Fundamentals of the Software Audio Studio
Technology has come a long way since the days of 24 channel mixing desks, Akai samplers, rackmount effects units and miles of tangled cables hiding under the table. About a decade ago, the above was the norm if one wished to produce any style of dance music to a release quality standard. Even with a 15k investment in all the needed hardware including synthesizers and computers as well as the above essentials, production would be limited. Some synths only had one output, you would need a separate compressor unit for each sound wanting compression, an effect unit would be needed for each send…the list goes on.
The more money you had, the more sounds could be blessed with being routed through one of the many units to add sparkle, weight, presence or for sheer mangling and abuse. As with many things in life, hard earned cash buys not only quantity but quality. You could buy ten cheap compressors or one high quality one. And yes, it makes a whole lot of difference to the sound. A piece of music could be defined as nothing more than the sum of its parts with the addition of a sprinkle of the magic that the producers / engineers / performers infuse in it.
Bearing this equation in mind, it becomes clear that regardless of how many channels a tune may comprise it is essential that each one is treated like the delicate and all important baby it is. Chucking on the cheapest desk eq and 50 compressor on each channel, running them through budget effect units and then shoving the whole mix through an old battered ‘mix exciter’ is not going to give class and quality. However, this formula worked for many years in the underground dance scene where the content and energy of the music was more important than it sounding like a shiny chart topper.
Times have changed since the nicotine stained basement studios of the early to mid nineties. Of course they still exist and have their well earned place BUT there is another option in the 21st century. A studio in a box. Quite literally. Although far less visually impressive than a room overflowing with knobs, buttons, sliders, dust and flashing lights, the self contained digital studio can be extremely misleading to the uninitiated. Walk into a room with all of the above mentioned equipment and you will be instantly impressed, and often daunted, by the sheer volume and complexity of it all.
“How do you know what every single button and twiddly thing does?” people would ask. As there were a lot of twiddly things to twiddle and buttons to push before the alchemy of turning gritty samples into a dancefloor destroying masterpiece could take place. But as the producer / engineer, this task was your job. You learnt for the sheer love of it. Singers, DJs, groupies etc. would have faith and leave you to get on with it. Being in control of all of that gear (or at least pretending to be) would always be a buzz and earn instant respect.
But how impressive is being sat in front of a PC, twiddling the mouse instead of countless knobs and sliders? How respectful is it to have all of that expensive, alluring hardware replaced by ones and zeros? Some would argue that it is far less so…but as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. Another cliche states that ‘the proof is in the pudding’. And if your pudding is climbing the charts or smashing dancefloors nationwide with DJs getting excited over it then it is safe to say that your mission is accomplished. How you achieve the results is up to you. And with the constantly multiplying families of softsynths, VST plugins, sequencers, DSP cards etc. your chances are a lot better than 15 years ago of having a high end production studio without spending 80,000 on it.
Hardware does still have a very strong and important place where music production and recording in concerned. With certain mixing desks coming in at 250,000, it is safe to assume that they are going to help tracks sound like they have been made in a top London studio. It is not a case of the “hardware versus software” argument like many people like to get into but rather looking into both worlds and bringing back what is best suited to your needs. If you are a student and DJ wanting to bang out some filthy electro then coughing up tens of thousands of pounds of hardware to squeeze into your halls of residence is probably not the best route. A far more reasonable solution would be the software path.
With a modern full software studio, production quality can match that of a hardware studio sporting up to 100,000 worth of kit. This may sound absurd but think about it. You have a track with 27 sounds in. Each one is calling for your precision nurturing so you get out the best compressor unit you have. About a grand’s worth. If just 15 of these channels require such treatment then…well you do the maths. Add on top of that top quality EQ, limiting, reverbs, delays, phasers, flanging, stereo processing, synths…the list goes on. Buy one high end software processor and it is instantly available on every channel. Get yourself one fat softsynth and use it as many times as you want in the same tune. Not a cheap hobby the hardware way so for those who don’t have wads of notes stashed under their bed, read on. This guide is for anyone wanting to produce cutting edge, high quality tracks on their computer without compromise. A cheap recording studio does not mean cheap sound quality! Cheap music software does not mean limited production techniques.
Algorithms for software sound processing are constantly improving. With certain companies producing DSP cards as well as VST and DirectX plugins that are very close to their expensive hardware counterparts, this is a serious consideration for most.
So when you sit and look at that little PC sat on its desk rather unassumingly, don’t judge. It is a mammoth room stuffed to the brim with knobs, sliders, samplers, synths, compressors, limiters, effect units, distortion peddles plus a whole lot more. In fact if you were to open it out and give these ones and zeros physical form for a while, you would be hard pushed to find a room to accommodate all of these wondrous audio creating and manipulating tools.
Thankfully it need not be a 3 year full time degree to know what equipment and software to purchase. There are experienced producers in the industry currently helping out new comers with this along with giving the private tuition to pass on secrets and tricks of the trade…saving you a lot of money, stress, time and energy and giving a fast track route to achieving the professional production quality you want. This can cover any modern style of music including trance, house, electro, dubstep, breakz, pop, drum & bass, downtempo, grime, hiphop, RnB, techno, hardcore, psytrance, hardstyle plus much more.