I love playing bass and keyboards, but years spent in school studying music and at Bass Player interviewing and learning from our community’s elite had left me without the same wide-eyed wonder that characterized most of my musical life. My late 30s found me acutely aware of everything I needed to do to get better. It’s not that I had achieved some kind of masterful enlightenment, it’s just that I had a clear sense of what I needed to do to perhaps get there. I missed the pursuit of a challenge about which I knew relatively little.
I love the studio culture. From the technical demands, to the gear, to the opportunity to make a tangible and permanent document of a musical moment, I’ve always found myself thrilled to be a part of making records. Plus, since leaving the Bass Player full-time staff in 2010, I’d mostly been working out of my cute-but-cozy San Francisco apartment. I was simply home way too much, and I pined for the days where work included getting up early, getting fed and showered, and hopping in my car to an office. There’s only so many times you can spend a day 10 feet from where you sleep before you start going slightly nuts.
Having decided that I wanted a studio to call my own (or at least partially call my own), I set out on a quest to find a suitable space. Needless to say, this wasn’t an immediatley fruitful endeavor. Built-out fully functioning recording studios don’t just pop up on Craigslist every day, but fortunately the investment I’d made in being a part of a scene in the Bay Area eventually paid off. A friend of mine wanted a partner to share in his space at a legendary studio only 20 minutes or so from my house in the City. I’ve been a partner at Airship Laboratories ever since, and while it’s occasionally frustrating and a new place to funnel money into, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, professionally.
If you’re at the early stages of this ambition, there’s a few things you’ll definitely need to get started, which brings me to the real point of this month’s column. Whether your focused on building a state-of-the-art facility, or want to dip a toe in the water at home, a few essentials will help you get started.
Like it or not, 99% of music (my own estimate) is made with computers now. I strongly favor Apple computers in this role, as does most of the professional community, but there are definitely some vocal proponents of PCs and even Linux machines out there. Whether or not you choose a laptop or desktop is a matter of portability, as laptops these days don’t give up too much to their desktop cousins other than the amount of connectivity available.
You need a piece of hardware that converts analog audio into digital audio, aka an audio interface. If you intend to record larger ensembles, you’ll want to save up for an interface that features at least 8 analog inputs, which a single mic’d drum kit could easily gobble up.
Now that you have the computer and the interface, you need software designed to record, mix, and produce music. These “Digital Audio Workstation” programs are incredibly powerful now, and while there’s a variety available, each engineer tends to have a favorite. In professional spheres, Avid’s Pro Tools is by far the most common, but Apple Logic is not far behind.
All of this would be pointless if you didn’t have some decent way to listen to your work. Most often, initially, this will come in the form of nearfield monitos, which are high-fidelity speakers design to be heard up close, thus mitigating the negative acoustic effects of an untreated room.
This will be where the money starts to potentially get out of hand. At the start, you’ll need at least two mics. One dynamic microphone, like a Shure SM57, and one condensor microphone, like the classic AKG 414 or Neumann U67. The condensor is where you’ll see the prices skyrocket, so I strongly encourage you to research the category as much as possible.
Given you’re a bass player, you’re likely going to spend some time recording yourself. That means you’ll need a good quality direct box. There are tons out there, and I’ve reviewed many in these pages. In the studio, I tend to favor active boxes, because I feel better able to get fidelity over long cable runs.
Nothing is more frustrating than slaving over a mix, only to discover that it sounds like garbage in your car or on your headphones. This is often due to inadequate treatment of your listening space, as the room’s poor frequency response can fool you into making adjustments that aren’t necessary. Start small, get expert advice, and build out the acoustic space as money allows.
Bass Player Senior Contributing Editor Jonathan Herrera is the magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief. An accomplished player, Jonathan is now a full-time musician and producer. His latest endeavor is Bay Area recording studio Airship Laboratories. Catch up with him at jonherrera.com and at airshiplaboratories.com.