February 2nd, 2022
By now, we’ve published numerous blogs that boast the benefits of remote working. We’ve shown you our best home-office set-ups and we’ve talked you through some of our most ambitious jobs so far. At this point, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that we’ve covered everything we can, surely? But that’s the thing...the possibilities with remote production really are endless and just when you think there’s no way [insert possible project] can be done remote...it can. This week I’ve been chatting to a few talented individuals who have found a way to create original music from the comfort of their own homes.
It is widely perceived that quality technical production is inaccessible to those who are younger or just starting out. This is because quality equipment and appropriate spaces/resources are expensive, as is the travel required to be able to access these spaces that are usually only available in particular regions. However, instead of letting this deter them, budding music producers have found ways to work effectively from home, with their own equipment.
For Ivo, a 21-year-old student, music production started as a pre-covid hobby in which he spent time experimenting with Garageband on his phone.
“Lockdown gave me a large expanse of time where I could knuckle down and take music production more seriously.”
Ivo is currently producing for Komorebi Studios, a new independent collective of musicians based in London. At present, the collective works entirely from a home studio, recording instruments and vocals and distributing tracks to be mixed and mastered. Despite the fact the collective is still in its infancy, they’ve been able to make many valuable contacts and produce a wealth of impressive works. Komorebi have recently worked on two new remixes. One of which for an up and coming London-based artist, Faye Meana, on her latest single ‘Giving It In’, and another with musicians Tom Ford and Jay Prince on their single ‘Magnetic’. The group also work on their own solo projects and hope to see the release of them later this year.
“It’s surprising to think it’s all been possible from a small home studio, but it's a testament to the versatility of music production. You don’t have to be in a professional studio environment with loads of equipment to make good music, you just need the drive to create!”
In terms of challenges, it would be naive to say home production poses none. Though they do not seem to differ much for Ivo than those usually experienced by remote workers in other fields. He expresses that working from a familiar environment can often mean that distractions or lack of motivation can get the better of you mid-way through a song. Additionally, Ivo has experienced a fair few noise complaints from disgruntled neighbours.
He echoes the concerns of many young music producers about the financial constraints posed by expensive studio rates but seems hopeful due to the programmes he has access to from home.
“digital audio workspaces like Logic and Ableton are so accessible and user-friendly that making professional-sounding music from home is now entirely possible.”
Tell’s own Kirill spends his time outside of work on his personal music production projects, all of which he develops from a bedroom setup. Kirill attributes the success of remote music production to the ‘home studio revolution and the advent of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which has completely changed the landscape of how popular music is recorded.
“[DAW] took the essential components of a recording studio’s control room – the mixing console, outboard gear, and tape machine – and condensed them into a single computer program, allowing engineers and musicians to record, edit and mix all within the box” -Mixdown
These pieces of equipment individually, could set an enterprising music producer back hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“before the DAW became popular, artists were dependent on major labels and producers to provide them with the considerable funds required to either build a studio or rent it for long enough to record their projects.”
Kirill recognises that there are positives to the exclusivity of dedicated studio time in that it incentivises artists to rehearse their pieces and to spend as little time in the studio as possible; some have gone as far as make the argument that the general standard of musicianship seen in popular music has fallen in recent years due to the fact that in the context of a home studio, one can make mistakes and then fix them in post-production for as long as desired.
“Additionally, features of the DAW such as quantisation (the process of eliminating imperfections in recorded music using a musical grid and mapping notes to it) have been criticised for eliminating the live feel of performed music – proponents of this view believe that minor imperfections that were present in earlier studio recordings actually gave those recordings character largely absent from contemporary music.”
The term ‘overproduced’ refers to such recordings where all imperfections are artificially buffed out, resulting in a recording that is “too perfect” for some. Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ album would be an example of an ‘overproduced’ record, costing the band and the record label around five million dollars on techniques such as recording each guitar string individually for whole tracks. An artist in a contemporary home studio could do things like this for a fraction of the price.
“The ‘home studio revolution’ has been cited as a major reason for the democratisation of the process of recording music. The cost of setting up a home studio falls each year, and so, any artist with sufficient skills can create a commercially successful record. Genres like hip-hop and punk rock flourished in the wake of home studios becoming commercially available because disadvantaged communities, previously barred from music production, could now set up DIY rigs and release music that would have never been signed off on by a major label due to its dubious commercial appeal. Bands like Fugazi and hip hop artists such as DJ Shadow can be seen as examples of this trend as early as the 90’s.”
We had the pleasure of talking to Lexie, the drummer of the Lincolnshire-based band Mary’s Dream. Lexie is responsible for all things production, including mixing and mastering.
“I got into the production side of music when I was quite young. I was mesmerised by the fact that you could take the sounds of any instrument and vocal, putting it all onto a track and releasing it anywhere, no matter what the quality.”
In the early days of the band, Mary’s Dream were gigging regularly, had a presence on social media and had recorded a few demos through their phone. However, the band felt that it didn't satisfy who they wanted to be and how they wanted to sound.
