Recording Studio as an Instrument


In music production, the recording studio can be treated as a musical instrument. This approach has been called “playing the studio”. It is typically embodied by artists or producers who emphasize the creative use of studio technology in completing finished works over simply utilizing studio technology to record musical performances. Techniques include the incorporation of non-musical sounds, tape edits, overdubbing, audio signal processing, sound synthesis, and combining segmented performances or takes into a unified whole.

Composers have been utilizing the potentials of multitrack recording since the technology became available to them. Before the late 1940s, producers typically created musical recordings with the idea of presenting a faithful interpretation of a real-life performance. Following the advent of three-track tape in the mid-1950s, recording spaces became more accustomed to in-studio composition. By the late 1960s, the in-studio composition had become standard practice and remained so into the 2010s. Despite the widespread changes that brought more compact recording set-ups, people still refer to individual components such as digital audio workstations as “the studio.”


The History behind Recording Studios


Trained professionals were at the forefront of the steady advance of sound recording studios from the 1920s to the 1980s. By the mid-1980s, the professional studios had achieved a high degree of sophistication. They were financed by a recording industry that drew its money principally from the record, film, and advertising industries. These clients were paying professional prices for professional services.

By the late 1980s, recording equipment of “acceptable” quality became available on an increasing scale. The arrival of domestic/semi-professional digital recording systems was soon to lead to an explosion. This saw the sound recording studio industry fragment into a multitude of small facilities. This boom in the number of small studios spawned a worldwide industry supplying the necessary technology and equipment. Still, the whole recording studio industry has since become even more dependent upon the manufacturers supplying the equipment.

Suitable recording spaces, right monitoring conditions, good sound isolation, and a pleasant working environment are still basic requirements for any recordings involving the use of non-electrical instruments, which means most recordings. The general tendency nowadays is to think of the equipment first. The sad fact is that there are now enormous numbers of bad studios producing recordings of very arbitrary quality.


Centers of Experimental Music


The American composer John Cage called for the development of “centers of experimental music” places in 1937. Here, “the new materials, oscillators, turntables, generators, means for amplifying small sounds, film phonographs, etc.” would allow composers to “work using twentieth-century means for making music.” In the early 1950s, electronic equipment was quite expensive to own. For most people, it was only accessible through large organizations or institutions.

Nevertheless, virtually every young composer found interest in the potential of tape-based recording. In the mid-1950s, popular recording conventions changed profoundly with the advent of three-track tape. By the early 1960s, it was common for producers, songwriters, and engineers to freely experiment with musical form, orchestration, unnatural reverb, and other sound effects. Some of the best-known examples are Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Joe Meek’s use of homemade electronic sound effects for acts like the Tornados.

In-studio composition became standard practice by the late 1960s and early 1970s and remained so into the 2010s. During the 1970s, the “studio as instrument” concept shifted from the studio’s recording space to the studio’s control room. Here, the musicians could plug the electronic instruments directly into the mixing console. As of the 2010s, the “studio as instrument” idea remains ubiquitous in genres such as pop, hip-hop, and electronic music.


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