Old's Cool, No?
I wouldn’t say I’m a lover of technology. I tolerate it. I like making my coffee the old fashioned way - grinding beans, cleaning the cafetiere, and so on. I enjoy holding a book in my hand, not a kindle. I ashamedly listen to vinyl records, not for some sort of sonic enlightenment but simply because I like the physical process of handling the record, having to get up and down to change it, and watching it physically change as it gets scuffed and bruised on my shelf.
Recently, I’ve made a real attempt to more thoroughly embrace technology in the studio. The role of the studio engineer is a technological role. A role which relies on the individual not only having a grasp on the technology involved in realising a desired outcome but also keeping up to date with continual, relentless, advancements and updates to this technology. Yes, I've always had a good technical knowledge of the equipment, and functions of it, but I've all too often glossed over many features because the time it takes to get on top of it all and learn is so overwhelming.
Technology, at heart, exists to makes our lives easier. Perform more functions, quicker, with greater complexity and less “manpower”. For the recording studio, this has been revolutionary. I have read much of what producers and engineers from the sixties and seventies have had to say and there is no way I could operate a small commercial studio like Circa 16 Sound Recording, in a small town like Dumfries, in those days. The technology was hugely expensive, limited in it’s functionality, sore on manpower and physically large and cumbersome. The ease and cost of recording has improved since then - to the point at which you could now achieve an identical result to the coveted Abbey Road studios in your own downstairs bog. This is purely as a result of technology. I can bring up a whole recording session worth of settings at the click of a button and revert my studio back to exactly how it was on a given session months, or years, previous. I have modelled pieces of equipment that I can use on a mix instead of one original piece - deploying 100 instances of that compressor instead of just one. The physical space, cost and complexity of doing that 30 years ago would have been physically impossible.
As I digress the big question is - what are these advancements doing to the end result? Is the ability to perfectly time drums, or the ability to move vocal phrases around in time or pitch, removing the "feel" of what we consider great music? Perhaps the tech is just distracting us to the point of forgetting what is important. I must admit, of late I have been performing a range of duties simply because that is what is expected of me - by my contemporaries. As soon as tracks make it to release with these super-tuned vocals, or a super compressed loud master, or a stupidly wide stereo field, you almost have to do the same to “compete”.
Do I need to embrace the technology to keep the quality up, or the work good? I'm coming to find a great balance of drawing inspiration from old techniques in live performance, mic technique and arrangement/production and putting to use modern production aides. Yes, a skilled engineer can craft a great recording with any equipment - cheap or expensive, advanced or primitive - but that’s not to say we shouldn’t have a helping hand. Don't let anyone tell you anything is "wrong"! Make the technology work for you. It’s what it’s there for BUT always remember, if only just a little:
“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”