“I am the tech geek of the band and had a basic knowledge of recording, so I put it on myself to research lots and basically teach myself how it’s all done to give us more opportunities and get us out there. We were an independent band of teenage girls with no money to spend on recording so when it came to wanting to make an EP we had to do it ourselves to make it possible.”
Lexie was able to borrow equipment from friends and family and proceeded to mix the entire track on her secondhand laptop with free software. She said the process of slaving over it, making sure they were all happy with it, getting an input at every step of the process made the song even more meaningful to them. When it was released it really was something for the band to be proud of. Unfortunately, lockdown hit more than a year before making the EP and the band were unable to practice and record.
“We still had a lot of drive and motivation as we were still writing songs, we just couldn’t do anything about it which was so frustrating! We decided to kill the time by releasing a few songs that had got lost in the madness of the band and put them out as ‘lockdown demos’ they are very basic and not the best quality but this taught us that we could make music without being in the same room.”
The girls launched into a new way of working, making a guitar track for each song and sending it out via a WhatsApp chat. Each member would then send their respective part back over to Lexie and she would piece it all together. Songs produced during this period included ‘Rearrange Your Dreams’ and ‘a Spades a Spade’ which were both played on BBC introducing Lincolnshire.
“It was a bit mad considering they were made over WhatsApp!”
In January/February 2021 the band were approached by a female arts collective @we.r.babes on Instagram and were invited to take part in their virtual Valentine’s Day event.
“We were asked to send over a set like we’d play at a gig. We could’ve just got our lead singer Molly to sing a few songs on her guitar but we were in another lockdown and I wanted a new challenge! I decided to teach myself all about video and sound. The concept was the same as the demos but this time I had to sync all four videos and audio files together which was very confusing at first and I was apprehensive as to whether we should’ve agreed without having any clue of what I was doing! The video took about two weeks of constant work and more research but again it was lots of fun and I’m so glad we did it as it was another thing added to the list of things we would’ve never done and learned if it wasn’t for lockdown.”
Mary’s Dream started producing their own music as a reaction to the constraints of lockdown but it ended up being a fantastic way for them to have complete control of their sound. They were able to spend as much time on producing as they wanted, ensuring they were happy with the final result, without having to worry about extra costs.
“Writing this has reminded me just how much we’ve actually done and how much I personally have learnt and taught myself. I am especially proud of our homemade, self-produced EP, ‘Angry Girl Music Of The Indie Rock Persuasion’ streaming on all platforms!”
Daniel, also known by the name Blue Lewis, has been working from his home setup for a while, focusing on two main streams - making full songs that artists buy to sing/rap over, and creating short-form audio-visual content of original beats posted to Instagram.
For Blue, the process consists of listening to new songs that he really likes before feeling inspired to create something of his own. He’ll then listen to a whole range of songs from a similar genre throughout the day before sitting down in an evening to experiment on Ableton, his DAW of choice.
“I’ll start by just messing around on my guitar or playing my MIDI drum pad till I get something...but when I do get something going, the minutes turn into hours and before I know it it’s 2am. You get into a sort of flow state and don’t really break concentration. I find it an intuitive process, playing the instruments, so my music normally consists of electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, keys and whatever percussion I’ve got lying around my room.”
Working from a home set allows each musician to adopt their own creative paths that work for them. For Blue, he will begin by laying down ideas, structuring them, filling out/building on top of the ideas, Mixing (getting all the volume levels, panning, EQ, effects all sounding balanced), EQ (increasing/decreasing bass, mid and high-level frequencies) and, finally, mastering.
“I can’t really imagine having to go to a dedicated studio every time you want to make music like they would have to 10 years ago. Having everything I need in my room is about as convenient as it gets.”
Blue testifies that a surprising amount of popular music is produced in people’s bedrooms and the average person, even people with industry experience, can’t tell the difference. While it can be easy to get caught up in the consumerism of it all, with new equipment (plugins, instruments, pieces of gear) being marketed all the time.
”[the gear] is marketed really well and seems like they will enhance your creativity endlessly. But in the end, I’ve found I barely use these pieces of gear I buy, and always go back to the same stuff I used before. Bit of a waste of money, time and space. Fundamentally you don’t need very much to make music.”
If there is one thing this blog has taught us about music production, is that there’s no need to feel inferior for working from a bedroom, study, even living room, if needs be. From producers mixing other people’s work and bands creating their own music at home, to musicians producing tracks to sell on...the home setup is a completely viable and practicable way of working in today’s climate. The rise in remote music production has proven that you do not need lots of money or contacts to succeed in the music industry. Instead, one needs skill they’re constantly willing to develop and time they’re willing to dedicate. The creative industries are ones that feared being left behind in the wake of COVID-19 when theatres and concert halls were closed. 2021 felt like a lacklustre, uninspiring time for the self-employed creative. However, there are practitioners out there who have been working remotely with much success for years, who testify to the resourceful and enterprising nature of producing your own music from your own home.