These days, technology has become so advanced and accessible that those large scale, six-figure recording budgets are now a thing of the past. No longer do we have to print or cut tape. No longer do we need pristine recording studios with expensive gear stacked to the ceilings. No longer do we need recording contracts for a shot at something big. It's now 2021, and things in this musical world are much more obtainable even for those with the most minuscule of budgets.
You've heard of Billie Eilish right? The teenage artist who exploded onto the scene with her debut written and produced in a shoebox sized bedroom with her brother, Finneas O'Connell. Her debut 'Ocean Eyes' topped the Billboard 200 charts and she was only 14 years old at the time. Talent? Yes... but also a large kindred and wide-eyed spirit to explore and experiment with no definite process of how things should be done!
So who needs a studio these days? Why do they still exist and how do they still make money?
Well... in the 'Eilish' case, I can confirm that Finneas confidently hands-off many of Eilish's songs to mix engineer Rob Kinelski;
“Everything that I’ve sent that he’s mixed is pre-compressed and pre-panned, and all the reverbs and all the delays are pretty much already there. I’m not looking for Rob to ‘fix’ anything; he just makes it a little more balanced, because everything comes out of my bedroom at my parents’ house with too much bass. Rob and our mastering engineer, John Greenham, make sure our stuff sounds good everywhere.”
While Finneas O’Connell can now afford to employ a mixer and mastering engineer on his productions, it wasn’t always that way. But a lack of a budget should not be a barrier to anyone starting out in the business, he says;
“It was mixed and mastered by me and uploaded to Soundcloud. And that song saved our lives,” says O’Connell. “When I was starting to make music, I thought I had to pay a bunch of people to do all my things professionally and that that would be the only way I would ever have any success. It’s really important for kids to not think that there’s something intangible and out of reach for them. The truth is that you just have to make a song that people like.”
Check out Finneas bedroom set up here:
Even though their first hit was released straight out of the bedroom and completely naively; Finneas still shines a light on the importance of professional help and utilising professional spaces, like controlled mixing and recording environments.
As his sole reference, Finneas says he didn’t really think about the way the bedroom sounded until he started recording elsewhere. “The bedroom has a very specific sound, very tight and intimate and closed and quiet. I love the way it makes vocals sound... However, it is limiting."
Limiting factors, like a rooms response to sound, speaker position, or a microphone choice, can ultimately define many characteristics in your recordings. These are only a couple reason why you would reach outside of your limitations to expand your recording/production options.
Heard of Michael Stavrou? Radio Dj and guru Producer/Recording Engineer who worked closely with Sir George Martin. He wrote an amazing book called Mixing with you Mind. A book that strikes a mental chord on how you should approach things as an engineer.
"The first time I watched a really professional sound engineer I was completely mesmerised and amazed. He made everything look so easy and sound so incredible. Why is it that thousands of engineers struggle to get a decent sound while only a few dozen pull amazing sounds whilst doing, apparently, almost nothing? I could never understand how these great engineers made it look so easy. Were they doing something I wasn’t or were they not doing something I was? As it turns out it was largely the frame of mind they were in – which is great!, because changing your mind is a whole lot easier (and less expensive), than refitting your studio!"
Stavrou is a believer in trusting your instinct throughout the recording process with, of course, an educated approach, putting the 'professional' at the forefront here. However, this still doesn't factor in what technologies are available to us now, and as for the bedroom, you can purchase just about any plug-in to emulate the real thing... you just need to know what the f*ck you're doing with the damn thing. This ain't no text book either, but instead a supplement that concentrates on information that no one else will tell you. Using your subject taste more-so than anything else, solidifying Finneas's and Eilish's initial naive, yet winning approach.
This goes to show that the music industry is meant to be broken. Every "right-way" of doing things in this industry has completely gone out the window. Meaning... things are completely up to you and how you want to approach your music. Pave your own path, learn from others and reach out for professional help when you know it's time.
Mixing with your Mind website:
A quick message from Steve: