spring 2016 the trombonist
BUILDING A HOME STUDIO by JANE SALMON
As studio equipment has become increasingly accessible, plenty of musicians are building themselves home studios and creating all kinds of material from their own home. We spoke to trombone players Chris Traves and Robbie Harvey to hear how they use their home studios and what advice they have to offer anyone interested in building one themselves. Jane: Could you tell me a bit about what you do? What first encouraged you to build a home studio and how did you start out? Chris: I’ve got a small home studio built on top of my ‘end of terrace’ house. I physically built a third floor that contains a Control Room, Live Room, Vocal/Soloist booth and even a Bathroom/Jacuzzi! I do a lot of vocal recording and have produced many albums both instrumental and vocal. I do quite a lot of location recording, including venues such as Ronnie Scotts, Cadogan Hall, 606 Club and Boisdale Club. I have also been lucky enough to work on quite a few films and TV shows. I do quite a few sessions at home on the trombone too; clients send tracks over and I add the lower brass (and quite often other instruments…). I have always been interested in technology - in fact I’m quite a techy nerd! I studied A-level Physics, Computer Studies & Music and, whilst at school, had ambitions to go to University of Surrey, Guildford to study on the now famous Tonmeister course. Unfortunately I discovered Youth Orchestras and beer and after a particularly successful summer course, returned to school to find my fellow pupils had been offered places at
university. I had forgotten to fill in my UCCA form. So I ended up at music college, which was a jolly good thing!
So it was many years later - after I was fortunate enough to get a really long run in the West End with ‘Chicago’ that I started to indulge my passion for recording and built my studio. Robbie: I started to invest in some home recording equipment just over a year ago. I was working away from home for six weeks on a show and decided to buy myself something as evidence that it was all worth it! Spending time in recording studios had always made me curious and keen to learn more about the technical side of recording. I made an album with my quintet a couple of years ago, which was a turning point for me. It made me realise that having more knowledge and experience of the recording process would give me more influence over the sound I am looking to achieve. When recording your own projects it is easy to turn up at a studio and just concentrate on playing, assuming that whoever is engineering will make the correct decisions, but the engineer may not have the same ideas as you! Communication is the key, and having your own studio helps communicate your musical aims in the relevant terms. There is so much to learn, especially when working in a great studio with a great engineer. JS: If a home studio on a budget is possible – what are the essentials? RH: It is possible to get surprisingly good results on a budget and at the same time you can get some terrible results with expensive gear!
CT: A decent laptop or desktop machine will be the first step. I’m not going to bang on about the benefits of Mac or PC - I have both. I still think a decent PC will beat a Mac any day, but you do need a decent PC. A budget model will probably cause problems, I would recommend buying something from a company that specialises in music computers. The benefit of the Mac is that pretty much any model nowadays will suffice.
Next, you will need an Audio Interface - again you can spend as much as you want, but maybe aim for the entry level gear, around £150-£200 with 2 mic channels IN (with phantom power) 2 channels OUT and headphones OUT. It’s a good idea to get one with midi too, it will save on the cost of a separate midi interface - and also save on USB ports. Many of these interfaces come with bundled DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software. Once you’re up and running I would invest in the full version - they all do the same thing! Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Sonar & Digital Performer are probably the most popular – the choice is yours. Many budget microphones are available, most of them excellent. The trombone is a strange beast to record; a mic with too much definition sometimes makes the instrument sound too breathy. If you’re on a tight budget you could start with an SM57 - great for all brass actually. My absolute favourite for the trombone is the Coles 4038 - instant trombone sound, no EQ necessary! (around £700). You’ll also need a mic stand, mic lead and headphones - all relatively cheap.