Or do we need to anymore?
This article on in-person recording sessions first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk! PS: you may find affiliate links in this post and I may get a commission if you buy something. 🙂
Let’s face it: COVID-19 did a number on us. Live performances all but stopped, toilet paper became a precious jewel, and getting together became a risk-takers-only proposition.
So where did that leave in-person recording sessions? Right where it was, it turns out.
It hasn’t been technically necessary to get together in the same room to record music since…since the 40’s, actually.
That was when Ampex was working with Les Paul on multitrack technology. By 1954, they’d produced the first 8 track. Since then, there’s been no reason you couldn’t record a guitarist and bring in a singer weeks later.
Even as far back as the 80s, you could use ISDN to record full-resolution audio from great distances in real-time. For a few years now, remote collaborations have been as normal as walking down the street – more so, maybe, during COVID. You can jam together online, manipulate shared DAW sessions in the cloud, or shoot wav files back and forth via Dropbox and co-write on Zoom.
It’s cheaper this way, too. A vocalist can spend a few grand to set up a specialized vocal studio, a drummer can do the same, a mixer can mix from a bedroom, and nobody has to pay for studio time.
When COVID-19 hit, one potentially good thing it did was dispel any myth that we’re required to put on clothes, drag ourselves down the highway, and arrive at a place somewhere to do something. Now remote collaboration is normal in every industry. Some people intend to keep working from home forever.
So, is it even necessary to get together to record anymore?
Not technically. But as our illustrious editor-in-chief Paul Vnuk, Jr. puts it, “long-distance relationships suck”.
And that’s the rub. Humans aren’t built to sit in a vacuum and talk to blips and bloops that look vaguely like other humans. We’re built to be close, and music has always been the ultimate form of physical/spiritual connection – second only to something else we don’t mention in family magazines.
Those of us who were around for the beginning of the internet saw this discrepancy immediately. Yes, you can talk to someone in Timbuktu in your underwear. Yes, you can make music and send it all around the world. You can even create a romantic relationship in a text-based adventure game…
But none of that even comes close to real life. We even made a point of distinguishing – hence the term “IRL”. “I’m laughing IRL” – in real life – we’d say. Musicians and performers spent hours and hours and thousands of dollars promoting things online – only to find out the power of being in a room dwarfed the power of online promotion. You could sell as many CDs in an evening out as you had all year online.
And take it from someone with experience – both from being online and on tour a lot – long distance relationships do suck.
So, we shouldn’t expect getting together to play and record music go away. In fact, it seems likely it’ll surge as the pandemic eases. Sure, we’ve learned a whole lot about the infinite possibilities, and we know we can get a lot done from far away.
But we’re hungry for connection. Musicians miss musicians. We miss being in a room where we can hear each other, look each other in the eye, adjust and flex immediately. We miss being able to say, “let’s try it this way” and hearing the result right now – not in 5 minutes when the file downloads.
Yes, we’ll have to put on pants and shower. We’ll have to lug drums and amps and crap across town, and it’ll feel stupid and inefficient at first, and we’ll miss Survivor and some of us may even have to wear masks. But even if we’re not playing out, we’ll still do it to make records. We’ll get together with whole bands in big rooms like they used to do in every other decade, and we’ll play music like they’ve always done: with in-person recording sessions.
And we’ll also make a whole lot of music remotely, with people from other countries and towns. We’ll do both, and that’s the beauty of it.
No, we don’t need to get together to make records anymore. We never did. But we’re gonna.