Home recording is no longer the reserve of geeks and professionals. The cheapest PC can now run programmes with the same processing power as that of the most glamorous studio of the late Nineties, allowing anybody to record, produce, and mix their own material for next to nothing. Free recording programmes can be downloaded from a raft of sites, and if you buy a Mac you get Garageband as part of the package. What is more, there is a certain romanticism attached to home recording: the success of Bon Iver’s 2007 For Emma Forever Ago no doubt rested partly on it being the product of a three month retreat into the Wyoming wilderness with nothing but a guitar and a laptop. Take that for catharsis.

But despite the freedom technology has given musicians, and the unique and interesting sound it can lend a recording, home-production has done strange things to the concept of a ‘good recording’. Of course, much of such a concept is subjective; if the recording moves you, or makes you want to dance, or makes you want to meet the artist, or does the song justice, then it is doing its job. But there are other factors. Producers and engineers talk about ‘listener’s fatigue’ – if the treble is too accentuated then the track will sound very good for a short amount of time, then become tiring to listen to. Similarly, mixing – the process through which all the seperate parts or tracks are made to sit together properly is essential if the recording is going to be balanced. Neither of these processes can be done well  without some unbearably costly equipment.

It is easy to point out the recordings that suffer from this syndrome. Bird Brain, the first album by alt-folk blogosphere darling TuneYards, was recorded with a PC, a dictaphone, and a copy of a free programme called Audacity. It’s pop at its most enthralling and on first listen the lack of equipment seems to be a virtue: revving engines are chopped up to become beats, distorted voices are twisted into keyboard melodies. But after the fourth or fifth song the trashiness begins to jar, and by the album’s close not even her sublime song-writing and instrumentation can disguise the fact that the recording, no matter how inventive, is plain annoying. This is never more obvious than if you go and see her live, where the songs sound almost orchestral.

Now, by this logic it would seem that home production is a ‘bad thing’: it’s unlikely that any one recording at home will be able to afford the equipment needed to avoid the recording being trashy or muddled. But this isn’t necessarily true: recording at home can give character – something unique that being in a studio sometimes smooths out too much. The risk though is that bad quality recordings become the norm, meaning that we cease to appreciate what good, well-engineered recordings have: depth.


In last weekend’s Sunday Times Rebecca Nicholson wrote a feature which suggested that Diesel:U:Music, a Diesel-backed internet radio station based in Dalston, is a young, hip and ‘pirate’ alternative to Radio 1. Such gushing smacks of an empty feature ideas in-tray, and one suspects that when the Times’ editors heard the words ‘Dalston’ and ‘internet radio’ they clapped their hands together thankfully and went on with their business.

Having blogged for the station on Clash magazine’s website over the summer, I can tell you that it’s about as ‘pirate’ as Topman. Granted, the producers have been canny with their programming (Speech Debelle and The Invisible did live sessions well before their Mercury nominations), but one has to remember that the station wasn’t founded by the producers, but a multi-national clothing brand. As Nicholson herself wrote – ironically given the pieces ‘No Rules Radio’ headline – the station isn’t even broadcasting at the moment due to lack of funding. Diesel’s marketing execs are undecided as to whether the project will be given a budget for next year, and even if it is it will only be for another three month period.

However, as far corporate publicity stunts go it has been very successful – a two page spread in a Sunday national ain’t too bad.

lets wrestle album

While sitting in a pub in North London last Saturday I got chatting to a scruffy and very tired-looking man who, it transpired, is head honcho of indie label du jour Stolen Records. Now, whether you’re a fan of their releases or not, it’s hard not to admire the Stolen’s contrary attitude towards the industry. All of the bands they deal with have gained at least some level of cult success – whether that be Tap Tap’s ability to wow the blogosphere or Let’s Wrestle’s knack, as he neatly put it, for ‘collectively raising the Shoreditch eyebrow.’

