‘Demo’ Studios

Allow me merely to wax lyrical here and mourn the heyday of what was for many people, even if they never saw inside one, a magical place to aspire to ‘work’ in.

Well, mainly wax lyrical, because there seems to me to be something more to the studio environment than simply the original neccessity for them, that of having to house a lot of precious and bulky non-transportable equipment within a ‘controllable’ acoustic environment, which became the ‘creative environment’  for recording music that became its main raison d’etre later on.

However i’m of the generation who, while longing to experience this kind of place, were also the very people to be hit at the right time in our ( tech-interested )  lives by the emergence of lower cost and portable methods of recording multitrack music. As such, while that longing for the ‘real’ studios has never left me, and an appreciation of their more ‘refined’ virtues has inevitably gone hand in hand with that, i’ve nonetheless ALWAYS been open and amenable to the possibilities that the 1980s  ‘recording revolution’  made available to all those involved in playing or wanting to record music….

Those who couldn’t hope to be able to afford serious time in a real studio, let alone own one, or who statistically hadn’t a chance of working in one as technician, could now re-create some of that set-up at home or in rehearsal rooms or even at their gigs.

These people, together with many who hadn’t neccessarily longed to see the inside of a real studio anyway in the first place, were attracted to the world of recording precisely BECAUSE it was now possible to have access to hardware long enough to learn and ‘experiment’ with it, in a way that most could only previously dream of, even if they DID have the money to buy ‘formal’ sessions in studios to record their music.

Wedded to this ‘accessibility’ was several other advantages.

1) no longer was ‘learning the basics’ of recording, let alone tricks of the trade or specialist techniques, restricted to a privileged/lucky few who worked at such places and could be ‘mentored’ by existing staff ( who were perhaps often stuck in their ways )

2)  you had the freedom to try ‘unconventional’  audio-recording techniques at ones leisure, even if / though one had already taught oneself the ‘orthodox’ way of getting the same results.

3) complete control over the equipment and media used right up to the point of mastering.

Except here was initially, in my mind the Achilles heel of the whole ‘home recording’  phenomenon for years and years…..

Even if you now had a decent quality multitrack recorded on your Tascam or Fostex with dbx or Dolby C noise reduction, what did you mix down your multitrack to as the ‘Master’ stereo copy ?

And then what format did you copy that to in order that at the very least the band had its own copies freely playable in their homes or to interested parties ?

And it is at this point in this meander that I remember the so-called ‘demo studios’ which, irrespective of the quality and extent of their tracklaying and mixing capabilities ( most often an 8 track recorder, the ‘standard’ of Demo studios ) were, in fact, little or no further advanced in their ‘mastering’ abilities than the average ‘amateur’ with a Portastudio !

The number of times i heard of other people/bands paying a lot of money for the time in one of these places, only to end up with;..

1)  a few copies of the final mix on cassette only, not even a 1/4″ master tape, and

2)  no ownership/posession of the Multitrack master itself in case they wanted to re-mix/master somewhere else later on.

Admittedly the cause of 2) was almost always the refusal/reluctance of the combined members of the band to pay for the master multitrack tape, even though IT and not the cassettes constituted the physical result of all the money they had spent on the actual time in and use of the studio overall;..

… and this was something that i always thought showed that certain groups of people are a bit dense about knowing where their bread is actually buttered.

However, sometimes one heard that the Studio itself would never have offered any band the chance to buy the MT Master because they themselves were really ‘economical’ and wanted to re-use the 1/2″ or 1″ tapes until they were worn to death. Which of course was yet another reason why these demo studios were over-priced, as each  ‘unwitting’  band could well have been working for hours or days and spending hundreds laying down their efforts to a tape near to or suffering from dropouts, or loss of HF

Ah, those were the days !

It’s the recently-remembered ‘details’ like that, rather than the more obvious recent move to hard disk recording with unlimited tracks etc. for both Pros and amateurs, that tell me that bands/musicians have it easy nowadays. In other words its not the infinitely greater scope and flexibility for more tracks, adding effects without losing tracks in bouncing, much higher and more consistent quality by default on every track/source, in short all the digital-age obvious features, that they’re benefitting from….

No, to my mind it’s the previously crucial factors that no longer figure in the equation that are the real advance, factors that young musicians don’t even know once existed at all – let alone could worry about if they were clued up – if you see what i mean.

Unfortunately its precisely because nearly all musicians, and an alarmingly high proportion of younger audio ‘professionals’ , don’t even have to KNOW about the limitations of a previous techno-era we wrestled with, let alone learn the ‘tricks’ of how to work round them, that certain standards/techniques are being lost and rules ignored, when in fact most basic caveats are still just as true now, albeit in a modified form.

Yes a lot of ingenuity and time is put in by people now into creating/combining effects, automating mixing to obtain results that we couldn’t have done with only our hands to mix back in the day, but they all work with these software-wonders assuming that all the underlying hardware and software they use to ‘be creative’ with doesn’t itself suffer from any awkward limitations or have any built in impending points of failure.

Things that we were always aware of every time we pressed ‘record’

Take the point above about the demo studios flogging master tapes to death.

Does it ever occur to anyone hiring current recording gear, or continuously using what they’ve bought themselves, that the hard drives EVERYTHING is now being recorded on won’t last for ever and will begin to exhibit errors before the time they actually fail completely.

In other words, the guys in the modern equivalent of the ‘demo studio’, their own computers, will spend days on end working at a DAW on their ‘masterpiece’, without ever making regular backup copies onto another drive of both the origonal recordings and the project itself.

Just saying….


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