David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
LCW on Bandcamp
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: studio, recording, @musings info

Computer-based recording

I'm dead set against computer-based recording, but wouldn't discourage anyone from going that route. Let me explain...

Most of my friends and acquaintances who record use computers for their studio. At the time I set up my studio, I asked for recommendations from as many people as I could find. Virtually all of them expounded on the benefits of using a computer: expandability, availability of FX plug-ins, portability, etc. The sales pitch took about five minutes. Then, without exception, that was followed by a twenty-minute spiel on all the hoops they jumped through and obstacles they overcame to get their system working or to make the latest upgrade.

When I got back into music, I wanted to be able to spend as much time with the music as possible. I didn't want to wrestle with the technology, especially since I spend my days with computers. So I sunk some money into a system that isn't computer-based. It cost about what I would have paid for an equivalent computer-based system. It has never suffered from a glitch, software incompatibility, or other flaky behavior. I haven't had to put a moment's effort into maintenance of any kind. I've added or upgraded a few outboard components in the rack using nothing more complex than a screwdriver. Everything just works. I like that.

The problem with computer-based systems, as I see it, is that what you can do is limited by the computer resources. You have to learn to trade off number of tracks for FX processing power, for instance. And there are no firm rules for doing so; it's trial and error. That takes time away from the music. The flip side is that it seems easy and inexpensive to upgrade the computer: a faster CPU, more memory, a bigger disk, more I/O channels, ... But that, of course, leads you into upgrade hell where you discover that the effects of a simple change ripple through the entire system and you have to waste time on research and arcane configuration changes, throw additional money at the problem, or both.

So, what is the upside of computer-based recording? Actually, there are several benefits. You have complete control over the quality and capabilities of the system. It's easy to work collaboratively with other musicians who use similar recording systems. And the editing and automation facilities are far superior to those found on standalone recording systems at comparable price points.

My comments about computer-based recording apply to laptop systems, as well. Keep in mind that the portability of a laptop is compromised by the number of accessories that you have to plug in to enable its studio functions. At a minimum, you'll have some sort of I/O device. You might add a control surface once you discover that moving virtual faders with a mouse is too clumsy and time-consuming. And you'll probably want some kind of headphone amp, too. By the time you're done, the laptop is still portable, but the 'studio' requires a separate carrying bag and a tangle of cables and wall-warts.

Ultimately I think the choice comes down to how much of your time are you willing to invest in your studio. If you have plenty of free time, the computer-based approach will reward you. If your free time is limited, using a standalone recorder will let you concentrate on the music.

November 13 2004 18:59:43 GMT