As with most recording engineers my initial experiences recording audio were unsophisticated, imperfect and certainly to me always absolutely necessary. I would record myself playing guitar and (attempt to) sing Nirvana songs, even originals. Then came multitracking, then live multitrack, then recording midi, and so on and so, never under the best conditions but always with my best foot forward. With out a big expensive studio, I learned how to improvise and make my environment work. The results have almost always been surprisingly inspiring. Today, I’m looking at 5 strange recording environments I’ve worked in and what I learned from them. Not listed in any particular order, though I’ll try to save the coolest for last. Dig in.
5. My bed room in a single wide house trailer
In the year 2006, the Seacoast New Hampshire news mag The Wire unleashed the Record Production Month (RPM) Challenge, charging artists and musicians with the task of writing and recording an album’s worth of music in 1 month. They had me, I was in. The projects I was involved with that year tagged me with the role of producer, and I gave it my all. I was living in a single wide house trailer and I didn’t have much in the way of a live room. My house mate was the hip type and definitely didn’t mind me grabbing the living room for some sort of control room, but the musicians wanted a live room to play together in. I turned my mattress on its side, threw some blankets up and looked forward to my month sleeping on the floor. Definitely not ideal – but the excitement and vibe of musicians having fun and jamming together proved to shine through on the recordings.
4. Vocals in Cars and Vans
When recording From A Spectral View with my old band Murkadee, we were worried about sounding absolutely professional and proving our worth to other musicians – all the while being wacky and weird in our concepts and tactics. While preparing to record vocals one day a conversation came up about the ideal mixing environment came up. Where do people listen to music most? In their cars! Why not mix music to be heard in cars in a car shaped mixing environment? Obviously the logic is flawed, but discussions like these often times lead to fun experiments. I drove my 1990 Subaru Loyale out back near our recording space’s window, chained some mic cables together, put the back seats down and went to town. Weeks later, we tried again in a mini-van, finding the Subaru’s space cramped. Doesn’t work on everything, but it works.
3. Wood shops
My family is full of tinkerers and carpenters, but let’s face it – some times you need to record a drum kit. At times like these you need to roll the table saw out of the way and start listening. As long as various metal tools from rattling or vibrating too much a shop can be a great place to record. Great recording spaces have VIBE! There’s the pleasant smell of lumber in the air. It can be relaxing, much in the way that people hang out in car shops, drinking beer and tweaking. Unplug the table saw if you’re going to drink in the “studio”, please. That could get messy.
2. Cabins in the woods
Being located in New Hampshire, I know a few people with wood cabins in the woods. Luckily for me, these people are sympathetic, even supportive of the arts. The trip usually goes like this: you show up to an unpredictable driveway – usually dirt – then it rains or snows. I don’t know why it is, but for some reason when ever you have delicate gear you want to bring to a secluded place in the woods precipitation shows up, too. The construction of these cabins range from impressive to reassuring to down right scary. Electricity tends to be laughable. The upside – you’re in a cabin in the woods. No worries about bothering neighbors, no noisy streets to ruin your intimate vocal take. If you’re losing your enthusiasm, go outside. Look at some trees, watch some squirrels, find some rocks. I don’t know. It works.
My favorite experience in this environment involves a joke rock band I was in. One of my band mates lived in this cabin. Often times I would write music there, most of my recording up to that point being into a battery operated cassette machine. This cabin, located down a long, bumpy dirt road, became our Abbey Road for 3 weeks. The wood stove roared and the kitchen table filled up with lyric sheets and notebooks. It was a joke band, but it was a real process at the time. The 8 track we recorded on was probably the most advanced technology in the whole building.
1. A big, empty semi trailer.
Tractor trailer truck. Awesome. Again, a Murkadee technique. We had a hook up to a generator we could use and an empty box trailer. The natural reverb was not for the faint of heart. My only regret is that we didn’t have any acoustic guitar tracks to do at the time. This environment definitely isn’t for every, and most likely isn’t worth fitting into the budget unless you have serious trucker connections (a trucker family member does the trick!) Still, when the opportunity pops up you’d be crazy to say no!