a time,
between the headphones of portable music players like the iPod. The
sounds musicians have made alone at home end up in an equally private
sphere. "It's not about being lonely," Keren Ann said about recording at
home. "It's about being apart."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your
mouth and remove all doubt....