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It is Necessary to Spend a Fortune Recording an Album?

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Home Made With TEACRecently I have read comments by several artists regarding the high costs of recording an album today. All the engineers, the super expensive equipment, all the digital elementa, time and, of course the talent. This got me to thinking about some of the best albums that I own. Albums on Deutsche Grammophon, albums by extremely talented artists like Mike Oldfield and, all those wonderful albums from the '60s through the '80s.

I worked with, repaired and restored vintage tape decks by TEAC, Roberts, Akai, Ampex and a world of others. In the late '70s when you bought a TEAC A3340 open reel, you often also received an LP titled Home Made on TEAC which included a descriptive book in the album jacket. The album was an illustration of what could be achieved with a consumer grade 4 track 4 channel tape deck. The book described how each of the album tracks was created. When consumers bought these, they would frequently also acquire an 8 channel to 2 channel mixing board and, in rare cases 16 or 32 channels. That was it.

Now, when I go back and listen to those albums cut using this basic equipment of 40 years ago, I hear some outstanding works. Much of it would easily compete with works being produced today using a room full of modern digital equipment of 128 channels to digital recorders to effects that weren't even dreamed of years ago.

Is all this fancy equipment, multiple engineers, digital manipulation, and all really necessary or, it is just something to talk about? Recently, Michael Johnathon and WoodSongs Front Porch Association proved the point when he recorded the entire SongFarmer album using just an iPhone 6. Cybergrass ran an article on that achievement last year.

We have written numerous articles in the past about music losing its soul from over production. Even Emmylou Harris commented years ago that "we've lost that living room sound" in the music. Its sterile, mechanical, over polished and technically perfect however, in doing so, we've lost the essence of the music. The people element isn't sterile or perfect and that is being scrubbed clean in many instances today.

When bands of the '60s and '70s went in to do an album, many times it was all members playing together in one set and frequently in one take. Often there were not a dozen microphones perfectly arranged for each voice and instrument. Tracks were often not built one upon another during different sessions. But, somehow, the music that was produced was excellent. Much of it Grammy winning works that are still in the top even today.

Today, we also have a totally different listening audience. Today's music listener listens from a low powered digital device -- often their phone through a set of $5 ear buds. They don't listen to entire albums and, in fact, many today don't even buy the music they listen to. Music has become a disposable commodity streamed from various sources much like a radio station plays their songs.

With CD sales falling and consumers no longer desiring the media itself, recording sessions for full albums costing tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, the poor listening environments and lack of attention while listening, it is no wonder that artists are asking, "Is it worth it?" Frequently, the answer is "No!"

But, rather than giving up on those expensive elements, what if we went back to a simpler time? What if we got rid of the fancy digital elements, special effects, plug-ins, pedals and such and went back to just the music, a few microphones, a simple board and a quality recording device? Would the consumer ever hear the difference? I seriously doubt it in most cases. Listening to much of the home-made audio crossing my desk these days, there isn't a big difference even when pumped through a 100 watt per channel amp with the DTRs and L100s being fully driven.

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