So is Stolen Records as given to singing the industry jeremiad of plummeting profits and internet thieves as every other label? Apparently not. According to my new-found friend, he and the other owner of the label have hardly noticed the recession, let alone the long-term decline of the music industry. Of course, this is partly because their label is run in a remarkably digitally-savvy way: no budget is given to the artist to record (nearly all of the albums they’ve released were recorded in the artist’s bedrooms), and the physical product is only available online, bypassing the need for distribution. That said, they are not the only label to employ such methods, so the reason for their comparative immunity must be down to people being willing to pay for the records they are releasing. Which is surprising given that the type of bands they deal with are normally blogosphere favourites, and that bloggers (yours truly included) are hardly renowned for their deep pockets…

This blog has been rather quiet recently, mainly because of such taxing summer engagements as holidays, festivals and tours. I apologise. However, during my sojourn I was dragged to Melt festival – a terrifying three day ‘techno party’ held in a disused quarry a couple of hours outside Berlin. The train to Dessau, the nearest town, was stuffed with militant ravers. It was only when one of my companions handed me a programme that I spotted Oasis on the bill. Never has their name held such resonance.

For them, this was the equivalent of playing the Camden Barfly; 8000 people as opposed to their recent run of gigs in front of 80,000 at Wembley. And it was sublime. Liam swaggered, but drank water and refrained from undergoing his notorious metamorphosis from rock star to oaf. He and Noel didn’t exchange an angry word. And they didn’t bore anyone with new material. My companions and I sang and drank and acted like it was 1994.

So I’d be lying to say I wasn’t just a little smug when the tabloids splashed what seems to be a bona fide curtain call for Oasis across their covers. I saw them. At their smallest gig in over 10 years. Sorry to gloat, but I did.

Shockwaves strong large

Look out car fans – your magazine of choice will soon be a wisp of its former self, splattered with advertorial and sponsored by a shampoo company. Conor McNicholas is finally handing over the reigns of the bedraggled NME, and will now flog Top Gear magazine’s flanks in a continuation of his crusade to do away with editorial depth and make everything REALLY! BLOODY! EXCITING! The man could make Intelligent Life appeal to 12 year olds within a month, simply by making liberal use of the exclamation mark.

McNicholas’ time as editor of the NME saw the magazine move away from its indie credentials and become a nationwide brand. Like hair gel and music? Great! Read the NME and get a free pouch of Shockwaves.  Of course it’s more successful because of him (although circulation of the magazine itself has fallen), and inevitably he’ll do a similar job at Top Gear. But doesn’t it all seem uncomfortably close to PR rather than journalism?

While visiting a friend who works at the Apple offices on Regent Street on Wednesday, I was confronted by Lisa Hannigan (of Damien Rice fame) wandering into the office carrying a guitar. Accompanied by a bare bones percussionist and second acoustic she set up and started playing in the middle of the office, as Apple employees bustled around her making tea. Surprisingly, a few of the iWorkers seemed mildly irritated, as if they’d had their fill of enormously talented artists serenading them at their desks and just wanted to get on. After three songs Hannigan packed up – off to sound check for a sold out show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire that night. The head honcho in the office thanked her rather lackadaisically, and joked that in the ten minutes she’d been playing she’d miraculously  jumped from 12th to 8th in the iTunes charts. It may not be far from the truth.

In the next couple of weeks Idlewild will release their new album, the recording of which was entirely funded by fans of the band pre-ordering the record before it was even recorded. Although an innovative business model (but not that innovative – Patrick Wolf has already done it twice), this is the reserve of bands who already have a fan base. By contrast new artists find themselves in a catch 22, whereby to gain fans they need to get a decent recording together, but to do that they need fans to pay for the recording.

Now, this isn’t a whinge like most other posts on this blog, as a new band paying for their own record can lead to lucrative publishing and licensing deals, and no debt to a record company. It’s merely that when established bands do this kind of thing the media claim it’s a new model for the industry. And it is, if you’re an established band. But what happens to the little guys, eh?