Using Your Recording Studio As An Instrument
Unlocking the potential of your recording studio
We all know the recording studio as the place to go when your tunes are written, your tones dialed in and your chops well practiced. You enter the studio environment with the goal of committing your tracks to record, giving them a polish and sending them off into the world. But put that notion to one side, because in its own way, a recording studio can provide as much in the way of creative inspiration as any traditional instrument. It’s all down to how you approach it.
It’s why certain studios seem to have an aura about them. Abbey Road, Sun Studio, Headley Grange; all have gone down in musical folklore not just for the records which were made there, but for the crucial parts they played in making the artists sound the way they did.
Let’s take a look at a few methods you might make you want to begin using your studio as an instrument.
Tools of the trade
Let’s begin by examining some of the elements within a studio that might work for this purpose. If you are working in a pro studio – perhaps you’ve booked some time – then you can realistically expect to have access to different microphones, amps, preamps, effects and gadgets. Each of these will give you the chance to experiment with sounds or textures which you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
If, on the other hand, you are classing your software-filled laptop as your studio, then you have the capabilities provided by all of the myriad tools housed within your DAW of choice.
The point here is that we’re looking at things which you wouldn’t be able (or at least, you’d struggle) to recreate live. The classic example here comes from Led Zeppelin. When the band were recording their fourth album, they were looking for a specific sound for the drums on the track ‘When the Levee Breaks’.
After plenty of trial and error, the group settled on housing the drum kit at the bottom of the stairs, and hanging a microphone over the upstairs bannisters. This simple act shows what studio creativity can bring to the table. It doesn’t have to be the gear you use, it could be a specific space within the recording studio that gives your sound a certain voice it wouldn’t get anywhere else.
Opening up the possibilities
As well as access to different equipment, studio time also gives a band time and space in which to let their thoughts develop. When you’re there, you are there with the single purpose of making your tracks sound as good as possible. You’ve done the hard work of writing, arranging, practicing and fine-tuning, so at a base level the job is done. What a recording studio enables you to do is think about how you can add that extra 5% which will make the difference to your recordings.
It’s here that you can truly experiment. You can gain approximations in your practice space of what your track would sound like with 16 layers of guitar washing over it, or with extra reverb added to vocals, but when you actually sit down and play around with it you will see (or hear) for yourself things you could only imagine before.
Basic studio functions, like volume levels, panning and routing, offer great ways of adding something different to the mix. You will probably find, once you’ve recorded the stem tracks, that the instruments sit a lot cleaner if they are spread across the stereo field. Adding subtle effects to the entire output strip, like a touch of reverb or compression, make everything sound that bit more glossy.
DAW studios are perfect for this kind of endeavor. With every option you could ever need right at your fingertips, you can play around until you find something unique and then make it your own.
To be clear, we’re not saying the studio can be an instrument in the way a guitar, or a clarinet, or a glockenspiel can be. You can’t exactly pick up a studio and start knocking out a tune. Put that to one side and think of the studio environment as somewhere were sounds go to grow.
As a vehicle to help you create, manipulate and experiment with different ideas, a recording studio should be a red rag to a bull for creative people. If there was ever a time to let your ideas flow, it is there.
And, as with anything, the more time you spend in there, the more time you are learning different techniques and ways to achieve what you’re looking for. Think of the studio not just as somewhere to record, but rather as a space dedicated to letting your creativity shine through.